MSS19 Student Stephanie Rocha on Internship at Tohoku University Japan

The aerospace engineering department at Tohoku University has two space exploration labs focused on microsatellites and robotics. The robotics team has been developing climbing robots, swarm robots as well as testing the terramechanic properties ideal for lunar and deep space exploration.

This summer MSS19 student Stephanie Rocha is an intern at the microsatellite laboratory, that has launched eight microsatellites in the past ten years. She reports…

“This laboratory together with ALE company built a microsatellite currently orbiting the Earth at 500km altitude.  The main mission is to create artificial shooting stars. This is achieved by releasing small round pellets towards Earth, which burn out at re-entry and shine like a shooting star.

However, it is dangerous to the ongoing manned missions at the ISS located at a 400km altitude. Therefore, to start the main mission operations, the satellite needs to reduce its altitude. The goal is to keep the satellite operational during de-orbiting and have the drag sail detach itself afterward.

The operation of this satellite is currently underway, and the thin film will be deployed before August 2019. I will be making finite element analysis (FEA) models to simulate the boom deployment of the drag sail currently used on the microsatellite. It is intended to have a working model of de-orbiting behavior based on orbital dynamics. After deployment, the team will fine-tune these simulations with real observations to have a reliable model that can be used on future missions.

Tohoku University is highly ranked worldwide, making it one of the best places for space exploration research. The university provides students with challenging and rewarding projects guided by amazing faculty and peers from around the world. Aside from academics, the university also has great events. I got to meet astronaut Anthony England from NASA who gave a lecture on Human Spaceflight: A History of Competing Objectives. During my free time, I take the fast and punctual metro to the city and explore.

Being that ISU has a great connection with Tohoku University, many ISU students continue a Ph.D. program here. Jonathan and Will, for example, returned after their own internships and now have a tradition of taking the newcomers out to eat Shabu Shabu, a typical Japanese meal. We spent the evening sharing anecdotes about ISU and reminiscing on the good times. It feels good to have peers here in Japan while I get used to this new experience.

Japan never ceases to amaze me. The food is amazing, there are festivals every weekend and everyone I have met so far is extremely nice and willing to help. Sendai is a magical place, where you can work on groundbreaking space projects while living your best life.”

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MSS19 students Matt McGrath and Stephanie Rocha, with prof. Kazuya Yoshida, a long-time partner of ISU.


Picture credits: Stephanie Rocha