Rocket carrying UT satellite explodes during liftoff

An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket explodes shortly after takeoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in NASA's commercial spaceflight effort. (AP Photo/Eastern Shore News, Jay Diem)
An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket explodes shortly after takeoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Eastern Shore News, Jay Diem)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An unmanned rocket headed to the International Space Station on Tuesday exploded seconds after launching. One of the items on board was a $1 million satellite designed and built by students at the University of Texas at Austin. For them, science is their way of changing the world.

“I’m one of those classic kids who grew up wanting to work for NASA his entire life,” said senior Cody Colley.

Colley worked on the satellite for nine months, putting in a couple hundred hours on it. He was responsible for building the flight solar panels for the spacecraft, along with a few other students.

“That’s why we do it,” said Glenn Lightsey, a professor at UT Austin. “We do it for the advances in technology we get.”

UT Austin student examine their satellite.
UT Austin student examine their satellite.

The small satellite is called RACE, and was one of those advances the students believed could change the world. RACE stands for Radiometer Atmospheric Cubesat Experiment. The mission, a collaborative effort between the school’s Texas Spacecraft Lab and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, aimed to help scientists measure the earth’s water cycle to improve understanding of the impacts of global weather and climate change.

“You don’t think that you are going to launch something into space while you’re still in college,” said Colley. “You think it’s something you’re going to do maybe before your 30, but 22 years old? I was going to launch something into space and that’s just an incredible experience.”

Students watched the launch via live stream as it set off to go into space.

“Thirty seconds and liftoff,” said senior Kellen Wall. “First few seconds was really awesome.”

“We were watching the launch, it was very exciting, and then we realized something was wrong,” recalls Lightsey. “It was very quiet for a few minutes as people were processing what they were seeing.”

Students worked on the satellite for 18 months. It was supposed to arrive at its final destination on Nov. 2.

“It’s sad but it’s still a positive experience. We still have to come to work tomorrow and build spacecraft, inspiring people,” said Colley. “That’s what it’s about and the science we are doing, that’s what it’s about.”

The UT satellite alone was worth about $1 million. Lightsey estimates hundreds of millions of dollars were lost in the explosion.

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