Buffalo grad works on NASA-funded project at MSU


Jonathan Dover smiles as he takes a break from working on a CubeSat satellite sensor in an MSU laboratory Monday.

Photo courtesy of Marcus Jolovich

Buffalo’s Jonathon Dover has gone from cattle to computers, and his final college project has really embraced the change: Dover is part of the Montana State University team working on CubeSat, a satellite being built to demonstrate radiant-tolerant computer technology that just received a $200,000 NASA grant.

Dover, a senior in electrical engineering, is using his role in the satellite’s production to complete the final piece of his degree.

“This is for my senior capstone,” he said. “You’re given a project, and you’re supposed to design it from scratch and go through the whole design process.”

Dover explained there were two parts to creating the CubeSat satellite: the hardware and the software. His team is working on hardware, designing the electronics.

“We’re making a sensor that will fit in the CubeSat and then communicate with the rest of the satellite,” he said. “It will report when the radiation strikes happen.”

The CubeSat project has spanned a decade at the university, with its humble beginnings in weather balloons. MSU uses student work, such as senior capstones, to create some of the smaller components. Although it relies on students to help build the pieces, the CubeSat satellite has grown in reputation, making opportunities to participate competitive.

“I’ve had some experience in the past that made me applicable for this kind of project,” Dover said.

While a lot of people wanted to be a part of the CubeSat project, Dover thinks he knows why he made the cut.

“I had an internship at Idaho National Laboratory a couple summers ago, and I was working on a certain type of microprocessor,” he said. “It happens to be what we need to use for our [CubeSat] design.”

Of course, Dover’s interest in computers started well before his college career.

“I grew up on a ranch, and I didn’t really enjoy that,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in computers from a young age.”

That curiosity transformed into a passion after a run-in with the right teacher.

“In high school, I had a really great teacher, Mr. Poser, and he really got me interested in science.”

An elective engineering class in high school led to an engineering major for Dover as a freshmen. Once again, it was school that refined his interests.

“I took the 101 course for electrical engineering, and it was just a blast, so I knew it was electrical engineering from there,” he said.

Excitement has not made the capstone project any easier for Dover. In addition to the general difficulty associated with capstone projects, Dover is also working at being the cog in a much larger machine.

“One kind-of issue we’ve had with the project is that the senior capstone is trying to fit everyone’ project into the same timeline,” he said. “It’s been this balancing act of working in the schedules of the capstones, what NASA wants and what everyone else on the team wants.”

Dover explained that even in an academic year, several different parts of the project are being created simultaneously, and everything has to be fit into grant timelines.

“The whole CubeSat is being worked on by a lot of people, and our senior capstone team is making a small part of it,” he said.

Even though his team’s sensor will be complete by May graduation, and Dover’s set to move on to an electrical engineering job in Nevada, he’s happy the CubeSat satellite received the NASA grant.

“I’ve really enjoyed this project, and I’m really grateful we got this grant,” he said. 



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