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We have liftoff in Freeport

Students’ nanosatellite soars in national contest


Freeport students saw nearly two years of hard work pay off as their nanosatellite soared into the sky during a successful launch on April 27. 

The student-designed cube nanosatellite — measuring 10 centimeters, or about 4 inches, on each side — was launched from the high school’s field as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s CubeSat Challenge Flight Week, which had its finalists test their nanosatellites’ ability to work in the air and land safely. 

The CubeSat Challenge is a national competition that asked school districts to design cube-shaped nanosatellites that could feasibly send data collected from space back to Earth. Freeport was selected as one of five finalists last year to conduct this launch. 

“With the test flight, the CubeSat team was able to see the outcome of their dedication and commitment to the CubeSat Challenge,” said Director of Science Dr. Vincent Pereira. “We are truly on a path toward bringing space missions out of the clouds and into the classroom.”

“The test flight of the CubeSat prototype built by Freeport students is a thrilling, momentous event for our district,” added Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kishore Kuncham. “The district has been fully involved in supporting our students through this U.S. Department of Education challenge.

Work on the Freeport CubeSat began in the summer of 2019, when the Freeport School District was awarded a NASA/New York Space grant.  Freeport is the third public school district in the state, and the only one on Long Island, to receive the grant.

Pereira, Dr. Anthony Murray, director of math and technology; and Dr. Richard Johnson, lead teacher in business and technology, joined together to guide a group of 15 students from Freeport High School and J.W. Dodd Middle School to design and construct a nanosatellite to enter the CubeSat Challenge.  

Pereira explained that the goal of Freeport’s satellite would be to collect data that measures the Earth’s surface temperature and study the differences in heat absorption and retention between urban and rural areas. 

Pereira also said he hoped to measure the friction that the CubeSat would endure as it revolved around the Earth at 400 mph. 

Johnson, who doversees the students, said the bulk of the work started during the coronavirus pandemic. While it had been difficult to manage the project because of the district’s hybrid-learning model, for which students alternate attending in-person classes with virtual learning, the team still met online to collaborate on the project.

“There’s definitely been some challenges, but everyone wants to showcase their work at the end of this,” Johnson said. 

Before the launch last week, Johnson and his students created prototypes with a 3D printer to check whether the CubeSat could hold its electronics and payload in place at launch by conducting 2,000 feet deployment tests with a drone. 

Technology teachers Louis Inzerilli and Daniel Ciamaricone led the electronics and launch aspects.   

As CubeSat Challenge finalists, the Freeport students received advice and tips from experts. Dr. Jase Bernhardt, of Hofstra University, assisted in the scientific aspects of the project, and Dr. Dave Biersach, of Brookhaven Laboratory, Dr. Jeff Hung, of Farmingdale State College and Dr. Mason Peck, of Cornell University, provided aid in the electronics and structural design. Freeport also received a $5,000 grant to put the project together. 

Freeport students were also able to show off their CubeSat to NASA astronaut Scott Tingle, who visited the district through a virtual assembly to help promote the district’s project on Nov. 23. 

After the successful test flight of the Freeport CubeSat, the team presented its completed project to the CubeSat Developers Workshop in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Freeport’s student team leader, Victor Villatoro, also presented their findings to the U.S. Department of Education in a live virtual discussion, along with the four other CubeSat finalists.

The judges will reconvene in the future to review all flight reports and select winners.