NASA launch to help study health, carry Virginia students' satellites

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WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (AP/WDBJ) — Officials say the next launch from Virginia's spaceport to the International Space Station will help with more than 40 scientific investigations including into Alzheimer's, hearts, atmospheric carbon dioxide and free-flying robots.

News outlets report Northrop Grumman's commercial resupply mission for NASA will lift off Wednesday afternoon from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. A rocket will take an unmanned spacecraft with about 7,500 pounds of payload (3,400 kilograms) to the ISS.

ISS scientist Liz Warren says it's like looking at research through a new lens that'll enable discoveries to help all.

The probes will examine Alzheimer's and other chronic disease treatments, track astronauts' hearts and physical fitness, test carbon dioxide removal in the ISS and robots to look outside.

Brenda Dingwall with NASA says satellites built by students will be on board.

One of those was built by undergraduate students at Virginia Tech.

"A group of Virginia Tech undergraduate students recently delivered their small satellite to Houston to be incorporated into NanoRacks’ commercially developed CubeSat deployer. Virginia Tech’s satellite, along with two satellites from other Virginia universities, is scheduled to launch on the payload section of Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket and then will be headed to the International Space Station," officials said in a statement.

A team of 50 undergraduate students from the College of Engineering and College of Science developed the satellite at the Center of Space and Engineering Research.

All three of the satellites will be deployed into orbit simultaneously by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

According to the release, the satellites developed by Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia should orbit for up to two years. While the Old Dominion University's satellite is expected to orbit for up to four months.

“Designing and manufacturing instrumentation for operation in space is extremely challenging,” said Kevin Shinpaugh, the team’s faculty advisor. “It requires a lot of precision and you need to be particularly careful with construction and electronic wiring. If there is an issue once the satellite is deployed, you can’t go up there to make a quick fix.”

The initiative began in June 2016 as part of the Virginia CubeSat Constellation, a collaborative program between the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and four of its member universities which includes: Virginia Tech, Old Dominion University, University of Virginia and Hampton University.

“I’m super excited to see this come full circle, all the way from development to the launch,” said Brodnax. “We’ve all been working so hard, and there have been many late nights and staying in the lab on weekends... We all just came together and worked that much harder because everyone really wanted to see it completed."