Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association Receives White House Salute

As part of this year's White House Astronomy Night, Pres. Barack Obama will salute students from the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association tonight.

For its work on developing an automated optical telescope, YUAA will be among the organizations receiving White House recognition at the annual event. With software written by the student team, the large telescope will be motorized and computer-controlled. For better data collection, it will have the ability to see deep-space objects and track celestial objects as they progress across the sky. It will also be equipped to take long-exposure photographs of deep field objects.

"It's exciting that the White House is having the event to begin with, but to be involved with it is really great," said Lauren Chambers '17, one of the project's co-leaders.

The students have begun work on the prototype, having completed the frame for the three-inch-diameter mirror, made with laser-cutting equipment at the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID). The students expect to complete a three-foot-tall prototype by November. When it's completed in the spring, the final telescope will be about six feet tall with a 16-inch-diameter mirror. Besides getting a good look at deep space, the team of about 15 students will use the telescope for educational outreach.

"We're planning on having astronomy nights open to the public," said project co-leader Scott Smith, '18, who's majoring in Computer Science. "We want to use it as a tool to get people who wouldn't normally think about astronomy excited about astronomy."

The optical telescope is a follow-up to YUAA's radio telescope, built last year. A fully steerable radio satellite dish with a collection of signal processing hardware and software, the project was designed to gain a better appreciation of ground-based radio astronomy, as well as improve the resolution and quality of radio observations.

Since it was established in 2010, the YUAA's mission has included promoting and advancing aerospace engineering through outreach to local schools. To that end, their prototype radio telescope was brought to local schools last year to demonstrate its capabilities.

Chambers, who's majoring in Astrophysics, said they also plan to bring the optical telescope to elementary and middle schools to talk to students about the science and engineering behind the project. She added that it's important to educate people about astronomy.

"We've made such amazing leaps and bounds in astronomy in the last few decades, so it's great that the White House is encouraging the public to get involved," she said.

YUAA members are also working on a prototype of a miniaturized satellite, known as a CubeSat, which will take high-resolution photographs of Earth (they hope to get images of New Haven and Yale). The images will be beamed back to Earth with the use of advanced high-speed laser.

Held annually since 2009, White House Astronomy Night was created to inspire students and others to learn more about the latest discoveries and the technologies in space exploration. Monday, scientists, engineers, and leaders in astronomy and the space industry will gather at the South Lawn of the White House to share their experiences and spend an evening of stargazing with students and teachers.