RATHDRUM — A team of North Idaho STEM Charter Academy students is about to land among the stars.
While the rest of the world is counting down to a new year, the Project DaVinci team is counting down to 8 p.m. Wednesday, when the cube satellite (CubeSat) the students have been working on for two years will launch into space on an electron rocket from a Rocket Lab ground station in New Zealand.
"It’s finally becoming reality," project co-lead and ground communications lead Samantha Schroeder, a freshman, said during a team meeting at the school. "It’s very exciting."
"It’s been very difficult when you have many different delays, which was kind of an issue," said freshman Basquiat Nelson, who manages the team's logistics. "Now we have a solid launch, which I’m just stoked for."
Project DaVinci is the only high school/K-12 team in the country that was selected to participate in NASA's CubeSat Space Mission. Of the original 20 teams, only about a dozen are still participating, and this is the only Idaho team participating this launch year.
Chosen in early 2016, the students have since worked tirelessly to design the 12-inch-high, 4-inch-wide and 4-inch-deep satellite, as well as raise the funds to pay for expenses not covered by the initial grant that covers the costly (up to $2 million) rocket launch that will insert Project DaVinci into orbit around Earth.
After the launch, the team will be able to send and receive inspirational Morse code messages using a Globalstar relay system and interact with Space Ambassadors.
"Space Ambassadors are people who are very enthusiastic about space around the world, so we get them to sign up through our website, projectdavincicubesat.org,” said Project DaVinci's Space Ambassador, eighth-grader Cole Chandler, who will be going to California this week to represent his team at a Rocket Lab facility while the launch takes place.
Rocket Lab is an American company, with a wholly owned New Zealand subsidiary, that develops and launches advanced rocket technology to provide access to orbit for small satellites.
“I know I’m going to see and speak to the Rocket Lab technicians there in Huntington (Beach), really just see what it’s like in a major corporation like that," Cole said.
DaVinci team members will be able to control the camera on the satellite from their ground station, which will be located at LCF Enterprises in Post Falls, owned by the team's technical lead, Dr. Lorna Finman.
“I really hope our first picture from the camera is of STEM Charter,” said STEM Charter teacher and school-wide enrichment program/project specialist Beth Brubaker, who serves as Project DaVinci's educational lead.
While the satellite is in orbit, it will send fractional amounts of cryptocurrency to the Earth that Space Ambassadors will be able to intercept. The Project DaVinci satellite will conduct one of the first Bitcoin transactions from space.
“The cool thing is, through our website that we’re revamping, you can open a Bitcoin wallet,” Basquiat said. "When it’s going overhead raining down Bitcoin you can collect it."
The satellite also contains a virtual time capsule that shares information about what life was like when this satellite was in progress.
The students are planning an all-school event later this month to celebrate Project DaVinci's success. Students of all grade levels will participate in space-based trivia sessions, then they'll assemble in the gym to watch a recording of the launch.
The team is excited to ignite a curiosity and passion about space in students around the world as well as at STEM Charter. Team members see this as a success not just for them, but their entire school.
The team raised $250,000 to build the satellite and will be working on raising $20,000 more for the ground station. Members are working on an Indegogo.com video that they plan to have on their website, www.projectdavincicubesat.org, as well as the school's website, www.northidahostem charteracademy.org.
"I’ve had many opportunities to inspire students throughout my career, but launching a satellite is most definitely the highlight,” Brubaker said. "Our slogan is ‘lighting up minds around the world,’ and that’s really our goal, to inspire students here at STEM Charter Academy and around the world."