Student-Led Initiative Will Launch Satellites as 'Ambassadors for World Peace'

Earth seen from the International Space Station

Sunrise over the ocean, as seen from the International Space Station. The experience of viewing our world from above - called the overview effect - is a central element of the collaboration between Space Trust and the University of Arizona.

NASA/Reid Wiseman

The University of Arizona has joined a collaboration with Space Trust – a nongovernmental organization based in the United Kingdom – and the University of Nairobi in Kenya to develop a series of Earth-orbiting spacecraft built by university students.

The Peace Satellite Project aims to promote global peace and international cooperation, while providing university students hands-on opportunities in science, technology engineering and math.

Dante Lauretta, a Regents Professor of Planetary Sciences in UArizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and principal investigator for NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, has been appointed chief scientist of the project.

The project's first mission will train future space technology leaders in the U.S. and Kenya with an integrated engineering curriculum focused on the design, construction, development, launch and operation of ‎student-built small satellites. The mission is named 0G2030 because it will advocate for making space the new frontier for peace. The 0G stands for "zero gravity," a common shorthand for an environment with little or no gravity, and 2030 refers to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

"The 0G2030 mission seeks to advocate its founding principle of making space the new frontier for peace on Earth and to utilize outer space for innovative space diplomacy on Earth," said Namira Salim, founder and executive chair of Space Trust, which champions world peace through space-themed initiatives.

"A central idea of the project is to provide people on Earth with an experience similar to what astronauts call the 'overview effect' – the experience of viewing our world from above and realizing how fragile it is," Lauretta said. "We want to make it accessible to anyone, not just the tiny fraction of people who are given the opportunity to view the Earth from space."

At the heart of the Peace Satellite Project are CubeSats, small satellites that provide a user-friendly and cost-effective platform for getting hardware and software into space. CubeSats consist of a modular, standardized design built on cubes or "units" measuring 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) along each side.‎ These CubeSats will be designed and built by students at the University of Nairobi in collaboration with students at UArizona, with mentorship provided by faculty at both universities.

Once the satellites are in orbit, Space Trust plans to use them as platforms to transmit messages of peace around the world using the spacecraft communication system. These peace messages will be uploaded in the voices of political, social and religious leaders, as well as members of the general public and young people.

"At this time of the democratization of space, we want to send messages that promote equitable and sustainable space exploration as a tool for accomplishing world peace," Salim said. "We conceived the 0G2030 mission to directly support the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda of 2030."

Students from the University of Nairobi have satellite design and development experience from the 1KUNS satellite, the first CubeSat mission of the Kenya Space Agency, and UArizona students have learned from working on CatSat1, a CubeSat currently being developed at the University of Arizona.

The UArizona students will develop the broadcasting antenna for the 0G2030 CubeSat, provide ground system support for spacecraft operation and lead the environmental qualification program for the satellite, which certifies survivability through launch and in space.

On Oct. 23, the two universities and Space Trust participated in an international symposium where they discussed the development of the UArizona CatSat1 and the University of Nairobi's CubeSat platform, and exchanged experiences including current progress and the applications of this technology to the planned 0G2030 CubeSat.

"I'm most excited about continuing our CubeSat development in collaboration with our Kenyan colleagues," Lauretta said. "Through this unique opportunity, students will build a one-unit CubeSat that will serve as a pathfinder project. They will gain hands-on experience on how to ship, test and commission an actual space satellite."

Following the one-unit CubeSat, the universities plan to develop a larger three-unit CubeSat.

"Our students will gain experience in design of mobile applications that help incorporate, integrate and disseminate satellite data such as peace messages and develop and transform it into a three-unit CubeSat," said J. Mwangi Mbuthia, principal investigator of the Nanosatellite Platform for the University of Nairobi. Mbuthia is a professor of engineering and holds the Kenya Space Agency Research Chair at the University of Nairobi.

The project will use a specialized testing lab that is currently being constructed at the University of Arizona. The lab will put hardware through the paces by mimicking the environmental conditions of launch and operation in space.

"Our collaboration dovetails perfectly with UArizona's investments in space development," Lauretta said. "Drawing from our extensive track record in robotic space exploration, we will provide technical advice and expertise to help educate a workforce fluent in space-faring technology."

"We hope the initiative will galvanize our common humanity, harness the power of space to unite nations in the midst of an increasingly divisive world and encourage global partnerships," Salim said.

Watch how inflatable antenna technology could revolutionize space communication in this short NASA video about the CatSat concept study.