Ramblin’ Wreck Orbits the Sun

Georgia Tech now owns an interplanetary “Ramblin’ Wreck”  — a briefcase-sized spacecraft orbiting the sun, capping a student-led mission in the cosmos.

Right now, approximately 3.7 million miles from Earth, a small spacecraft the size of a briefcase is racing away from the planet by about 40,000 miles every day. And each day, sometimes twice, a team of 10 Georgia Tech undergraduate students communicate with it to monitor its health, respond to anomalies, and use its instruments for scientific studies.

Not only are they controlling the sun-circling satellite, but they also own it. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California has given Lunar Flashlight to Georgia Tech, making it the only higher education institution in full control of an interplanetary spacecraft. The designation is typically reserved for NASA or foreign governments.

“It’s really crazy. I didn’t imagine as an undergraduate that I would be talking to a satellite, let alone leading a team of 10 of my peers,” said Micah Pledger, an aerospace engineering student serving as missions operations lead. “Our team learns so much every day.”