Some students from the University of Alberta are in emotional orbit after watching a tiny satellite they built launch into space on a giant NASA rocket.
Charles Nokes, a space physics student who hails from Lacombe, cried and then high-fived colleagues in elation Tuesday as the Atlas V blasted off into a bright blue sky from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"You see the rocket engines and the fire coming out and you feel the rumble," he said from a vantage point only a few kilometres from the launch pad.
"We cried. We put Alberta's first satellite into space!"
The cube satellite called Ex-Alta 1 is being carried to the International Space Station in a cargo capsule.
Later this spring, it is to be deployed into orbit with other cube satellites designed at other universities around the world.
The mission is to study space weather and the lower thermosphere at altitudes below 400 kilometres above the Earth.
Once the satellite is in orbit, students are to study data it will transmit to better understand high-energy particles and electromagnetic fields.
Ex-Alta 1, which is about the size of a loaf of bread, will burn up during re-entry into the atmosphere within a few years.
Nokes said this part of lower space is rarely studied because it would be too expensive to lose a larger satellite.
Students and faculty at the University of Alberta have been working on the satellite project since 2010.
Some of the money for Ex-Alta 1 was raised from more than 600 donors in a crowd-funding project. The names of the donors are on a microchip aboard the tiny craft.
Nokes, 23, said watching the satellite lift off justified all the years of hard work and delays on the student-led project. He served as systems engineer and project manager for Ex-Alta 1.
"It has been quite the unique learning experience," said Nokes, who is studying for his masters degree.
Another team of students at the university is working on designing and building a second satellite called Ex-Alta 2.
There is evidence that Tuesday's launch is already inspiring a new generation of students about space exploration.
Nokes said the mother of one team member is a teacher who played the video of the satellite launch to her kindergarten class.
"She sent us a photo of her students watching the launch live on the screen. That was really cool."
(John Cotter, The Canadian Press)
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