Lauren Sorci, a junior at Oakwood School, is pictured working on the frame of a satellite that she and her classmates are building to send to space via an upcoming NASA mission. Photo: Tere Casey

High school students at Morgan Hill’s Oakwood School are in the process of building a satellite that will be sent to outer space on a future NASA mission. 

The satellite, known as NyanSat, is one of 10 small research satellites recently selected by the U.S. space agency to be part of NASA’s CubeSat launch initiative. Other satellites assigned to the mission were produced by university programs from throughout the country, and Oakwood was the only K-12 team selected for the CubeSat launch. 

Oakwood’s students—led by engineering instructor Michael Lyle—in fact began working on NyanSat in 2021. Students currently enrolled in Oakwood’s spacecraft engineering class and participating in the school’s engineering club are “pretty deep in design” for NyanSat this school year. 

To date, about 30 Oakwood students have worked on NyanSat since the project began. 

“We have prototyped a lot of the components. We have a mission that is approved. Now we are building a satellite that will be launched into space,” Lyle said. 

Lyle and NyanSat’s student creators are hoping their satellite will be ready for launch in late 2025. 

NASA’s CubeSat launch will send 10 small satellites—equivalent to the size of a four-inch cube—into space for various research purposes. NyanSat, specifically, will carry seven different student-developed payloads for technology demonstration and educational outreach, Lyle explained. 

One aspect of NyanSat’s payload is the “acoustic spacecraft mapping” component, which uses sound pulses through the satellite’s structure to assess the status of the satellite’s solar panels and other moving parts, Lyle said. 

“This could drastically simplify future space missions, which have had to rely upon unreliable switches for similar tasks,” Lyle said. 

Another mission of NyanSat is to determine the impact of space exposure on semiconductor materials and how they behave in orbit versus on the ground. 

The work required to design and build NyanSat involves many disciplines, skills and areas of expertise—and Oakwood’s students do it all. 

The student team has worked with CAD design tools; designed solar panels and their fastening components; mapped intricate circuit boards; created a mission logo; and had to figure out an array of complicated mechanics that are not commonplace on Earth. 

Oakwood junior Lauren Sorci started working on NyanSat about three years ago. She has been working on the satellite’s mechanical aspects and structure. That includes a system of “burn wire” and spring loading parts that will allow NyanSat’s antennae, panels and other moving parts to unfold once the craft is in space and free from its transport shuttle, Sorci and Lyle explained. 

Pictured are Oakwood engineering students and engineering club members who are currently working on the NyanSat project for NASA. Front row: Ruchir Kavulli, Shrihan Dash and Lauren Sorci. Front row: Kayden Wang, Porter Banks and Dillon Hall. Photo: Tere Casey

“I’ve worked on it since the start, so it’s cool to see how much work has gone into (being selected) to fly it to space,” Sorci said. 

Freshman Porter Banks said he has “learned a lot about how to solve these problems” since he started working on NyanSat at the beginning of this year. Banks is working on NyanSat’s solar panels and how to attach them to the satellite. 

“There’s a bunch of micro solar panels and they have to fit optimally on the spacecraft,” said Banks, who has wanted to work on NyanSat since he heard about it in middle school. 

“I was kind of surprised to see that this is actually an opportunity,” Banks added. 

Since its inception, NASA’s CubeSat Launch initiative has sent about 160 satellites similar to NyanSat to space. Many of those were developed by university or graduate student teams. 

NyanSat is unique among previous student-let teams in that Lyle lets the students “do everything.”

“I throw them in the deep end and see what happens next,” Lyle said. 

To Lyle, perhaps the most exciting thing about the NyanSat project is that he and his students are deeply involved in creating new technology and testing how it will work under various conditions. 

“We’re taking a small but significant step that could improve future space missions,” Lyle said. “We’re building new stuff and we’re going to see if it works.”

Banks added that he enjoys working on NyanSat due to the “hands on” nature of the project.

“We have a lot more freedom, and there’s going to be tangible results,” Banks said. 

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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