Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Dassel-Cokato graduate helps build winning satellite
Feb. 14, 2011

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

COKATO, MN – Jill Kivisto, a 2008 graduate of Dassel-Cokato High School, is a member of Michigan Technological University’s (MTU) Aerospace Enterprise team, which placed first in the prestigious University Nanosat 6 competition.

By winning the competition, the team earned the privilege of having the US Department of Defense launch its custom-made satellite into orbit.

“It will probably be launched sometime in 2013,” Kivisto said. “We will be working closely with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the next two years.”

The Air Force will give the team more details about where and when the satellite will launch as it is researched.

“It’s awesome that our satellite will eventually be up in space, serving a useful purpose,” Kivisto said. “It feels a little bit overwhelming, thinking of all the stuff we need to do to prepare for launch.”

Kivisto, a third-year student, majoring in electrical engineering, became involved with the team of students who built the satellite this past fall when she joined Aerospace Enterprise.

MTU provides enterprise groups to students as an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in projects, Kivisto said.

US Air Force University Nanosatellite program

The University Nanosat Competition (UNC) is the biggest project for MTU’s Aerospace Enterprise team, Kivisto said.

Out of dozens of schools that applied to be part of the competition, only 11 were chosen to participate in the program, sponsored by the AFRL.

Each selected university is given two years and $110,000 to design and build its nanosatellite, that performs a mission of its choosing.

The Nanosat 6 competition, which Kivisto was a part of, culminated in a flight competition review, which took place in Albuquerque, NM Jan. 16-17.

Oculus-ASR, the satellite built by Aerospace Enterprise, placed first at the competition.

“This is a major accomplishment by our students,” said William Predebon, chair of the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. “It’s just fantastic.”

There were about 50 students on the Aerospace Enterprise team involved in the Nanosat 6 competition, Kivisto said.

Most of the students are studying electrical or mechanical engineering, or computer science.


Kivisto credits two reasons for Oculus-ASR being the top pick for the judges at the flight competition review.

“Our satellite is going to be very useful to the Air Force. It is important to them to launch a satellite that will serve an important purpose in space,” Kivisto said. “Also, the hardware on our satellite was highly developed and we had excellent documentation and demonstrations proving that everything performed according to specifications.”

Oculus-ASR’s mission is to act as a calibration instrument for the Air Force’s telescopes, Kivisto said.

At this time, the Air Force uses a large network of small telescopes to look at space debris, which it is interested in tracking, Kivisto said.

Although the data currently collected by the telescopes only looks like white dots, the Air Force can recover useful data using analysis techniques.

Oculus-ASR will allow the Air Force to have truth measurements with which to compare its telescope data.

This will enable the Air Force to determine the accuracy of its telescopes, and make changes to its data extraction methods to become more accurate, Kivisto explained.

Oculus-ASR will fly over the Air Force’s telescopes in Hawaii and perform different maneuvers.

The satellite will have panels that will change its shape, and different materials and colors.

After the flight, the Air Force can compare the data it acquired through its telescopes to the information about the satellite and its maneuvers given by the Aerospace Enterprise team, Kivisto said.

The Air Force will then be able to see how accurately its telescopes detect shape, color, and material.

Another function of the Oculus-ASR is to test the feasibility of space-to-space imaging, because the Air Force would like to have cameras in space to supplement its ground-based telescope network, Kivisto said.

The Oculus-ASR will have an imager on board the satellite, along with a releasable object.

The object will be released and pictures of it will be taken with the imager, Kivisto said.

Kivisto’s contributions

The Aerospace Enterprise team broke into smaller teams to work on different aspects of the satellite, Kivisto said.

“Getting all the systems to work together properly was a big challenge,” Kivisto said. “Each group is working on a different aspect of the satellite, and to make sure the systems interface properly requires a lot of communication.”

Kivisto was part of the power team, which was in charge of designing and building a power control board that distributed power to all the components of the satellite.

The satellite was powered by a battery, which was charged by solar cells placed all over the satellite.

When Kivisto joined the team, the power control board was already built, so she helped to solder the circuit elements onto the board, she said.

She also helped with testing and documenting everything to prove to the judges the satellite could do what the team said it could do.

Kivisto and another team member also wrote the satellite’s power analysis program.

The program modeled the power consumption of all the components on the satellite, and modeled the charging of the battery, Kivisto said.

Using the model, team members were able to test different scenarios of maneuvers the satellite would be doing while in orbit and see whether the power level in the battery ever dropped too low.

“It was really fun to be a part of a team that created the winning satellite,” Kivisto said.

Kivisto is the daughter of Bruce and Kathleen Kivisto of Cokato.

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