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Thanks to the University of Hawaiʻi, the state of Hawaiʻi is on the verge of becoming a major player in the space industry. UH is leading the way in a historic effort, the first ever space launch from the 50th state.
“This means a lot for the university and it means a lot for the state because what we are trying to do is we are trying to attract folks that will build small satellites for the state of Hawaiʻi,” said Luke Flynn, the director of the Hawaiʻi Space Flight Laboratory.
The upside is as vast as space itself.
“If we can continue to launch and create the opportunity for a new business here, it could be a new economic sector here in Hawaiʻi,” said University of Hawaiʻi President M.R.C. Greenwood.
“Part of the ultimate goal is to create a space base industry here in Hawaiʻi and have high tech jobs for people,” said Georgeanne Friend, a Kauaʻi Community College instructor.
The satellite that will be deployed in the inaugural launch is being designed and constructed on the UH Mānoa campus by students, recent graduates and researchers.
It is all part of the Hawaiʻi Space Flight Laboratory, or HSFL, a multidisciplinary research and education center within the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology and the College of Engineering.
“It is really interesting for all the students to really be able to see what they learned in college being actually put into application,” said Jeremy Chan, the HSFL project manager. “Suddenly, all the theory becomes reality.”
The HSFL team is developing, testing and building rocket launcher systems, spacecraft avionics, mission operations software, scientific instruments: every aspect of an unmanned spacecraft and mission, except for the rocket and rocket motors. The launch will take place at Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauaʻi.
The idea is to begin launching small satellites on a regular basis attracting companies looking for an affordable way to test their space technology. The university helps hold down the cost by playing a key role in the research and development of that technology, which also gives UH students invaluable experience.
“It’s actually a win, win, win in all situations,” said Flynn. “For the university, for the country, for the state and also for the corporations that are willing to invest.”
It is also a true systemwide effort at UH. One of the satellite payloads is being built by students at Honolulu Community College, which will also operate a receiving station during the mission. The command and control center will be based at Kauaʻi Community College.
“This gives the students a really nice opportunity to work with something that is really happening that is being launched in space,” said Friend.
“It is pretty amazing,” said Kauaʻi Community College student Jeff Dorough. “When I signed up for community college, I really didn’t expect them to offer the kind of opportunity that they do.”
“What we are trying to do is to teach them, not only how to get a job when they’re getting an education, but also how to create their own jobs,” said Greenwood.
It also creates a new world of opportunity for the future generations of Hawaiʻi, like Amber Imai of the Big Island, who got a job as an avionics engineer at HSFL after graduating from UH Mānoa.
“When I am able to go home and kind of explain to family, friends, past teachers and stuff about the opportunity that I have been given, it is really interesting to see everybody’s reaction and how surprised and amazed they are,” said Imai.