A group of 80 Israeli high school students, including pupils from the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev desert, have built a nanosatellite that was launched from the NASA Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Tuesday this week.
The Israeli nano-satellite is a contribution to the European Union’s QB50 thermosphere research program and will observe the density of plasma present in a layer of the atmosphere known as the lower thermosphere. Weighing less than 2 kilograms and measuring only 20 centimeters tall and 10 centimeters wide, the nanosatellite has no engine and is designed to rely instead on the earth’s magnetic field to keep it aligned in space.
Although 23 countries have contributed a total of 28 nano-satellites to the European project, the Israeli instrument is the only one to have been built by high school students. With help from the Israel Space Agency and Israel Aircraft Industries, it took the students two years to build the Duchifat 2.
Funded by the Israel Space Agency, the Israeli achievement is all the more noteworthy as Bedouin Arabs, who come from one of Israel’s poorest and most marginalized people groups, were among the students who built the satellite. As just 6.5 percent of residents from the Bedouin pupils’ town of Hura reportedly have college degrees, it is remarkable that the community has produced such extraordinary young scientists.
Speaking to reporters, Science Minister Ofir Akunis described the Duchifat-2 as an international research project and educational venture that “brings space closer to youth and lays the way for tomorrow’s generation.”
The Duchifat 2 follows the success of Duchifat 1, a radio satellite built by Israeli high school students and launched in 2014. The Duchifat 1 was made to find lost travelers with no mobile phone reception and is intended to stay in orbit for around 20 years.
The students’ nanosatellite took off from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas V supply rocket taking it to the International Space Station. Fourteen students from Herzliya and Hura were in Florida to attend the launch.
Upon arrival at the space station, the Israeli nanosatellite will be received by astronauts who will release it, and the other nanosatellites, into space to start their work.