Posted by raherschbach on 13 Mar 2017

Have you ever dreamed of building a satellite in your garage and launching it into space? The concept might once have seemed far-fetched, but that’s hardly the case today. With the emergence of small form-factor satellites known as CubeSats, satellite projects are now within the capabilities and budgets of university departments and student teams. Meanwhile, more and more opportunities are becoming available for launch.

Dr. Alex “Sandy” Antunes, associate professor of astronautical engineering at Capitol, wrote the book on DIY satellites – literally. In fact, he’s written four of them. He is also a faculty mentor for Capitol Technology University’s student-led CACTUS-1 project, which was selected by NASA as part of its CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) and anticipates seeing its payload go into space later this year.

We asked Dr. Antunes to summarize developments in the burgeoning amateur space arena and to discuss the purpose and vision behind his book series.

Many people outside of the field are surprised to hear there is something called “amateur space.” What does this term mean?

“Amateur space” refers to the situation where anyone can launch a satellite – not just state agencies, countries, and major corporations. It’s simultaneously really new and really old. It’s new in the sense that with CubeSats and small form-factor satellites, you can literally build a satellite in the basement, and crowdfund or network your way into a launch opportunity, and launch a soda-can-sized satellite up into space to do something cool.

In another sense, though, amateur space has been going on for a long time. AMSAT has been launching amateur satellites for over 40 years – they started pretty much around the same time that the first commercial satellites were going up. Engineers, in their spare time, would work together and collaborate and fly as secondary payloads. 

What launch opportunities are available?

Here at Capitol, we won a competitive bid for a free NASA launch, via the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). We were one of 14 teams that received the award that year. Why? Because we’re an educational non-profit with a mission that they deemed valid. Currently, CSLI is the main channel for no-cost launch opportunities.

On the other hand, if you have $100,000, you can pay any of the launch providers to send up your CubeSat. Several organizations have raised funds at that level on Kickstarter. It’s likely that we’ll see more affordable options in the future. There are companies currently working to get the cost down to as little as $10,000 per launch.

 Almost every rocket that goes up has some ballast. Say, for example, that a rocket carrying a research satellite can lift 10,000kg. The satellite itself, however, only has to come in under that limit – say the final build ends up at 9,580kg.  Some companies, instead of putting water or lead on as ballast, would like to start selling that space, and that in turn leads to reduced costs.

So you see this is as a growth area?

 Very much so. NASA is working with three start-up rocket companies to conduct launches that will have lots of CubeSats on them, and plans to eventually have launches that are CubeSat-only.  United Launch Alliance, which handles most of the major U.S. launches, has declared they are going to carry 24 CubeSats on every launch that they do.

I anticipate that in 2-5 years every major university will have a CubeSat program. The number of launch opportunities is growing, and the technology is becoming cheaper.

What do these satellites carry?

Most people are sending radio beacons – sometimes jokingly referred to as “beep sats.”  Some cubesats will send a tweet from space – that’s really popular now. On our CubeSat, we’re sending up real scientific payloads. The shift has really gone from “can you send something into space” to “what are you going to send?” Are you going to send something useful?

Aside from the launch opportunity, how much does it cost to build a DIY satellite?

The latest edition of AMSAT Journal included an article on building your own CubeSat. Among other things, the article estimated that it requires about $2,500 in parts – if you know what you’re doing. For a new team, of course, there’s a learning curve – you’re going to break things and burn through a lot of parts, so the amount will be higher. I would recommend that a program have around $10,000 in parts.

You also have to factor in travel costs – travel to test sites, and maybe to conferences or events where you’ll share the results.

What do you see as the biggest hurdles and challenges involved in building your own satellite?

The hardest thing for an amateur getting involved is the licensing and paperwork.  Just finding out what paperwork you have to complete can be a daunting task in itself. It’s easy to build something. To be able to use it legitimately and to comply with the necessary regulations – that’s much harder.

You’ve written four books on amateur space and DIY satellites. What inspired you to begin this series?

I’d just finished up my degree and was working as a freelance science writer.  I said to myself, “we’re in an age when any idiot can build a satellite in their basement, and I’m the idiot to prove it!” A startup company, Interorbital Systems, was offering a $10,000 launch opportunity, so I decided to take up the challenge – and write a blog about this adventure. Every week I blogged about my progress and the mistakes I was making. I learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes, and published them all.

