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Elementary School Students Built a Miniature Satellite

Think everything in space is engineered by NASA experts? Think again. In May 2016, a miniature satellite built by gradeschoolers was launched into space.

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St. Thomas More students watch as their CubeSat deploys from the International Space Station.

How'd They Do It?

In May 2016, the pre-kindergarten through 8th grade students of St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, Virginia watched as the CubeSat they had designed and built, called the the STMSat-1, was deployed into space. A CubeSat is a miniature spacecraft that's generally designed to perform only one task -- in this case, photograph the Earth and transmit those images back to us. The device's small size helps lower the cost of space missions while helping engineers complete them more quickly, and the students' successful mission shows that CubeSats have a future in education as well. All 400 students at the school participated in the three-year project, which included such specialized tasks as soldering electronics, operating the communication equipment, and conducting high-altitude tests.

What's The Big Deal?

For many parents, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is a one of the most important parts of their kids' schooling. But not all schools have strong programs. "These are skills that experts say Americans must have if they are to compete in a global marketplace," according to The Atlantic. "U.S. students typically have middling performance on international assessments gauging math and science ability, as well as problem-solving skills." We're guessing the parents at St. Thomas More Cathedral School are pretty pleased.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. A CubeSat is a standard for a small spacecraft. Cubesats can be as small as 10 x 10 x 10 cm and as large as 30 x 20 x 10 cm. 00:33

  2. Because they're so small, CubeSats let engineers get projects off the ground more quickly. They can also cost up to 30 times less than traditional missions. 00:54

  3. CubeSats are limited in what they can do. This limitation means the one thing they can do, they can do very well. 01:03

Should We Add A New Letter To STEM?

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