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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

UH satellite builders undaunted

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

The University of Hawai'i Cubesat project, headed by electrical and mechanical engineering students, may have suffered a setback when a Russian missile crashed as it headed into orbit recently, but it hasn't daunted anyone.

"The whole primary goal of the project was education, and we definitely achieved that," said former engineering student Byron Wolfe, who worked on the project in 2003, the year he graduated, and earlier as it was being developed by electrical engineering associate professor Wayne Shiroma.

"This launch taught us that in the real world, there are real failures, not hypothetical scenarios. Edison's light bulb didn't work the first time, either."

The project involved assembly of a small, cube-shaped satellite with an electronics payload that would be launched aboard a Russian missile. Students won grants and raised money to pay the approximately $100,000 cost for the project, including $50,000 in launch fees.

UH was one of a number of American universities that had embraced the real-world idea of building a miniature satellite, and used the project as a major learning tool for students. But UH was the only university where undergraduates were in charge of the project, under Shiroma.

The small satellites were sent to Cal Poly and waited almost two years for the launch, only to see the Russian missile crash less than two minutes after blast-off in late July.

But Wolfe, now a 26-year-old systems engineer for Boeing on Maui, said the UH project was far from a failure.

"The experience prepares you for work," he said. "It was kind of a holistic educational experience, everything from risk management to project management to teamwork. It's a very special experience. There are not many places you can experience real-world engineering firsthand."

UH also has just completed a ground station that would have enabled the university to track a beacon signal from the Cubesat without having to depend on other universities.

In a statement, Shiroma said the small-satellite project at UH is continuing.

"We are currently working on our fourth-generation satellites," he said. "I estimate over 150 electrical and mechanical engineering students have participated on these projects since 2002."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.