CU researchers prepare for launch sending cereal box-sized satellite into space to study planet evolution

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DENVER (KDVR) — A launch from a U.S. Space Force base will hold personal meaning for a team of CU Boulder researchers who are hoping to learn more about planets beyond our solar system. A satellite they’ve developed, that’s as small as a “family-sized cereal box,” is scheduled to hitch a ride to space on Monday.

That satellite— designed and built at CU Boulder is known as CUTE— the Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment. It’s a CubeSat.

“CubeSats are usually launched as a guest, or as a ride share, on a rocket that’s hosting a much larger main payload,” said Arika Egan, a graduate research assistant on the CUTE team..

CUTE is scheduled to blast off with a Untied Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket next to the Landsat 9 satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Egan and her colleagues will be there.

“To be able to see it in person— from a very personal standpoint— I’m giddy about that,” she said. “Four years of my time, and it’s finally, it’s finally happening.”

In Colorado, a ground station at CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics will search for and monitor CUTE’s beacon in earth’s orbit. Then, if successful, it will collect data from other solar systems for about two and a half years. That research can also tell scientists a lot about our own solar system.

“All the planets in our solar system are so very, very different from each other,” Egan said. “We know how they exist today. We know what they’re like— as they are today— but we don’t have a record from a billion years ago when they were forming.”

CUTE shows the promise of allowing researchers to extend the usage of small satellites for various subjects of research.

“If that’s successful, it kind of opens the door for more [missions],” Egan explained.

Egan said CUTE is the second CubeSat for astro-physics data collection that NASA has funded.

Additional information is available on the CUTE website.

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