Carl Brandon, Ph.D.

My undergraduate degree, in physics (minoring in history and psychology), was at Michigan State University, starting Fall, 1962, where I designed part of the cyclotron the summer of my freshman year, and continued to work on software for the cyclotron group (my adviser, Henry Blosser, was the head of it) for the rest of my time there.  I wrote the second video game in the world, the other being done at MIT at about the same time in 1963.  I also worked as a computer operator at nights to pay for flying lessons in the MSU flying club, where I obtained my private pilots license in 1964.  After graduation (June, 1966), I started grad school in physics, but started working for IBM Components Division in Fishkill, NY, January, 1967.

At IBM, I designed their first memory chip, with two other people.  It was probably the first completely computer design and manufacturing project of any kind in the world.  During that time, I obtained my instrument rating, commercial pilots license, sea plane rating and glider license.  I left IBM in January, 1969, to go back to grad school, and went to UMass, Amherst, in physics.  I obtained my airplane, instrument and glider flight instructor ratings in 1969 while at UMass.  I worked part time as an airplane flight instructor while in school, and spent the summer of 1970 as a full time glider flight instructor at Sugarbush Airport in Vermont.  I switched to Zoology after a year, and did an M.S. on seagull soaring flight aerodynamics.  My PhD., from the Zoology Department, awarded in 1979, was on bat flight aerodynamics and functional anatomy.

I started teaching at Vermont Technical College, Randolph Center, VT, in August, 1977, teaching physics and zoology.  I initiated and taught Spacecraft Software (for our Software Engineering MS degree, with Peter Chapin), Spacecraft Technology I & II, Intro. Zoology, Anatomy and Physiology, Ada, Advanced Ada, Operating Systems and Pascal; and taught Calculus and non-calculus based Physics, Modern Physics, Introductory Chemistry and BASIC computer programming.  Starting 2004, I have applied for 24 NASA grants, and have received 33, totaling about $700,000.  This has resulted in the construction of a CubeSat that was launched in an Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket in November 19, 2013, the first by any college in New England or New York. It was in orbit and operational for 2 years and two days, before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere on November 21, 2015, and was the only successful satellite of any kind launched by a college in the North East of the United States until 2018.  I have just started on a grant to work on a spacecraft software system with Jeremy Ouellette and our students  to develop a satellite version of the JT65 weak signal protocol, that will allow a university satellite to communicate with a university ground station from Jupiter avoiding the very expensive and hard to get time on Deep Space Network of NASA.  At about the time of my first grant, my son, Jack Brandon, was born, and is now 15 years old.  He has traveled with me to technical conferences in Europe (where I gave talks in York, UK; Venice, Italy; Porto Venere, Italy; Stockholm, Sweden; Berlin, Germany; Paris, France; Madrid, Spain; Pisa, Italy; Vienna, Austria; and Jerusalem, Israel).  He accompanied me to the launch of our CubeSat from Wallops Island, VA in November, 2013.  I have also given talks in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) multiple times, Washington, DC, multiple times, Cambridge, MA, multiple times, Ithaca, NY and Ottawa, Canada.  I was a keynote speaker at Ada Europe, Lisbon in 2018, and an invited speaker (along with John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Buzz Aldrin) at Space Operations, Washington, DC, in 2012 and an invited speaker at the Amateur Radio Satellite Corporation 50th Anniversary conference in 2019.

Three hundred miles above our heads, a four-inch-cube miniature satellite – the first one ever launched by a New England college or university – circled in low-Earth orbit, taking photos of our planet and transmitting them back to its home base at Vermont Tech’s CubeSat Laboratory for two years and two days.

“This CubeSat was part of a larger scheme,” explains Professor Carl Brandon, Director of the CubeSat Lab. “We tested its systems and navigation components in order to help us design the next one, which is going into orbit around the moon.”

Brandon (who points out that he has applied for 17 NASA grants and received 27) has been working on the CubeSat project for more than ten years, with help from VTC students. While he constructed the satellite’s hardware, his students worked on the software with the assistance and supervision of Professor Peter Chapin. Recent VTC graduate Dan Turner wrote most of the software code and was thrilled to get some hands-on experience with a space program.

“I’d like to get even more students involved,” says Brandon. “I want people to know that you can work on a real-world research project as an undergrad at Vermont Tech – this is unusual. We are offering opportunities most schools can’t offer, and the hands-on learning is incredibly valuable.”

With an estimated cost of $50,000 (compared to several hundred million or more for a typical satellite), CubeSats have started a revolution in space by making satellite operations far more accessible. “Imagine how helpful affordable high altitude photos could be to disaster relief groups, environmental agencies, farmers, traffic planners – the list goes on,” says Brandon. “We’ve built a satellite that worked for its entire two years and two days in orbit, so we’ve shown it can be done. So far, NASA has funded the project, and I think we’ll have no problem getting additional grants to fund the next phase. It’s going to be even more exciting, because Vermont Tech students will write the flight and ground software for the Lunar IceCube 6U (10cm x 20cm x 30cm, 14kg) CubeSat that will get a ride to the Moon on the maiden flight of NASA’s Space Launch System in 2018, then entering orbit with its own ion drive!”  This new CubeSat has a budget of over $15,000,000.

Morehead State University (KY) is the principal investigator, with an infrared spectrometer from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a high tech radio, Iris 2 from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.  This CubeSat will orbit the Moon for about six months looking for water and other volatiles.  We will be using NASA’s Deep Space Network to communicate with it while it is orbiting the Moon.  At the end of the Lunar observations, we may send it to Mars.

In July, 2014 Brandon was named a “top innovator” by Embedded Computer Design magazine. Additionally, the CubeSat has been featured in Air & Space Magazine, Fox News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and WCAX. Learn more by visiting the CubeSat website.

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