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Rocket launches record-setting 29 satellites into space, visible along entire Eastern U.S.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Residents of the Eastern U.S. and those out at sea were treated to an amazing fireworks display as a rocket launched from Virgina put a record 29 satellites into space on Tuesday.

MIAMI, FL (Catholic Online) - Launched from NASA's Wallop's Flight Facility in Virginia, the nighttime launch was seen from as faraway as Indiana and Michigan, and all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

The rocket was a Minotaur 1, which is a hybrid rocket built from retired Minuteman and Peacekeeper ballistic missiles by the Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Launches from Wallops Island have been rare until recently, but what makes this launch so exceptional is the number of satellites lofted by it. In this case, 29. This is the most ever launched into orbit by a single rocket.

Included in the payload was a satellite designed and built by high school students. Known as the TJ3Sat, the student-built satellite can receive commands via text message and broadcast radio messages to the ground. Students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA.

The satellite is a nano-satellite, a.k.a the CubeSat, a miniature device that relies on cell-phone technology which now cheaply provides GPS, hi-res cameras, and fast processors to tiny satellites that can be cheaply built and launched for a variety of applications.

The development of nano-satellites is making space exploration accessible on a budget, including to students.

Of course, the primary payload of the satellite wasn't the student-built prototype, but the U.S. Air Force's $55 million STPSat-3, which is designed to monitor the space environment. That satellite is the latest in a trend to make military research satellites cheaper and easier to launch.

The Air Force is interested in gathering more data about the space environment since it now relies on space-based operations for much of its work.

Another satellite on the rocket was the "Firefly" designed to study lightning flashes.

In addition to the successful launch of the 29 satellites aboard the Minotaur on Tuesday, three additional CubeSats were launched from the International Space Station. In all, 31 satellites were placed into orbit on Tuesday, which is by far, a record.

Nearly every day, and at least a few times each week, something is launched into space, mostly from the United States and Russia, although Japan, India, China, and the European Space Agency, among others, frequently launch rockets of their own. This is filling the space around Earth with satellites and other objects, but there's no need to worry. There's a tremendous amount of room up there, which is good, because the trend of more people putting more stuff into space is only going to accelerate.

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