Blast Off! UH Gears Up for Hawaii’s First Space Launch

Hawaii’s first space launch is just around the corner.

And as the state counts down to the send-off, which is scheduled for this October, University of Hawaii faculty and staff are hard at work building a satellite that will be attached to the launched missile. 

The satellite, dubbed HiakaSat, weighs 110 pounds and is designed to accomplish various tasks, including taking thermal images of Earth. A key goal is to monitor coral reef health over an extended period of time.

Federal agencies — including the Operationally Responsive Space Office, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and the Department of Defense — will be launching the Super Strypi missile from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. Other “Operationally Responsive Space-4” mission team members include Sandia National Laboratories and Aerojet, Inc.

The university hopes to get launch costs down to $16 million, though UH Manoa Hawaii Space Flight Lab Director Luke Flynn said it’s still too early to give an exact estimate of how much it’ll cost. The university so far has contributed about $2 million to the mission for equipment.

The university’s space flight lab has been contracted for the launch facility, three rocket motor stages and the satellite, which will be placed in an orbit close to Earth. Kauai Community College students will be operating the command and control ground station, while Honolulu Community College students are designing some satellite equipment and will operate a receiving station during the mission.

The event is expected to be the first of many launches — seen as a boon for the local economy that will attract companies seeking affordable ways to test space technology.

“We’re trying to attract the small satellite industry to Hawaii,” Flynn said in a phone conference Wednesday. “Students in Hawaii are very capable, very high-tech oriented. We’re hoping to build that capability in the state.”

Flynn called the project a “teaching tool” for students, who are gaining hands-on experience working with satellites.

The mission is a key component of the university’s Innovation Initiative, which aims to bolster Hawaii’s research industry and strengthen the local economy by attracting federal funding and hiring top-notch faculty. 

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Avionics Engineer Amber Imai and Satellite Avionics Assistant Tristan Martinez adjust the satelliteʻs attitude determination and control test bed. (Photo courtesy of UH System.)

— Alia Wong

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