A Gamecock is headed for space.

Or a new satellite he’s helped create is, at least.

Jacksonville State University alumnus Jeremy Straub, director of the OpenOrbiter Small Spacecraft Development Initiative at the University of North Dakota, is nearly finished spearheading the design and launch of a new satellite. Through the project, Straub and his team of students hope to show that space can be made more accessible with functional, relatively low-cost satellites.

“The idea is to make it easier for everyone to build a satellite,” Straub said.

Straub, 35, graduated from Jacksonville State University in 2011 with a master's degree in computer systems and software design. Over the last four years while completing his doctorate in scientific computing, which he finished in May, at UND, Straub has overseen the satellite project.

Straub has been involved in nearly every aspect of the project, from making sure critical satellite components are ordered to coordinatingwith NASA. As part of the OpenOrbiter program, which Straub founded, he mentors freshmen and graduate students who designed and built the components for the satellite.  

The cube-shaped satellite, which weighs a few pounds and can fit in the palm of a hand, would cost upwards of $50,000 using standard component parts. Straub said he and his students got the price down to around $3,000 using mainly cheaper consumer parts.

“We didn’t really buy anything made for satellites other than solar panels that were designed for space,” Straub said. “We really challenged a lot of design assumptions of what makes spacecraft so expensive.”

Once the project is finished, the satellite’s design will be made publicly available.

Straub said the low-cost satellite wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago.

“Higher power consumer electronics like smartphones have really brought down the costs with miniaturization,” Straub said.

Besides proving the viability of the design, the satellite will also be used to see whether 3-D printing, a technique of making three-dimensional solid objects from digital files, can be performed in the cold vacuum of space. The satellite contains a small 3-D printer for testing, Straub said.

“This is something that’s never been done before as far as we know,” Straub said. “Some 3-D printing has been done on the International Space Station, but that’s all climate controlled.”

The satellite will be given to NASA in October for safety checks to ensure it can handle space travel. If it’s approved, the satellite will be launched to the International Space Station in December, then deployed into low Earth orbit early next year. It’ll remain in a decaying orbit for several months, sending and receiving signals, before it falls into Earth’s atmosphere.

Originally from Michigan, Straub said he picked JSU to earn his master’s degree because he was impressed by the instructors and the classes they offered.

“I’ve always been interested in computers for as long as I can remember,” Straub said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.