Two more satellites built by Montana State University students are scheduled to be launched into space this week on a NASA rocket.
If all goes as planned, the pair of identical CubeSats will be launched at 12:13 a.m. Mountain time Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, said David Klumpar, director of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.
NASA's Atlas-5 rocket will release the roughly 4-inch rectangular satellites about three hours later. Known together as FIREBIRD, the satellites will pass over Bozeman at 4:27 a.m., giving MSU students about seven minutes to communicate with them before they continue around the Earth.
Approximately 30 MSU students, along with partners at the University of New Hampshire, built the satellites over the past four years, Klumpar said.
Most of MSU's students were undergraduates in engineering or physics, and many will gather in Cobleigh Hall overnight Thursday to watch the launch and monitor the satellites.
Larry Springer, SSEL program manager, said the MSU satellites are among 12 CubeSats that will hitch a ride on the rocket and are the first two scheduled to be released.
The FIREBIRD satellites will separate from each other and eventually fly 124 to 186 miles apart in an orbit 280 to 541 miles above the Earth.
Though they may stay in space for several years, their most important job will be done over the next three months as they gather data on how electrons are trapped in the Earth's magnetic field and then lost from the planet's Van Allen Radiation Belts.
Radiation in space affects Earth in a variety of ways, including interfering with communication systems and power grids.
FIREBIRD was funded by the National Science Foundation under the Science Missions for Geospace and Atmospheric Research program.
MSU's first student-built satellite, the Hiscock Radiation Belt Explorer, was launched Oct. 28, 2011, and has since orbited the earth more than 10,000 times. It still sends information back to students in MSU's Space Operations Center.