Starting in 2012, I got the chance to put all the stuff that had worked into a series of Maker Media books: DIY Satellite Platforms, Surviving Orbit the DIY Way, DIY Instruments for Amateur Space, and DIY Comms and Controls for Amateur Space. The idea was to cover the whole process, from starting your build to operating it once it’s in space.

I tried to focus on basic principles, because I knew the tech would change – as indeed it has. The field has already caught up and surpassed me, and that’s a good thing!


Posted by raherschbach on 13 Mar 2017

By Dr. William Butler, Chair, Capitol Technology University Cybersecurity Program

2017 can be a defining year in which the nation makes some fundamental decisions in terms of cybersecurity from a national security perspective.  Defining our response to cyber breaches, certifying IoT devices, and more international cooperation are key to securing our critical infrastructure and adding resiliency.

Also required is a commitment on the part of both government and the private sector to more funding for cybersecurity education to address the continuing talent shortfall.

The 114th Congress passed the Cyber Act of War Act of 2016, directing the President to: (1) develop a policy for determining when an action carried out in cyberspace constitutes a use of force against the United States, and (2) revise the Department of Defense Law of War Manual accordingly. This legislation will hopefully end the ambiguity that we or our potential adversaries may have in terms of our future response to breaches by foreign actors. Deterrence has proven to be the best weapon along with successful prosecutions of cyber criminals.

The White House requested Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to certify Internet of Things (IoT) devices, resulting in a cybersecurity certification of those devices. The UL cybersecurity division has initiated the test and certification program for IoT products. This is a welcome move that can address the ever-growing cyber threat to our critical infrastructure as evidenced last October by the devastating attack of the Mirai computer virus on IoT devices across the Internet.  Certifying these devices prior to deployment into our critical infrastructure will help seal off many of the vulnerabilities that are being exploited today.

Meanwhile, efforts to tackle cybersecurity threats at an international level are continuing. For example, the United States is currently assisting Ghana in fighting criminals and adversaries through an agreement called the Security Governance Initiative. This accord takes a three-pronged approach, providing assistance in three focal areas: law enforcement, border and marine security, and cybersecurity. The U.S. government needs to enter into more of these agreements, as these countries are used as launch points for massive cyber-attacks both against the United States and against other countries.

The shortage of cybersecurity professionals globally is well documented and discussed. This shortage is more than just a numbers issue. It is also a skills issue, in terms of graduates being “job ready” and being properly trained to protect our networks and data. States such as Virginia are beginning to address the issue by offering state level scholarships for service (SFS) and paid internships. More states and local governments should take notice of their tried and true approach to attracting and retaining talent.  Here at Capitol Technology University, we are doing our part to address the skills gap by keeping our cybersecurity curriculum updated and aligned with the emerging threat horizon. That includes a focus on the IoT and the proliferating attack vectors that result from our seemingly insatiable desire for IP-enabled devices.

In short, 2017 can be a year in which decisive steps are taken to protect networks and the people who depend on them. That depends, however, on closer collaboration among governments, the private sector, and academia.  Although important initiatives have taken place, including those discussed above, far more needs to be done.

 Measures such as cyber insurance and improved threat intelligence will become more prominent as the private sector seeks more tools to address the ever growing cybercrime issue. When global terrorism emerged as a top priority issue, policymakers agreed that it required a global response. Cybercrime is no different. It is global in nature, and thus also requires a global response.


Posted by raherschbach on 13 Mar 2017

Earlier this month, a sudden outage struck one of the country’s largest wireless service providers, temporarily preventing users from making 911 calls.

The 90-minute incident, which affected ATT Wireless customers in several states, has been chalked up to a computer glitch rather than hackers. Nevertheless, it illustrates the chaos and confusion that can arise when wireless communications systems are compromised. Such risks are generating increased concern with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT).

With a burgeoning array of wireless systems that are intertwined with the internet, the need for wireless professionals to become cybersecurity-aware has never been greater, says Dr. William Vic Maconachy, vice president of academic affairs at Capitol.

