by Paula Holzman '01
Tell most people they have their heads in the clouds and they'll take it as an insult, but for Stephen Horan, Ph.D., '76, having his head above the clouds is a way of life.
Horan, the Frank Carden Chair of Telemetry and Telecommunications at New Mexico State University, is cooperating with other scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Arizona State University in building three satellites for NASA that will be launched with a manned space mission in 2002. The satellites, which will remain in orbit for two to four months, will be used to create stereoscopic images of cloud structures.
A physics major at F&M, Horan said the thing he enjoys most about his job is learning and applying new concepts in unfamiliar situations.
Although he has been working with satellites since 1984, this project marks his first chance to actually construct one.
"I have always thought that doing something with the space program would be the highlight of my professional career," Horan said. "Previously, I had been involved with the controlling of NASA communications satellites. This project, however, would give me the opportunity to be part of the whole satellite program from initial concept, through design, to finally operating them in orbit."
While the scientists at Arizona State are handling the physical construction phase of the project, Horan is responsible for enabling the satellites to communicate with the ground and with each other.
To do this, he is using commercial-grade radios that are each about the size, weight, and power of a cell phone. Horan said the radios had to fit extremely tight size and weight constraints since the satellites themselves are only 18 inches across by one foot high.
However, he said that sizable antennae on the ground will be able to compensate for the onboard radio's diminished size and power.
He cites the mission's biggest challenge as meeting NASA's rigorous safety standards for a manned mission. "Everything has to be checked and double-checked to make sure it won't hurt someone," he said.
Following the mission, Horan said his team would like to use what they have learned to create another set of satellites that will remain in orbit for at least a year.
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