LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A team of middle and high school students in Nebraska are working with NASA on a cube satellite project designed to improve the generation of electricity from sunlight.

The Nebraska Big Red Satellite team launched its first high altitude air balloon with six test payloads from the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Ashland on April 24.

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The launch was a precursor for a much bigger project, the NASA Cube Launch Initiative.

“I’ve always just been interested, just kind of in the background, in space,” eighth-grader Elsa Meyer tells CBS affiliate KMTV. “I never thought I’d get a chance to send a satellite this early into space, to begin working with aerospace mentors while I was still in school.”

The team of 8th through 11th graders were selected by NASA last month to to research, design and build a cube satellite that will test solar power generation in the earth’s orbit to see how well a new type of solar cell generates power with and without direct sunlight.

The CubeSats, as they are known as, are similar in size to a cube box of facial tissues, weigh less than 3 pounds and have an approximate volume of 1 quart.

The Nebraska Big Red Sat-1 project is one of 14 research satellites from nine states, and the first ever from Nebraska, to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets, launching in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Former NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, who was born and raised in Ashland, says he’s glad to see the state is getting some attention when it comes to aerospace research and industry.

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“I’m glad that Nebraska’s partnering with NASA. I think that’s the right thing to do,” he says. “That’s what engineering is about, and I wish I’d had those opportunities when I was a kid.”