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SCU satellites riding 'piggyback' around earth

SANTA CLARA, Jan.27, 2000 - A new commercial rocket, the Minotaur, made an historic flight on Jan.26, successfully lifting into orbit a dozen satellites, including three built last year at Santa Clara University by six female engineering students.

The 7:03 p.m. PST launch from Space Launch Complex Seven, Vandenberg Air Force Base, of the rocket represented several historic "firsts."

  • The first space flight of the Millennium
  • The first flight of the new rocket, the top two stages from a now-retired Minuteman ICBM, and the bottom two stages from another military missile, the Pegasus
  • The first use of a Minuteman booster to send a satellite into orbit
  • The first use of the new commercial California space port at Vandenberg Air Force Base
  • The first all-commercial space flight (previously, commercial payloads have ridden on military or government rockets)
  • The first launch of satellites designed by an all-female team of engineers, the Santa Clara University's Artemis team

The six-story commercial rocket successfully sent four payloads of satellites into an elliptical polar orbit.

The rocket carried a total of 12 satellites, including ones built by students from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Weber State University, Arizona State University and Stanford University.

The SCU satellites are riding "piggyback" aboard the Stanford satellite, before being ejected into orbit in early February. The satellites, the size of a deck of cards, are designed to study changes in the ionosphere, especially cloud-to-cloud lightning that often interferes with earthly communications like cellular telephones. All four payloads were being tracked by observers around the world 12 hours after the launch and were reported in their proper orbits.

The entire event was carried live via Webcast, and cheering SCU engineers toasted the successful launch with champagne at a reception in Bannan Engineering.

The rocket had come within two minutes of liftoff twice during the last scheduled launch date, Jan. 14, first when an automatic launch sequence didn't work, then later when battery power ran too low on the rocket's electronics systems.

One of the satellite designers, Amy Slaughterbeck, is in a master's program at SCU. Of the other members of the SCU Artemis project, Corina Hu, Maureen Breiling and Adelia Valdez are graduate students at other universities, and Dina Hadi and Theresa Kuhlman are employed at Silicon Valley firms.

The SCU project is under the direction of Christopher Kitts, co-director of the Santa Clara Remote Extreme Environment Mechanisms Laboratory, which is part of the University.


For more accounts of the launch, see,, or To see a video of the launch, see To interview Terry Shoup, dean of the engineering school, call 408-554-4600. To contact project director Chris Kitts, or to reach some of the engineers who designed the satellites, e-mail

For background information about the project, see, or

For information about Santa Clara University, see, call Barry Holtzclaw at 408-554-5126 or e-mail:

Tags: rocket_launch

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