Portland State Students Rely on LiveViewGPS to Find Fallen Satellites


Live View GPS Trackers Sent To The Edge Of Space

The problem

Up in the sky small “UFOs” can be observed drifting down to earth. Are they from Mars? Vulcan? The Klingon Empire?

Then you hear the sounds of trampling boots and excited conversation. An alien invasion?

Sorry to disappoint. They’re students from Portland State University in Oregon looking for their experimental satellite.

The satellites are launched by hydrogen balloons from all over the state as part of the University’s junior design program. Onboard are cameras, radios, transmitters and experiments the students have devised to photograph the horizon, measure the ozone and conduct other studies as part of their course studies.

The student-designed satellites are lifted by 60-foot-diameter latex balloons filled with hydrogen. When the balloon reaches 120,000 feet the thin atmosphere, chilled to -40ºF, freezes and bursts the latex, causing the satellite to plunge earthward. The rapid descent causes a 10-second interval of almost zero gravity in which fluid mechanic experiments can occur. Then the parachute deploys to slow the satellite’s descent to earth.

“My students conduct experiments on the edge of outer space because you can’t mimic those conditions here on earth,” explains Mark Weislogel, professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Portland State University. “Before the launch students calculate and predict outcomes like heat transfer, battery life calculations and rise rates. Plus, of course, they capture amazing images on the verge of outer space. It’s a blast.”

Of course, student predictions are worthless if they can’t recover the satellite. Previously, Professor Weislogel’s students placed radios onboard the satellites, which transmitted their locations directly to chase vehicles. Unfortunately, the radios occasionally were knocked sideways or landed on the other side of a mountain, interrupting direct sight transmissions. In these instances the students were forced to hike through rugged terrain looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. No radio signal, no recovery.

“Finding the satellites is important for two reasons,” says Weislogel. “First, some of the experiments cost over $1,000. Second, the students have only one shot at getting the design right. If we lose the satellite, they lose their chance.”

The LiveViewGPS solution

Because radio transmissions didn’t always work, Professor Weislogel sought a more rugged and reliable solution that could be embedded in the satellites. A solution that guaranteed few if any satellites would be lost. That solution, of course, was GPS.

“I did my research, and after evaluating various GPS solutions I selected the LiveViewGPS Worldwide SX-1 Satellite Tracker,” Weislogel says. “I selected the LiveViewGPS solution for three reasons: performance, battery life and the ability to operate in extreme temperatures.”

The Worldwide SX-1 Satellite Tracker is designed for applications requiring long life and low maintenance. Running on a single field-replaceable lithium battery, the device delivers uninterrupted service for up to seven years (depending on the number of locates per day). It is rugged, waterproof and works flawlessly in temperatures ranging from --40ºF to +185ºF.

The units are also easy to deploy. They can be installed, activated and made operational in less than a minute to track and monitor any asset almost anywhere on earth.

The benefits

“The chances for failure are high in our satellite program,” states Weislogel. “Anything can go wrong. An experiment may fail. The balloon might not operate correctly or the parachute might not deploy. Devices may be damaged on impact. And, of course, there’s the possibility we won’t find the satellite after it lands.

“The Worldwide SX-1 Satellite Tracker is our best guarantee we’ll find the satellite—an important consideration when you realize the satellite may have landed 100 miles away in difficult terrain.”

So if, by chance, you’re in the Portland area and spot a small UFO coming down, relax. When you reach it there should be a message offering a reward for mailing the satellite back to Portland State University.

If, however, the satellite is really a tiny spaceship containing extraterrestrials, phone home.