students work on rover

Students who are part of the Lehigh University Space Initiative hone their STEM skills on projects aimed at advancing the field of space exploration.

Lehigh University Space Initiative Embarks on Space Exploration Projects

Projects empower students innovation.

Photography by

Christa Neu

The Lehigh University Space Initiative (LUSI) brings together a team of talented and dedicated students eager to make their mark on the vast frontier of space exploration.

The students’ commitment to advancing the field of space exploration while honing their STEM skills is exemplified by their focus on two major projects: NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative and the University Rover Challenge.

Zemichael Gebeyehu '24, a mechanical engineering major with minors in aerospace engineering, electrical engineering and economics, is a founding member of LUSI. Having harbored a passion for all things space-related since childhood, Gebeyehu said he was thrilled to be able to chase his dream at Lehigh, and grateful for the support he and the club have received while working on their projects.

LUSI relies on the Wilbur Powerhouse as its primary workspace. According to Gebeyehu, nearly all club meetings and manufacturing processes were completed within the facility.

"We wouldn't have been able to integrate all the components seamlessly without the resources provided by Wilbur Powerhouse," Gebeyehu mentioned.

Brian Slocum, director of the Design Labs, believes LUSI exemplifies the immense value that having diverse "making resources" brings to Lehigh students.

“From utilizing the waterjet, laser cutters, CNC mill and vinyl cutter in Design Labs Makerspace, to leveraging several 3D printing technologies from the Design Labs Additive Lab, to utilizing the metal fabrication tools in the Design Labs Mountaintop Metalshop, to the PCB printer, electronics sensors, soldering tools, and circuit prototyping tools in the new Electronics Design Studio, this team has made use of nearly every resource we offer,” said Slocum.

The CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) by NASA is a multi-year program designed to foster interest and innovation among students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A CubeSat, a compact satellite measuring around 10 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm and weighing less than 4.4 pounds, enables various investigative missions ranging from Earth's atmosphere studies to space weather analysis and radiation testing.

NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) matches each selected CubeSat with a launch best suited to accomplish its mission objectives.

Over 20 members of the LUSI club, comprising a diverse mix of first-year students to seniors, have been working on their CubeSat project for more than a year, marking it as the most significant endeavor for the organization. The team plans to submit its first proposal to NASA in November 2023. If chosen, NASA would fund approximately $300,000 of the launch cost, allowing the team to further refine its CubeSat to meet the requirements of one of the available missions.

The other project, the University Rover Challenge (URC), is an annual event hosted by the Mars Society. The highly anticipated competition features teams showcasing their state-of-the-art Mars Rovers designed to tackle complex tasks.

LUSI members have actively participated in the contest and successfully cleared the preliminary design review stage. Due to the intense level of competition this year, the team did not advance to the finals. Nonetheless, the LUSI team remains determined and is working on refining its rover for the next competition in 2024.

students work on space rover

Students prepare an entry for the University Rover Challenge. From left, Eli Nathan, Nathaniel Dudko, Zemichael Gebeyehu, Mikael Asfaw, Matthew Grohal, Daniel Batrachenko and Lusi Perez

“Although I may be graduating in about two years, I am confident in the bright future of LUSI and the passion of our new members to bring our projects, such as NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, to success,” Gebeyehu said.

LUSI attributes much of its success and progress to the guidance and support of its mentor, Professor Terry Hart, who joined the mechanical engineering & mechanics department at P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science at Lehigh in 2006. Hart, a former NASA astronaut and U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, has been instrumental in providing the team with the knowledge and experience necessary to achieve their goals.

"I am inspired by the unwavering passion and dedication of the Lehigh University Space Initiative team as they navigate the challenging frontier of space,” Hart said. “Despite facing setbacks like not reaching the finalist threshold in the University Rover Challenge, their commitment to projects such as NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative exemplifies the resilience and growth mindset that STEM education fosters.

“It is an honor to be a part of their journey, and I am eager to witness the remarkable achievements these young space enthusiasts will accomplish in the future," he said.

LUSI’s journey demonstrates the power of collaborative learning and hands-on experience, enabling students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that will benefit them throughout their careers, Hart said.

The club is determined to sustain its longevity and continue making an impact in space exploration with the support of new members joining the team.

--Story by Haidan Hu

Photography by

Christa Neu

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