East Tenn. student satellite mission moves into 2021

Still on track to become first middle school to send CubeSat with NASA.
Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 6:53 PM EDT
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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WVLT) - To say that STEM class at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge is stellar is no exaggeration. Students get introductions to coding, physics and project planning as it relates to building a small, cube satellite heading for space.

What impresses 8th grader Odelia Kneiser about it? “The fact that it’s quite literally rocket science in middle school!”

Kneiser is following her big brother, Boru into the project that plans on putting Robertsville into history books as the first middle school to send up a cubesat with NASA. Dubbed RamSat because Robertsville’s mascot is a ram, the project spans more than five years and nearly 150 students have worked with STEM instructor Todd Livesay. He recently received the Teacher of the Year award for the state from the Tennessee Air Force Association.

The project is delayed by a few months now, with a planned launch time of early 2021 and a new due date to NASA of December. This comes after a problem turned up during the testing phase for the RamSat when the project was initially a go for a fall 2020 launch.

Lead Technical Mentor, Peter Thornton said the problem involved a blown circuit and coding issues. “It was all the way at the bottom of the microprocessor where there was a short circuit that we had to send back to the factory for repair.”

Livesay said the delay gives more opportunity for teaching this year’s newest students.

“The redo on the build because of our problem with the processor was actually kind of a blessing. Because the kids that are involved this year would have never seen the satellite. They would have never got their hands on it," Livesay said.

Odelia Knieser is among those new students, “I think learning about the satellite has been really cool. So going into something in NASA would be really fun.”

Her brother already had the opportunity to visit U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama as part of the presentation to NASA. Because of COVID-19 concerns this school year, it is not yet clear if middle school students will be taking any such trips.

The most anticipated trip of all would be to Cape Canaveral in 2021 to see the RamSat.

“We’re waiting on confirmation from NASA on the launch date and the launch site,” said Livesay. “And we’re also waiting to see what’s going to happen with the pandemic, whether or not we can travel.”

Thornton is one of several Oak Ridge area mentors helping with this once-in-a-lifetime student project. He is hopeful about its success. “And everything is working really nicely now. So we are very confident that we’ll be able to meet this next target and have the new group of students heavily involved.”

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