Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, January 31, 2001
Sapphire student satellite to launch in August

OPAL was the second satellite designed and built by Stanford students. The first, Sapphire, had an even bumpier road. Started by Professor Robert Twiggs' students in 1994, it had no funding at the beginning and finally will launch in August 2001 out of Kodiak, Alaska.

Although rocket builders say, "there's no such thing as a free launch," Twiggs says it's not true. The U.S. Naval Academy is paying for Sapphire's launch in exchange for the opportunity to operate the satellite after it's in orbit.

Mike Swartwout, one of Twiggs' first students on the project, is managing Sapphire's launch. Stanford gave the satellite to Swartwout, who is now a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "It's a way to promote satellite-building programs at other schools," Twiggs says.

This year, students at Stanford and Santa Clara universities are expected to complete construction of three other microsatellites that will launch on the space shuttle in 2002. The satellites are designed to fly in formation and will communicate not only with a ground station but also with each other.