Cinnaminson High School junior Sriram Elango is an intern at the Palmyra Cove Nature Park’s Institute for Earth Observations, where he also contributes to the Institute’s Environmental STEM Center and model satellite program, A3Sat.
“I’m into aerospace and computer science – astronautical engineering – so satellites and rockets and computer programming is my thing,” Elango said.
Since February of last year, he has contributed more than 350 volunteer hours to the A3Sat project.
“I was looking for places to do research as a high schooler, but there (are) no places in South Jersey that do research,” Elango said. “There’s no aerospace engineering or computer science-related research institutes in South Jersey.”
“I found this place (the Institute) … “ he added. “I just Googled it and I realized they were doing satellite research.”
According to Burlington County, the A3Sat project involves building and programming CubeSats, miniature satellites developed by scientific researchers and space programs. The Environmental STEM Center’s A3Sat is a 4-inch cube that hasn’t gone to outer space but can travel via drone above land.
The device has flown several hundred feet above Palmyra Cove and succeeded in taking regular and infrared photos and video while recording environmental and health data such as temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and air quality.
“It’s a satellite that connects to your computer and it gives environmental data as well as health data when it’s in the atmosphere and you can connect to it,” Elango explained. “You get all the data and you can use it … It’s for students to understand the satellite process and understand how everything works.”
All materials used to build CubeSats are available to buy online.
“Since we build the software manually, we’re not going to mark up the price … It’s completely open-source and free,” Elango said. “We’re trying to diminish the cost substantially so that more schools can have access to utilize satellites and other high-tech technology that wasn’t available for public high schools.”
Data and imagery recorded by the CubeSat are transmitted in real time to a desktop software app designed by Elango called Ground Station. He also developed all the app’s software and coding.
“With the app … when all the data streams in, you can just download it in an Excel file and then that’s all of the environmental data logged,” he noted. “And you can also (make) an altitude graph to see it plot in real time when it’s in the air, which we use some of the data for.”
“Once you can do that, you can just do more analysis with each graph,” Elango added. “It’s all interactive; when it’s in the air, you’ll see it start plotting, and then you (will) have a fully finished graph by the time it comes on the ground.”
The Ground Station app was selected as the winner of the New Jersey 3rd Congressional district’s App Challenge and later this month, Elango demonstrated the app at the HouseOfCode 2022 conference. According to congressionalappchallenge.us, the challenge is meant to inspire, include and innovate efforts around STEM, coding and computer-science education.
John Moore, executive director of Palmyra Cove Nature Park’s Institute for Earth Observations, believes CubeSats will benefit students such as Elango.
“As the value and usage of CubeSats develop as an industry which we’re looking at is going to be growing geometrically, the jobs that will be available to people like Sriram and younger are going to be in this field …” he said.
“This was devised to introduce students to the fact that CubeSats exist … and to know that this is a career pathway.”