Small Satellite Conference

USU hosts milestone gathering
By Brooke Nelson
August 14, 2008

LOGAN — Close to 1,000 aerospace professors, students and industry representatives are gathering here this week for Utah State University's Small Satellite Conference.

The conference is the largest of its kind in the world.

"I'm really proud that the epicenter of small satellites is right here in Utah," said Pat Patterson, chair of the conference.

Patterson is also the director of USU's Space Dynamics Lab small satellite technology group.

"One thing that small satellites do really well is prove technologies that larger spacecraft can use in the future," he said.

Small satellites make up only a small part of the aerospace industry, but still represent big business in a field where launches costing $10 million are considered cheap.

In addition to testing technologies before they fly on much more expensive, larger spacecraft, small satellites have also found a niche in education, research and multi-point measurements, Patterson said.

"Some science can't be done with one big spacecraft. Some science needs a hundred spacecrafts making multi-point measurements to collect data. And smaller spacecraft fill that role because they are much, much cheaper," Patterson said.

One highlight of the conference is the Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition, which awarded $30,000 in scholarship money.

Doug Freesland, technical director of the scholarship program, said more than 30 applications were received, but only six students were selected to present at the conference. Two of the six were from USU.

"As technology advances through the years, everything in the world gets smaller -- so do satellites," said USU master's degree student Tyson Smith.

Smith presented his launch and deployment analysis for a small satellite that would carry a sensor looking for nuclear explosions.

Rashied Amini was one of two students representing Washington University in St. Louis.

Amini chose to explore the potential of using small satellites when looking for gamma ray bursts in the universe.

"They're small and so they turn faster with less power and are cheaper," he said.

Freesland said the scholarship competition is important because it brings in some of the world's top talent before they have been influenced by industry or process.

The variety in projects requires a diverse judging panel, he said. Seven judges are chosen, representing NASA, the Department of Defense, academia, industry and international business.

Gwynne Shotwell, vice president of business development for SpaceX , a company specializing in launch vehicles, said this is her 10th year attending the conference.

"It's heavily attended," she said. "It's really convenient to come to one location, one plane trip, and be able to attend 15 or 20 meetings."

Shotwell said launching small satellites is 20 percent to 50 percent less expensive than launching large satellites.

This is the 22nd year of the conference, which began Monday and ends today. More information is available at

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