NASA has agreed to launch a miniature solar-powered satellite — actually a 4-inch cube — being developed by a group of students at Brown University.
Using a rechargeable power supply equivalent to a Kindle Fire tablet, its array of 16 or so LED lights will emit a quick pattern of flashes every two minutes. They will be bright enough to be seen at night by the naked eye.
“It should be visible if you’re outside and just looking up,” said Emily Gilbert, a member of the team.
It will also send out brief radio signals detectable by amateur radio receivers.
The group is planning to develop a phone app that tells people where and when they can look for the satellite’s flashes.
Known as EQUiSat, the satellite will weigh about 2 pounds and orbit at 185 to 250 miles above the earth. Its built-in magnets will use Earth’s magnetic field to keep the LED array pointing along the same latitude as Providence, where the light flashes will be brightest.
The students hope to build it for $3,000.
NASA often lets tiny “nanosatellites” piggyback onto larger satellites that it launches.
The exact date of the launch has not been determined. It will be sometime between 2015 and 2017.
EQUiSat is expected to stay in orbit no more than two years before atmospheric drag pulls it back to earth, Gilbert said.