Satellite built at U of I deployed into space

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CAPSat is deployed into orbit by robotic arm from the International Space Station on October 12, 2021 . Photo courtesy NASA/ISS

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – A small satellite built by the University of Illinois’ Department of Physics was deployed into space yesterday from the International Space Station.

The satellite known as CAPSat (Cool Annealing Payload Satellite) was constructed as part of a collaborative experiment of the University of Illinois and the University of Waterloo in Canada. Illinois physics professor Paul Kwiat serves as the primary investigator of the project, assisted by Waterloo physics and astronomy professor Thomas Jennewein and Illinois aerospace engineering professor Michael Lembeck.

The Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois (LASSI), which Lembeck is director of, handles communication with CAPSat from its ground station in Urbana. LASSI achieved first contact with the satellite today at 2:52 p.m.

CAPSat is only the size of a loaf of bread, but it contains an important experiment that will help engineers determine how to protect a future quantum internet satellite network from radiation in orbit.

“The eventual development of a global quantum internet would enable several further advancements,” Kwiatt said. “Ranging from the ability to do quantum computing in the cloud—accessing and programming queries on the network without ownership of a quantum computer—to the potential use of the network for distributed quantum sensing, such as a quantum telescope.”

It took six years of planning and experiments to get CAPSat built and deployed into space. Much of the work was done by undergraduate students at UIUC, two of whom personally delivered CAPSat to NASA’s launch service provider Nanoracks in early July. The satellite arrived on the ISS in late August via a SpaceX resupply mission.

Kwiatt says that the project wouldn’t be possible without the 40 years of in-flight mission experience Lembeck provided. It was Lembeck’s team who assembled the satellite and designed its circuitry.

 “Our LASSI lab has enjoyed working with such world-class physicists as Paul Kwiat and Thomas Jennewein to attempt this exciting experiment in a small satellite form factor,” Lembeck said. “We have looked forward to seeing CAPSat deployed from the ISS and meeting the team’s mission objectives.”

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