Here’s why NASA is sending a Gardens school’s satellite into space

A student of The Weiss School speaks with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson during his visit to Palm Beach Gardens on Saturday, March 11, 2017. Nelson announced to students and their parents that NASA will launch a satellite they made into space, possibly as early as 2018. Photo courtesy of The Weiss School

Palm Beach Gardens students put their sweat and smarts into building a satellite that will soon launch into space.

Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees NASA, came to The Weiss School Saturday afternoon to give students good news. Theirs is one of 34 satellites NASA will launch into space. The WeissSat-1 will be launched on a mission in 2018, 2019 or 2020, according to Nelson’s office.

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After it’s launched, WeissSat-1 will study bacteria that has thawed after being trapped in ice, according to Nelson’s office.

Fifth through eighth grade students at the school for gifted students spent years designing, building and testing small satellites.

Students at The Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens showcase their work for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson during his visit on Saturday, March 11, 2017. Nelson came to deliver the news that NASA will launch a satellite the students made into space, possibly as soon as 2018. Photo courtesy of The Weiss School

This is only the second time NASA has chosen a satellite built by elementary and middle school students to go to space, according to Nelson’s office.

WeissSat-1 will be launched as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which gives schools and nonprofits hands-on experience developing and building small satellites to do research or demonstrate new technology, according to Nelson’s office.

CubeSats are small, cube-shaped research satellites that are only about four inches on each side. They weigh less than three pounds, according to Nelson’s office.

Former NASA astronaut Story Musgrave, who completed six space flights and a Hubble Telescope rescue mission, spoke to students at the school in September.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson poses for a photo with students from The Weiss School on Saturday, March 11, 2017. He came to the Palm Beach Gardens school to deliver the news that NASA will launch a satellite they made into space. Photo courtesy of The Weiss School

NASA passes on Palm Beach Gardens’ students asteroid chipper

The Palm Beach State College Astrocats describe their rock chip sampling device, which they dubbed the Panther Claw, in the BioScience Technology Complex at their Palm Beach Gardens campus Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. They find out Wednesday if they’ll be invited to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to test it. (Sarah Peters/The Palm Beach Post)
The Palm Beach State College Astrocats describe their rock chip sampling device, which they dubbed the Panther Claw, in the BioScience Technology Complex at their Palm Beach Gardens campus Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. (Sarah Peters/The Palm Beach Post)

NASA said, “No, thanks” on testing the device Palm Beach State College students made to chip asteroids, but it’s unlikely that’s the last you’ll see of them.

Students at the college’s Eissey campus from a variety of engineering disciplines took on the monumental task of creating the rock chipper in a few weeks for NASA’s Micro-g NExT challenge. They were competing with colleges and universities from across the country to score an invite to test the device at the Johnson Space Center this summer.

They found out Wednesday the didn’t make the cut. But the experience gave them the opportunity to learn to work as a team and collaborate with local aerospace professionals.

The tool they designed is an attachment to an air chisel that an astronaut in space could use to chip and contain dime-sized samples from asteroids.

Reviewers provided feedback on the six-person team’s proposal and encouraged them to submit a proposal next year.

Read more about their efforts here.