“More and more today, we’re moving to a completely wireless environment,” Maconachy said. “It’s not just about cellphones. So many devices in the home now have wireless connections – everything from the stove to the coffeepot to being able to access your home heating system before you get home.”

“Beyond that, there’s all the wireless at the industrial and federal sites,” he said. “Wireless is the present and the future, and it’s vulnerable.”

Maconachy and members of Capitol Technology University’s faculty will be taking this message directly to the wireless industry later this month, delivering presentations and seminars at the industry’s largest trade event – the International Communications and Wireless Expo, being held this year from March 27-31 in Las Vegas.

“It’s a place where we’re in the eye of international wireless technology companies, and these companies are in need of our education and our students,” Maconachy said.

Capitol’s presentations at the event will include an all-day introduction to cybersecurity offered by the chair of the university’s cybersecurity program, Dr. William Butler, together with professor Rick Hansen and Board of Trustees member Curtis Levinson, who is US Cyber Defense Advisor to NATO.

Butler and Hansen will also be featured panelists in a 90-minute session on ethical hacking, in which cybersecurity professionals deploy the same tools and knowledge used by malicious hackers, but with a different purpose: to locate system vulnerabilities.

Levinson will also be a panelist in sessions on network jamming detection and on network management and cybersecurity for the IoT. Meanwhile, Board of Trustees member Alan Tilles, a partner at Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, will be a panelist in several sessions, including one on the human element in cybersecurity.

This is the third year that Capitol is participating in the IWCE, with which it has an ongoing partnership. As part of the partnership, IWCE members receive a 10% tuition discount on master's-level courses at Capitol, which are provided online via a live, synchronous classroom (to apply, click here and be sure to choose IWCE in Section 2, question 6).

The IWCE is regarded across the industry as the authoritative annual event for communication technology professionals. Each year, it attracts technology buyers from a wide variety of professional sectors, including government/military, law enforcement, public safety, emergency response, the medical profession, transportation, and business enterprise. The event features over 350 exhibitors and attracts an estimated 7,000 participants yearly.

“Every one of the participants in this conference can benefit from the education and degree completions that we offer here at Capitol,” Maconachy said. “And the fact that we provide these programs live and over the net, with proven delivery capability and quality, is something we feel will be of great interest to IWCE attendees.”


Posted by raherschbach on 14 Feb 2017

When learning how to be an effective interviewer or presenter, it can sometimes be helpful to think out of the box.

At Capitol, students are sharpening their interview skills through -- among other things -- exploring the art of improv theater. A workshop being offered at the university's upcoming Career Conference will provide training and practice in techinques that improv actors use to overcome inhibitions and build rapport with an audience.

Often, the same techniques can help foster better communication during interviews and other business situations, such as meeting with clients or giving presentations.

Samantha Van Sant, who is pursuing a theater vocation while also serving as Capitol’s associate director of admissions, will be leading the workshop.

“It’s designed to help the students with interviews, in terms of spontaneity and flexibility in what they’re saying and how they’re responding to what they’re seeing," explained Van Sant, who has trained with the Baltimore Improv Group and currently works with an independent troupe, Topiary, that performs around Maryland and Pennsylvania.“It’s important to have the ability to carry on a conversation on the spot,” Van Sant said.

“Students often walk into interviews with a certain paragraph or dialogue memorized in their head, ready to go – but interviews don’t always go like that,” she said.

The improv workshop is one of several being offered as part of the Career Conference, which takes place on the Capitol campus on February 17th. Other sessions will cover such topics as body language and meeting preparation.

More than 25 area employers, including the CIA, the National Security Agency and Orbital ATK, will be sending representatives to the job fair portion of the conference.

“We require all of our students to attend, and we require all our students to be dressed appropriately,” Associate Director of Career Services Sarah Alspaw said of the event. “It’s good for employers because if you’re looking for qualified candidates, you’ll find them. You’re not going to show up and have two hours of no one to talk to. You’ll be meeting with students who are actively seeking internships and full-time opportunities.”

The conference is part of a year-round career mentoring program that includes interview practice, resume reviews, coaching by Career Services personnel, seminars on business etiquette, and other career preparation activities. For more information, contact Career Services at


Posted by raherschbach on 13 Feb 2017

As NASA prepares for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope – a major development that is expected to dramatically enhance our understanding of the cosmos – several Capitol alumni and current students are part of the team.

