MSU students blasting into the future

By LEVI WORTS/Montana State News

MSU freshman Matthew Handley, left, and SSEL Director David Klumpar watch as information is downloaded from MSU's orbiting satellite. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)
MSU freshman Matthew Handley, left, and SSEL Director David Klumpar watch as information is downloaded from MSU’s orbiting satellite. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)

David Klumpar, a Montana State University professor, is placing the university on the map and into outer space. Klumpar will send three satellites into space by the end of 2013, which is equal to the number MSU has placed in orbit over 12 years of working with NASA.

Klumpar said that by working with NASA, “I felt like I might be able to make a difference.” One of the differences he alluded to is saving money by using cheaper satellites for space research. Klumpar specifically wants NASA to pay more attention to smaller, less expensive satellites.

Some of these satellites use smart phones as the “brains,” and according to Klumpar are “more powerful than the tech that operated the Apollo spacecrafts.” It is because of new innovated technology like this that the smaller satellites can be constructed.

However, Klumpar said that they do pose more of a “technical risk.” The risk comes from NASA’s mentality of mission success. This mindset causes expensive checks and balances, review processes and more equipment, according to Klumpar. The smaller satellites are “quite a bit less expensive,” said Klumpar.

If the satellite doesn’t accomplish the mission the loss is actually minimal because of much lower costs. “You can build another one,” he said, and when it comes to building and designing the satellites, MSU students benefit.

The idea is to give MSU students real world training for the workforce. Klumpar said, “The students building [the satellite] learn a tremendous amount.” These lessons can eventually translate into a more efficient and effective NASA without sacrificing taxpayer dollars, he said. It is a “value proposition.” The more satellites students help build, the more experience they can bring to the table.

Klumpar was responsible for sending a made-in-Montana satellite into orbit last year, according to MSU News Service. The satellite, which has been monitoring variations in location and intensity of the Van Allen Radiation Belts, made its 1,705th orbit of the earth this February and has enough battery power to operate for another 12 years, said MSU News Services in an article. With this recent satellite success the program seems to really be taking off.

“Before this year is over with we will have three more [satellites] lift off the ground and [we’ll also] contribute hardware instruments in eight more satellites,” said Klumpar.

For MSU’s Space Science and Engineering Laboratory Klumpar said, “the future is looking good.”

– Edited by Matt Parsons and Autumn Toennis

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