Almost all the space excitement this week has been on Mars, where the latest NASA rover, Perseverance, landed and started sending back incredible views, such as video of its landing - a film first.

I say "almost," because a resupply launch to the International Space Station (ISS) Saturday, February 20, carried a little satellite designed and constructed by a team at Montana State University in Bozeman. A Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft lifted off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and less than two hours later docked at the space station.

The "IT-SPINS" satellite will stay at the orbiting space station until spring, when it will orbit on its own and measure the outer edges of Earth's atmosphere, as it goes around the planet 14 times a day. The six-month mission is the twelfth satellite that MSU students have sent into space since 2015. This one has a sensor that will measure ultraviolet light in the top layers of our planet's atmosphere - an area called the ionosphere and thermosphere. Ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from our Sun can cause ions around the Earth to increase and emit light of their own, which can interfere with satellites and space vehicles.

The sensor itself was created by the research institute SRI International. However, everything else on the satellite was done by the students - including solar panels, batteries, hardware and the controls. An MSU news release noted that about 30 MSU engineering and computer science students were involved, working in the Space Science and Engineering Laboratory. For instance, Nevin Leh, who has a bachelor's degree in computer science, programmed the software that sends instructions to the satellite, keeps track of it and downloads the data.

The project started in 2015 with a $1 million National Science Foundation grant, one of many national grants that MSU has received as they help NASA with different missions.

See New Words Added to Dictionary.com in 2020