The first in a new class of inexpensive, student-built space missions funded by NASA is scheduled for launch Feb. 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. The mission, the Student Nitric Oxide Explorer (SNOE), will investigate the effects of energy from both the Sun and the magnetosphere on nitric oxide densities in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

"This new class of missions allows universities and graduate students to plan, build and fly science satellites for low Earth orbit applications," said Dr. Wesley T. Huntress, Jr., NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "As NASA looks for more innovative ways to provide lower-cost access to space for scientists, we're also committed to providing first-rate opportunities for the next generation of scientists, now in graduate school, to get involved in flying their investigations in space. The three missions under this program are a precursor to our University Explorer program of student-built missions, the first of which will be selected later this year."

The Student Nitric Oxide Explorer spacecraft was designed, built, and will be operated by the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder. SNOE is the first of three student satellite projects selected to be built under the Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative (STEDI) program.

The spacecraft will be launched into orbit by a Pegasus XL rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, VA. A Lockheed L-1011 aircraft will carry the Pegasus to an altitude of 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean prior to its release. The Pegasus XL then will free-fall in a horizontal position for five seconds before igniting its first stage rocket motor. The aircraft is scheduled to depart from Vandenberg at 1 a.m. EST, with the drop planned for approximately 2:04 a.m. EST.

The 254-pound SNOE spacecraft will carry three instruments: an ultraviolet spectrometer to measure nitric oxide altitude profiles; a five-channel solar soft X-ray photometer; and a two-channel auroral photometer that will measure auroral emissions beneath the spacecraft.

Funded by NASA and managed by the Universities Space Research Association's (USRA) Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, TX, STEDI is a pilot program designed to assess the effectiveness of small, low-cost space flight missions. The SNOE project was selected in response to an Announcement of Opportunity issued by USRA. Total cost of the mission is $12 million, including launch costs.

"The SNOE team has done a marvelous piece of work in reaching this milestone on the road to their scientific payoff in orbit," said Dr. Paul Coleman, president of the USRA. "We at USRA could not be more grateful to NASA for the opportunity to demonstrate that teams like Professor Barth's (the University of Colorado principal investigator) can design, fabricate, and assemble a sophisticated scientific satellite on schedule and on budget, while providing outstanding educational opportunities for young engineers and scientists."

Under the Cooperative Agreement signed in 1994, which established the STEDI program, NASA is responsible for selecting and procuring the launch vehicle, tracking and data acquisition activities, technical assistance in support of the selection process as needed, and approval of the final selection. The Universities Space Research Association is responsible for general oversight of the program, evaluation of space flight proposals, conducting critical design and mission readiness reviews, and final program review reports to NASA upon conclusion of the missions.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, manages the agency's responsibilities under the STEDI program for the Office of Space Science.

Information pertaining to SNOE is available on the Internet at the following URL:

Information from USRA on the STEDI program is available at: under "programs"

Return to ISPEC News || Go to the ISPEC News Archive