Alums Aaron Bush and Carl Hansen, together with current student Ben Serano, are on-site at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which will be handling flight ops for the mission and is currently engaged in testing and preparation.

Bush and Hansen went to work full-time for the project after graduation, while Serano has landed an internship at the STScI and plans to continue there as a flight operations controller after he wraps up his degree in May.

The three are among a larger group of current and former Capitol involved with the JWST; together, the university has significant representation on this mission.

 “I’m working on the communications subsystem, the thermal testing, and the Optical Telescope Element (OTE),” said 2015 graduate Bush, now a spacecraft engineer at the STScI. “I do everything from writing code to writing procedures to conducting exercises to help the flight operations team prepare for when the spacecraft actually launches.”

It’s inspiring to work on a mission that has enormous significance, Bush said.

“The James Webb is NASA’s flagship mission. It’s a high-profile, $9 billion mission. There are a lot of people who are waiting for it to launch, waiting for it to succeed. The capabilities of this telescope are incredible. They’re much greater than what Hubble has been able to bring – and Hubble has brought us so many wonders. This is going to be above and beyond,” he said.

“It’s exciting work. Everything you’re doing, that you have a hand in, is going towards a spacecraft that will hopefully be used for years and years to come,” Bush said.

Fellow alum Hansen, meanwhile, is a ground systems engineer for the mission. “It’s my job to develop products that will be used during flight, to allow our ground stations to talk to the JWST. After it launches, my job will be to watch those products very carefully and make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

“This is one of NASA’s biggest missions,” Hansen said. “To have the chance to work on something that is so monumental is a huge honor.”

He says younger engineers working on the JWST mission are often surprised to see so many of their colleagues coming from Capitol, a small school with relatively low visibility compared to larger universities in the state and region. But the caliber of Capitol students is no secret to leadership in the field, which has been hiring them for years, Hansen said.

According to Capitol professor Rishabh Maharaja, this is because of the astronautical engineering program’s specialized focus.

“Our heritage is that we specialize in training flight operators and ground systems engineers. That’s our forte, our niche,” “We have courses that teach exactly what Aaron, Ben and Carl are doing – courses that train ground systems engineers and that train students in how to fly the satellite. Our Astronautical Engineering program allows our students to fully understand satellite subsystems, ground system, and flight operations. To successfully and effectively operate a spacecraft, one must extensively understand both the space (satellite) and ground segments. Our curriculum excels in teaching our students about both the ground and space segments."

Maharaja created the Hermes project and now serves as mentor to the student-led Hermes project, which is developing a TCP-IP-based system for satellite command and control. Several project participants, including Bush, Hansen and Serano, have gone on to the JWST – and they say the practical experience they gained as part of Hermes was essential.

“In order to make the move from school to work, you need to be involved in projects, and Capitol is great about supporting these,” Hansen said. “Being in Hermes was very much responsible for getting me into a place where I could be accepted for my current position.”

Serano, who graduates this year, said Hermes provided experience in “how to conduct NASA reviews, working together as a team, the various systems of a satellite, and the importance of thorough testing before launch."

He is thrilled at having the chance to be part of the JWST -- his third internship since coming to Capitol. "I look forward to going to work every single day because the entire team believes in and understands the importance of the JWST's success.  With each passing day, our launch draws closer, and the excitement increases,' Serano said.

Historically, Capitol has provided many opportunities for students to gain hands-on practice in flight operations. Capitol students have been involved in the Earth Observing System (EOS), the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS), and the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM),

A new facility launched this summer on the Capitol campus – the Space Flight Operations Training Center – provides real-time training in command, control and telemetry, using virtual satellites.

“At the SFOTC we will train the next generation of flight operators.We’ll be training them how to build a ground system, understand satellite subsystems, how to fly a satellite, and how to recover a satellite in the event of an anomaly. In this way, we ensure that students come out of our program understanding flight operations and systems engineering,” Maharaja said.

PHOTO: Aaron Bush (left), Ben Serano (center) and Carl Hansen work the Telemetry and Command console for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.