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Montgomery Students Compete on National Science Team

Barbara A. Preston, Editor | JANUARY 4, 2021

Eight Montgomery and Princeton high school girls are competing as a joint team in a national competition to build CubeSat prototypes in a classroom that could ultimately be used in space.

From August to October, high school teams from schools across the country have created mission proposals for CubeSat projects. The field has been narrowed to five finalist teams, each working on a mission related space travel — atmospheric pressure density and habitable planetary environments.

From left, top: Suhani Karanjawala, Varrsha Madhan, Saachi Yadav. From left, bottom: Gopika Thanikkappilly, Dina Dank, Jiaying “Caroline” Liu

A CubeSat, or a cube satellite, is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research that is made up of multiples of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm cubic units. Through the challenge, the U.S. Department of Education invited high schools to design space missions projects and include the building CubeSat prototypes — in the classroom or at home.

Designing and building a CubeSat prototype in this multiphase challenge offers students a firsthand opportunity to learn valuable technical skills — such as engineering, computer science, research, logistics, project management, and marketing — that can be applied to careers in aerospace and many other industries, says Montgomery Science teacher Daniel Lee.

A CubeSat is about the size of a Rubik's cube.

The group of six girls from Montgomery High School are alphabetically by first name: Caroline Liu, Dina Dank, Gopika Thanikkappilly, Saachi Yadav, Suhani Karanjawala, and Varrsha Madhan.

“Each student submitted their own mission proposal for the CubeSat design and in doing so we paired it down to four big picture missions,” Lee says.

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The first mission is to measure atmospheric pressure using sound. This is a way to potentially identify other habitable planets that may have an atmosphere to support and sustain life. Two next two missions searching for spots in low Earth orbit where extremophile life could potentially exist based on criteria relating to UVC and temperature.

The final mission is simple technology readiness to see if the CubeSat can survive a launch, survive space, and still work. The group of girls at Princeton High School is still in the process of being finalized. Their task will be to actually build the physical CubeSat using 3D printing.

“We plan on having a community engagement event,” Lee says, “that will be able to have this launch happen live.”