Clinic Leads to Shuttle Photos

Feb 03, 2007 - Claremont, Calif. - An Engineering Clinic sponsored by The Aerospace Corporation at Harvey Mudd College led to the inclusion of camera boards on the latest deployment of two miniature satellites called picosats that took photographs of the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-116) in December.

The original design of the camera circuit boards on the picosats were developed by a team of HMC students in 2003-04. The project posed a number of challenges in providing imaging capabilities for the four- by four- by five-inch picosats, including the small size, environmental tolerances (temperature and radiation) and power consumption.

Each of the satellites launched from the Shuttle Discovery weighed just over a kilogram and carried cameras and a propulsion system. The mission explored the feasibility of using picosats to inspect spacecraft and assess them for damage or anomalies.

The HMC Engineering Clinic team was Andrew Cole '04, Nathan Mitchell '05, Brian Putnam '04, Daniel Rinzler '05, Gabriel Takacs '05 and Philip Vegdahl '04. The faculty advisor was John Molinder, James Howard Kindelberger Professor of Engineering, and the liaisons for The Aerospace Corporation were Samuel S. Osofsky '85 and Nelson Ho.

"Nobody on the team had designed a circuit board of this type before," Molinder said. Despite this, they delivered the project on time and under budget. Takacs was awarded the Alford-Gilkeson Award in 2004 as the outstanding junior student in the Department of Engineering.

"Nelson and I really enjoyed working with the students," Osofsky said. "We told the students at the beginning of the year that if their project were successful, their design would fly in space. The resulting pictures are worth thousands of words."

The project also called for the design of a GPS board for locating the picosats in space. Unfortunately, the GPS chips available to the team would not function at the altitude and velocity of the Shuttle.

The Aerospace Corporation news release

NASA information about the picosat project

About the Harvey Mudd College Clinic Program