Salish Kootenai College BisonSat CubeSat

SKC began a new three-year "CubeSat" project starting in December 2010. CubeSats are small satellites in the shape of a cube 10 centimeters on a side that universities, government agencies, and private businesses utilize for low-cost access to Earth orbit. CubeSats are carried to orbit as secondary payloads on government and commercial launches. CubeSats are especially effective for providing undergraduate students with the opportunity to participate in a space flight mission. NASA has recognized the value of CubeSats in developing the next generation of space scientists and engineers by providing increased opportunities for colleges and universities to launch CubeSats on NASA missions.

NASA has selected the SKC CubeSat for launch into Earth orbit in December 2014. The SKC CubeSat will be solar powered and carry a SKC-designed camera and a radio for receiving commands and transmitting data. The primary purpose of the SKC CubeSat mission is educational, but also has a science objective of using broad-band visible light orbital imagery to study atmospheric aerosols, cloud formation, and various hydrologic processes. The camera system design will build on the experience gained by SKC students and faculty with its NASA High Altitude Student Platform Wide Field Camera designed for HASP Flight 5. The SKC CubeSat will be operated from a satellite communications groundstation built at SKC.

The SKC CubeSat team consists of nine students and four faculty mentors:

Robert Davis, B.S. in Computer Engineering student
Cory Drowatsky, A.S. in General Science
Zachary DuMontier, B.S. in Computer Engineering student
Ryan Beagles, B.S. in Computer Engineering student
Judy Hudgins, B.S. in Computer Engineering student
Heather Mitchell, B.S. in Computer Engineering student
Robert Sanchez, B.S. in Information Technology student
Noel Stewart, B.S. in Hydrology student
Ryan Young, B.S. in Computer Engineering student

The faculty mentors are Al Anderson, Tim Olson, Thomas Trickel, and Andrew Westerman. The SKC CubeSat project is supported by NASA grant number NNX10AT95A.

SKC Wide Field Camera
SKC Wide Field Camera
Explorer 1 Prime - Montana State University
Explorer 1 Prime - Montana State University

Summer Internship Opportunity

SKC students and science and engineering students from other tribal colleges are eligible for a paid summer internship to work on this CubeSat project. Transportation to the SKC campus and housing will be provided. Contact Tim Olson at for further information.

Satellite Communications Ground Station

Communication with the SKC CubeSat will be via FM amateur radio frequencies. Before the launch of the SKC CubeSat the ground station will be tested by communicating with existing CubeSats and amateur radio satellites.
Installation of antennas on 23 March 2011
Antennae installation on 23 March 2011
click to enlarge
Ground station antennas
SKC ground station antennas
click to enlarge
Control room construction
SKC ground station control room construction
click to enlarge
Ground station antennas
SKC ground station antennas
click to enlarge

NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative selections

Feb. 14, 2012

Joshua Buck
Headquarters, Washington

RELEASE: 12-050


WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected 33 small satellites to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets planned to launch in 2013 and 2014. The proposed CubeSats come from universities across the country, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, NASA field centers and Department of Defense organizations.

CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites are approximately four inches long, have a volume of about one quart and weigh less than three pounds.

The selections are from the third round of the CubeSat Launch Initiative. After launch, the satellites will conduct technology demonstrations, educational research or science missions. The selected spacecraft are eligible for flight after final negotiations and an opportunity for flight becomes available. The satellites come from the following organizations:

-- Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
-- Air Force Research Lab, Wright-Patterson AFB
-- California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
-- Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
-- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
-- Montana State University, Bozeman
-- Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif. (2 CubeSats)
-- NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
-- NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
-- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in partnership with the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena (2 CubeSats)
-- NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla.
-- The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, Silver Spring, Md.
-- Saint Louis University, St. Louis
-- Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, Mont.
-- Space and Missile Defense Command, Huntsville, Ala. (2 CubeSats)
-- Taylor University, Upland, Ind.
-- University of Alabama, Huntsville
-- University of California, Berkeley
-- University of Colorado, Boulder (2 CubeSats)
-- University of Hawaii, Manoa (3 CubeSats)
-- University of Illinois, Urbana (2 CubeSats)
-- University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
-- University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D.
-- University of Texas, Austin
-- US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo.
-- Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg

Thirty-two CubeSat missions have been selected for launch in the previous two rounds of the CubeSat Launch Initiative. Eight CubeSat missions have been launched (including five selected via the CubeSat Launch Initiative) to date via the agency's Launch Services Program Educational Launch of Nanosatellite, or ELaNa, program.

For additional information on NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative program, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


NASA News annoucement of grant award to SKC

Oct. 1, 2010

Dewayne Washington
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md

Ann Marie Trotta
Headquarters, Washington

RELEASE: 10-234


WASHINGTON -- NASA will award $3.3 million over three years to support academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at tribal colleges and universities.

The awards are part of a Cooperative Agreement Notice released by the NASA Office of Education's Minority University Research and Education Program for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Project (TCUP).

Three institutions were selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition for funding. Awards will go to Kiksapa Consulting, LLC of Mandan, N.D.; Salish Kootenai College of Pablo, Mt.; and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium in Alexandria, Va. The awards have a three-year period of performance and range in value from $215,000 to $592,000.

NASA's TCUP is a STEM education grant and mentoring program specifically targeting tribal colleges and universities. The goal of the project is to expand opportunities to academic institutions that prepare Native Americans to enter the nation's STEM workforce through internships, fellowships, research experiences, outreach, information exchange, capacity building and infrastructure development.

The first round of awards is valued at $1.107 million. Each award is expected to use NASA's unique contributions in STEM education to enhance tribal college academic experiences and improve educators' abilities to engage their students.

For more information about the awards, visit:

For information about the NASA education programs, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


Abstract of NASA Grant Number NNX10AT95A

Salish Kootenai College
Pablo, Montana
Principal Investigator: Timothy S. Olson, Ph.D.
Attracting Tribal College Students to NASA-focused STEM Careers through Participation in Flight Missions

The goal of this project is to significantly increase the participation of tribal college engineering and science students and faculty in NASA flight missions, and hence help motivate and prepare Native American students to go into careers at NASA centers, NASA contractors, or universities performing NASA-sponsored research. The project has three main activities in support of this goal: (1) engineering and science students from SKC and other tribal colleges and SKC faculty will design, build, test, and fly a CubeSat mission in Earth orbit; (2) engineering and science students from SKC and other tribal colleges and SKC faculty will participate at the co-investigator level in a major NASA flight mission, the 2011 Mars Science laboratory rover mission; (3) the PI of this project will actively seek further opportunities for SKC to participate in future NASA flight missions at the co-investigator or principal investigator level. The SKC CubeSat will be the first NASA flight mission with a tribal college as the principal investigator. Approximately twenty tribal college engineering and science students, fourteen from SKC and six from other tribal colleges, will be provided NASA flight mission experience through internships.

Last update - September 26, 2013