Phase 2 is underway: Finalists begin CubeSat prototype builds

Since Phase 2 kicked off in January, the five CTE Mission: CubeSat finalists have been busy iterating their prototype designs and planning their flight events. The second phase gives the teams an opportunity to connect with mentors and subject matter experts, including:

  • Ali Guarneros Luna, Senior Aerospace Engineer, NASA
  • Bjarke Gotfredsen, Co-founder, XinaBox
  • David Cuartielles, Co-founder, Arduino
  • Judi Sandrock, Co-founder, XinaBox
  • Lauren Milford, Partnerships and Outreach Manager, DreamUp
  • Massimo Banzi, Co-founder, Arduino
  • Mehak Sarang, Lunar Exploration Projects Lead, MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative
  • Raycho Raychev, Founder, EnduroSat
  • Robert Atkins, National Security Space Manager, Moog Space Systems
  • Robert Twiggs, Co-inventor of CubeSats, Twiggs Space Lab
  • Ted Tagami, CEO and Co-founder,
  • Victor Danchev, Physicist and Mission Manager, EnduroSat
  • William Edmonson, USA XinaBox Ambassador, XinaBox

In April, finalists will launch their CubeSat prototypes to study topics important to their own communities, as well as broader space exploration. Follow their monthly updates and read on for more details on how their missions are progressing.

Students tackle design and build processes

Finalist teams received cash prizes, development kits, and expert mentorship donated to the U.S. Department of Education by Arduino, Blue Origin, Chevron, EnduroSat, LEGO Education,, MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative, and XinaBox. The teams are exploring technologies and learning skills that will support essential functions in their CubeSat prototypes, such as data collection and GPS.

Testing the data collection process. Photo courtesy of the Opelika High School team.

This career and technical education (CTE) challenge provides new opportunities for students to make, break, and learn by doing. With only a few weeks before their flight events, the five teams are already building and testing their prototypes.

“We began with 3D printing the structure because it is the only part of the project for which we had the materials and a design ready. Printing the structure gave the engineering team something to physically look at as they tried to envision where the components would go and how those components would fit inside the cube.”
Mooresville High School team

Early challenges provide new opportunities to learn and pivot

From measuring Earth’s surface temperature to studying the effect of population growth, the finalists proposed a range of ambitious and complex missions. To get their prototypes off the ground, students need to learn a range of skills.

“We realized that instead of just learning to reference existing libraries, we needed to research the Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C) protocol in more depth. We also had to contact previous members of the Montgomery ThinSat Club to learn more about I2C, since they had experience with SN01, SL01, breadboarding, and PCB design.”
Princeton High School team

But as students quickly realized, creating a mission proposal was only the first step — many of the teams faced early hurdles to key parts of their missions. These firsthand learning experiences challenge students to become more adaptable in problem solving.

“We found that the area we planned to fly the CubeSat is within an FAA UAS Controlled Airspace, which does not allow any unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to be flown. Knowing that the site in mind is otherwise perfect for our mission, we found weather balloons online that we will use to carry our CubeSat.”
Anderson Clark Magnet High School team

Site suitability analysis. Photo courtesy of the Anderson Clark Magnet High School team.

Missions inspire new ideas for CTE classes

Through the national challenge, the U.S. Department of Education aims to expand engaging learning experiences for high school students. Phase 2 asks the lead CTE teachers to incorporate the schools’ existing CTE programs into the missions — supporting students in building creative, collaborative, and technical skills for future careers. 

“The CTE connection for all of the students includes preparation for postsecondary learning and the development of workforce skills, including leadership and critical thinking. These are in addition to the technical aspects of engineering design, programming, electronics, and communication.”
Opelika High School team

Participating in CTE Mission: CubeSat has also inspired schools to consider new ways to integrate and create more interdisciplinary CTE offerings. The challenge encourages teachers everywhere to start their own CubeSat projects by using the challenge resource hub, which offers access to curated educational resources and expert webinars.

“We have used CTE Mission: CubeSat to broaden our CTE curricula. Our Virtual Enterprise class now includes space entrepreneurship as a topic. The Video Media Production class will now collaborate with our Physics teacher to study how data obtained from drones can be used to calculate air friction’s effect on potential energy, kinetic energy, and energy loss.”
Freeport High School team

Stay updated on the student missions

This spring, the finalists will launch their CubeSat prototypes and report their mission outcomes. Subscribe to the CTE Mission: CubeSat newsletter to receive news about the flight events and other Phase 2 updates.

Editor’s note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

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