Is there water on the moon?
Students at Morehead State University think they know how to find out and are building a satellite the size of a cereal box that NASA plans to send into space.
The rural green hill country at Morehead may seem an unlikely scene for a cutting-edge space program, but MSU already has yielded two satellites now circling the earth and is laying plans for more.
They are coming from MSU’s Space Science program, where students such as 19-year-old sophomore Katerina Frances Winters from Pleasureville in Henry County are learning by doing.
Katerina, “Kat” to her close friends and classmates who call themselves “Space Gals,” currently is on the team responsible for the creation of a satellite called Lunar IceCube.
It follows the CXBN, launched in 2012, and its newer and improved upgrade CXBN-2, which was launched last March by NASA. These two CubeSats are measuring cosmic x-rays with the goal of better understanding the origins of the universe.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky is a leader in space hardware. In 2016, it was the nation's largest exporter of civilian aircraft, engines and parts and second to Washington State in aerospace fabrication.
The CubeSat currently underway involves Katerina working in both the machine shop and the high bay where the actual assembly of the module takes place, inside a clean room.
“You have students like Katerina who get it,” says Dr. Dirk Grupe, 53, assistant professor of astrophysics and space science. “She is doing great in her classes.”
The students think the area on the moon where the dark and light sides meet may hold the secret to answering the question about water. There, as the sun’s radiation hits the surface, the temperature will rise almost 500 degrees, from minus 243 F to 250 F. In this area, if water is present, their satellite could detect it.
The satellite is projected to launch in Katerina’s senior year, 2020.
"To see the launch (in) my senior year is going to be the payoff," she says.