A group of recent Fairfax County high school graduates, who spent much of their senior year studying the potential uses of space satellites, will present its final report today. But it won't be to their teachers.
The audience will be a panel of international high-tech and intelligence experts attending the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association convention in Washington. Among those expected to be listening will be an undersecretary of defense and a member of the Air Force Systems Command.
"It seems kind of funny," said Melissa Welstead, 17, one of the students who participated. "We don't feel like ours the study was a highly technical product."
The student group was the suggestion of Donald B. Novakoski of Western Union, who chairs AFCEA's satellite communications panel. Novakowsi contacted Tom Nuttall, the math specialist in the county's Area 3 school office, who asked each of the six high schools in that region to recommend two seniors.
The students began working last August, meeting with Nuttall about once a month and spliting up into smaller groups. The study was completed in March.
"The report went further than I expected," Nuttall said. "When they returned it to the adult committee, there were two or three things the kids had hit on that the adult scientists hadn't thought of."
One of the ideas that has aroused the interest of AFCEA's satellite committee was the concept of a "constellation" of satellites drawing their power from a common source, Nuttall said.
"Clustering satellites isn't a new idea but having them draw power from a fixed place in space is new," Nuttall said.
The students were told to let their imaginations wander. They were given few directions--"They didn't want to bias us," Welstead said--and had access only to public resources. "We did go to the Goddard Space Library," Welstead said, "but, of course, anything in print is really old news."
The students include Stuart Hoffman and Claudia Testa of Herndon High School; Brian Berns and Stephen Facchina of Langley; Long Claudio and Peter Roueche of McLean; Jerry Hanweck, who served as chairman, and Henry Chow of Madison; Mark Paist and Welstead of Marshall; and Kenneth Robell and Miranda Fram of South Lakes.
The AFCEA convention is like a science fair carried to the nth degree. Some 50 companies worldwide will exhibit defense and communications equipment in an "expo" setting, incongruously borrowed from video-tech and merchandising shows.
This morning's panel, sponsored by Honeywell, focuses on "New Technologies for C3I."
"That C3I is the buzzword of the industry," AFCEA spokesman Noel L. Allen said. "It means, 'Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence.' "
AFCEA, which has its international headquarters in Burke, represents 21,000 designers, manufacturers and consumers of state-of-the-art intelligence services. A nonprofit organization of Free World government, military and industrial agencies, AFCEA considers itself "the" professional fraternity for "the C3I person."
Northern Virginia doesn't have a hammerlock on technically advanced students, however. Last week, for instance, an experiment proposed for inclusion on a future space shuttle mission by a group of students at the Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County won a national competition.
Club sponsor H.E. Alberti said the experiment involves a phenomenon called electrophoresis--the molecular separation by electricity of a substance suspended in a liquid or gel.
More than two dozen students, some of them now in college, worked on the project for two years, Alberti said.