Faculty Research at Morehead State University


A University-Based Ground Station: The 21 m Antenna at Morehead State University

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The Space Science Center (Department of Earth and Space Sciences) at Morehead State University (MSU), Morehead, KY (USA) operates a 21 meter diameter, full motion, research quality, parabolic dish antenna system, built under contract for MSU by Vertex-RSI, one of the premier fabrication corporations for high gain antennas. This system, referred to as the MSU 21 m Space Tracking Antenna, is engaged in ongoing research programs in radio astronomy and is also capable of operation in a satellite ground station mode, providing telemetry, tracking, and command (TT&C) services for a wide variety of satellite systems. The 21 m is used as a test bed for advanced RF systems developed by the faculty, students, and collaborators. This system has the capability of tracking fast moving, low transmitting power small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), as well as satellites at geostationary, lunar, and potentially Earth-Sun Lagrangian orbits. Currently configured for operation at L-,band and Ku-band, with feeds being implemented at S-band and near term plans for the development of a C-band system, with others planned. The instrument also serves as an active laboratory for students engaged in research and training in space science, electrical and mechanical engineering, telecommunications electronics, astrophysics, and space systems operation. The instrument is largely operated by undergraduate students who work in the associated laboratories to achieve hands-on training in RF systems and techniques. The instrument serves as the primary Earth station facility for the Kentucky Space Program which develops and operates small satellites (cubesats and other picosats) for education and workforce development. Cubesat (1 kg pico-class satellites) programs offer outstanding education and training experience at low cost. They have evolved into a highly flexible and useful platform, having been flown by numerous universities, NASA, and a number of aerospace companies. The 21 m supports the small satellite community and in particular cubesat programs. In addition to providing ground operations support for small satellite programs, the 21 m is currently engaged in a rigorous scientific program in fundamental research (radio observations of micro-variability in active galactic nuclei (AGNs) and observations of transient events, (i.e. radio afterglow of Gamma Ray Bursts) and applied research (RF systems development). Current ongoing missions supported by the 21 m include the Kentucky Space program orbiting satellite (KySat-1), scheduled for launch in November 2010 as secondary payload on NASA’s Glory mission, and suborbital missions typically flown on sounding rockets from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (Wallops Island, VA). Additional missions include supporting ongoing testing and calibration of the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Mini-RF instrument, a multi-function payload that includes capabilities as a space based synthetic aperture radar and communication system, among others.