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Fairfax County school to launch student-built satellite to space

Wednesday - 10/30/2013, 10:14am  ET

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Overall, 50 students have been involved with the TJ3Sat (pronounced TJ CubeSat) project. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

Fairfax County students work on an out-of-this-world project

WTOP's Mike Murillo reports.

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. - When TJ3Sat launches next month from Virginia's Wallops Flight Facility, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology will become the first school to send a student-built satellite to space.

A group of students at Thomas Jefferson started the one-of-a-kind project eight years ago.

With the help of Adam Kemp, the energy systems lab director for the school located in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, they went on a mission to develop a satellite that would be launched into space.

"We've taken this project from conception, to presenting it in front of NASA and other engineers to this point, where we are ready to fly," Kemp says.

Overall, 50 students have been involved with the TJ3Sat (pronounced TJ CubeSat) project. Many of them were forced to leave at different stages as they moved out of high school and into college.

"There are a lot of students that started this project ... they've graduated from college," Kemp says.

This year, Rohan Punnoose is the senior lead on the project. He says the satellite will allow them to communicate with people all over the globe using radio frequencies to receive and transmit messages.

"I can communicate with anyone else in the world. I can say 'Go Colonials' on our ground station and when it is on the other side of the world, in India, someone can tune to that frequency and hear 'Go Colonials'" he says.

All messages are sent in text form and a computer-generated voice relays that message down to the ground.

At one point, students worked side-by-side with professional satellite engineers at Orbital. They were allowed to use high- tech equipment to work on and improve the TJ3SaT.

Recently the satellite was tested for launch and given the green light. Now the students are preparing to send it to space aboard a rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Nov. 19.

And, on the ground, the students who originally developed the satellite will keep a watchful eye as it works for three months.

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