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NASA approves Kentucky satellite

When Tyler Doering enters the job market in the next year, his résumé will include this little tidbit: Member of a team of students who designed and built a satellite launched by NASA in 2009.

That line, along with his bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Kentucky, will probably put the 24-year-old Union native at the top of any recruiter's list of top prospects.

Last week, the Kentucky Space program was notified that the first-ever Kentucky orbital satellite, KYSat-1, has been selected by NASA to fly on an 18-24 month mission sometime in mid-2009.

That's a big boon to the Kentucky Space program, which is about to celebrate its third anniversary.

The program, managed by the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, is a consortium of six Kentucky colleges and universities, other public groups and private companies

The KYSat-1, which weighs about 2.2 pounds and is about the size of a tissue box, was just one of three university satellites selected by NASA for an orbital mission, said Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, which acts as a coordinator for the Kentucky Space program.

NASA engineers came to the University of Kentucky, where the satellite is currently housed, to inspect the satellite this summer.

More than 30 students from UK, University of Louisville, Morehead State, Murray State, Western Kentucky University and Kentucky Community and Technical College system have been involved in building the KYSat-1 program over the past three years.

"It is truly a state-built and state-launched satellite," said Karen Hackney, a professor at Western Kentucky University and state coordinator for the Kentucky Space Grant Consortium, which has helped fund the Kentucky space program.

Once the satellite makes it into space, Kentucky elementary, junior and high school students will be able to give the satellite commands and download photos from space, said Kimel, With the help of ham radio operators, students will even be able to hear the satellite recite data it is collecting from space.

"We know that will be engaging for younger students," Hackney said. And that's one of the core themes of the Kentucky Space program — to attract young talent to engineering and the aerospace industry.

"Maybe we can spur interest in students to become engineers or scientists, not just doctors or lawyers," said Doering.

He heard about the program as an undergraduate and decided to get a master's degree so he could participate in the designing, building and launching of the satellite.

Most of the students who have participated in the program are mechanical, electrical or computer science engineering students, Doering said.

The satellite took between 18 months and two years to design and build. The design is now complete, but students still have months of testing and tweaking before the launch next year, Kimel said.

Kimel said Kentucky is unique: Its space program is not based at one university but is a partnership of six different universities and public and private organizations. According to Gov. Steve Beshear's office, the state has given $850,000 to the program over the past three years. Other funding comes from grants and private corporations.

Doering finishes his coursework in December and is currently working on his master's thesis. But he hopes he won't have to leave the program until the satellite launches. A tentative launch date of June 2009 has been set.

"I love Kentucky and I don't want to leave," Doering said of his job prospects. "But most of the aerospace companies are on the West Coast or East Coast in the Washington, D.C., area."

Even if Doering does leave Kentucky, Hackney and others in the space program hope he will come back. Soon.

"We hope that we are starting a new group of entrepreneurs who will return to Kentucky and start technology start-ups," Hackney said.