A tiny satellite built by Israeli high school students flew Tuesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on its way to study the atmosphere as part of an international research project.
The Duchifat-2 (Hoopoe) is one of 28 nanosatellites from 23 countries participating in the European Union’s QB50 thermosphere research program, but it’s the only one constructed by high school students.
Over 80 pupils in grades 9-12 at schools in Herzliya, Ofakim, Yeruham, the West Bank settlement of Ofra, and the Bedouin town of Hura helped to construct Duchifat-2, which weighs just 1.8 kilograms (four pounds), and is just 20 centimeters (eight inches) tall and 10 centimeters wide. Due to its small size, the satellite has no motors and instead uses the earth’s magnetic field to gently keep itself correctly aligned in space.
An Atlas V supply rocket carrying the payload of satellites along with over three tons of supplies blasted off from Florida and headed for the International Space Station, which it will reach after approximately two days of travel. Astronauts inside the orbiting space station will release Duchifat-2 and the swarm of other nanosatellites into space in about six weeks’ time.
Fourteen students from Herzliya and Hura traveled to Florida to watch the launch live.
The Israeli satellite will study the plasma density in the lower thermosphere, a layer of the atmosphere that begins at about 85 kilometers (53 miles) altitude and continues up to about 300 kilometers (185 miles).
Signals from the satellite will be received at the Herzliya Science Center, where pupils will analyze the data.
Science Minister Ofir Akunis said in a statement that “Duchifat-2 is not only an educational venture that brings space closer to youth and lays the way for tomorrow’s generation, it is also an international research project. This is Israeli pride for the future generation, and an opportunity to increase public awareness about space.”
Funded by the Science Ministry’s Israel Space Agency and administered by the Herzliya Science Center, a department of the Herzliya municipality, the project took two years to complete. Students were assisted by engineers from the ISA and the Israel Aircraft Industries.
The satellite is planned to operate for about 12 months before it sinks into the atmosphere at a height of 90 kilometers (56 miles) and burns up.
It is the second such satellite Israeli high school students have made, following on the success of Duchifat-1, a radio satellite that was launched in 2014. Duchifat-1 is meant to assist in locating lost travelers in areas with no cellphone reception. The satellite is solar-powered and is expected to remain in orbit for the next 20 years.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.