Elk Creek man working on Ky. Spacecraft

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By Kathy Lynch

Local resident, Mike Schulte, is one of the student engineers working on the Kentucky Spacecraft, KySat-1 satellite program NASA has recently chosen to fly on a mission in mid 2009.

Schulte and his wife, Laura, both 1978 graduates of Jeffersontown High School, have lived in Elk Creek for several years.

With his own amateur satellite tracking system in his back yard, Schulte is able to track the satellites of his choice, adding that anyone can visit the NASA Web site and get information on satellites and when they will be passing over.

Being interested in how these things work could explain how Schulte got where he is today.

“High speed action! The idea of shooting a bullet with a bullet is cool: especially when that bullet is taking the form of a missile that happens to be heading your way,” said Schulte. “I don’t know whether or not my abilities will ever reach this level; but, I want to at least try and learn the science and engineering behind it. Landing a probe on the Moon is another such challenge. Landing people and returning them home, miraculous.”

Schulte, a non-traditional, full-time mechanical engineering student at Jefferson Community and Technical College which is a part of Kentucky Community and Technical College, works with other students from universities in the state such as the University of Kentucky, Moorehead, Murray, Western Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

The Kentucky Space program is an association not only between universities, but public organizations and companies and, according to a press release from Governor Steve Beshear, has launched sub-orbital and near space missions.

The selection by NASA marks a historical first for not only the Kentucky Space program and for Kentucky, but for NASA as well. This will be the first launch of university built satellites into orbit by NASA.

Schulte said his main focus at this time is helping with “developing an environmental testing facility on UK’s campus where we can simulate the space environment for the purpose of testing the small, approximately four-cubic-inch, satellite. With this facility, we will be able to fix the satellite’s various components when they break. We hope to find and fix all components before they are sent up.”

The satellite itself, the KySat-1, is the first of its kind ever built in Kentucky. It is shaped like a cube, powered by solar energy and weighs just over two lbs. Once the satellite’s onboard computer confirms it has been released into orbit, Kentucky Space ground controllers in Kentucky will operate the satellite for the 18-24 month mission.

The hopes are that, after it is in orbit and verified to be working as it should be said Schulte, students of all ages around Kentucky and the world, will be able to access the satellite. By utilizing amatuer and HAM radio tracking systems, students can ask the satellite questions such as “how fast are you going?” and with a human generated voice, the satellite could respond. Students will also be able to ask it to take a picture from where it is right then, and receive the image.

Schulte said anyone can obtain free software that would enable them to track satellites, one way being to google SATPC32, follow the directions and be ready to go into orbit.

People do not have to live in Florida or California to get into this line of work, as Schulte is a perfect example. There are opportunities available right in your own back yard.

“While I am not interested in visiting space, scaffold work was plenty high for me,” said Schulte. “The students in this program are positioned on a path that could well lead to jobs involving space flight.”

Shulte said the group he is part of wants to gain the ability to launch at least one small satellite into space per year.

Satellites from the University of Colorado and Montana State University were also chosen for the mission.

Schulte said Moorehead University and UK are “going full boil on this.” And that Moorehead not only has a satellite tracking dish, but is building a Space Science Center on campus, which will allow students to go into fields such as astro-physics and interplanetary studies. UK has a testing center on campus which the group Schulte works with, utilizes to perform tests to the cube checking for thermal stress. This refers to any joints or spots on the cube that could be weakened while in orbit due to temperature changes from it passing from sunlight to dark.

The hardest part for Schulte is the traveling. He spends a lot of time in Lexington as well as time at Moorehead. The group communicates via the Internet, teleconferencing and meetings online which, Schulte said, can be difficult. But, the results are well worth it.

“It is hoped that the Kentuckians who dream of working in space exploration,” said Schulte. “will need to look no further than their own state for even greater space systems experience than is here already.”