IMCA Stock Car driver Danos takes break from dirt to help send satellite into space

IMCA Sunoco Stock Car driver Jack Danos, a senior at Utah State University, headed the student research team that designed and built this cube-shaped satellite delivered to, and deployed from the International Space Station. It’s now in orbit 250 miles above the earth and traveling at 15,000 miles an hour. (Photo courtesy of the USU Get Away Special Team)

LOGAN, Utah – Growing up, Jack Danos never saw himself driving a race car or helping send a satellite to space.

Now he’s done both. 

The IMCA Sunoco Stock Car driver from Logan is a senior at Utah State University and headed a student research team that designed and built a cube-shaped satellite delivered by a SpaceX resupply rocket to the International Space Station.

Only about the size of a Holley 500 cfm carburetor, that satellite (called a CubeSat) is equipped with a computer, solar system, battery, radio and most importantly a boom that inflated to a length of about a yard and an inch in diameter which will ultimately help determine if similarly equipped and larger satellites could be used to build structures in space.

Deployed on Jan. 26, the satellite is now in orbit and sending data and pictures from 250 miles above the earth while traveling some 15,000 miles an hour.

“It was incredible. I still can’t describe the feeling,” Danos said, after the seeing the first pictures taken from the satellite, showing the boom extending into space. “I put pretty much everything into this project. To finally see it successful in space is just incredible.”

Utah State and its Get Away Special student research teams had a long history with space and high altitude exploration which quickly piqued Danos’ interest when he arrived on campus.

The CubeSat project was nine years in the making and Danos was understandably pleased to see it completed successfully before graduating this May with a degree in mechanical engineering with an aerospace emphasis.

“I’ve kind of always had an interest in space and was following SpaceX. When I went to Utah State I learned more about this program that was space oriented,” he explained. “I heard about the team that I’m in charge of now and thought it was pretty cool and that I needed to get into this.”

The satellite designed and built by the Utah State University student research team headed by IMCA Sunoco Stock Car driver Jack Danos is on the right of two satellites deployed from the International Space Station and pictured 250 miles over South America. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

He said being the GAS team coordinator was very similar to managing a race team, as he was making sure the right people had the right tools to do their jobs correctly and on NASA deadlines.

After the satellite was designed, built and then tested countless times, Danos helped with transportation from Utah to the Johnson Space Center in Houston and then to the Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida. 

 “I worked all day every day on this project and as a result, my Stock Car didn’t come off the trailer for a couple months. There were times when we fixed stuff last minute at the track,” Danos said after a 2021 campaign that saw him make just eight starts, seven of them at Sweetwater Speedway.

Planning a career in aerospace engineering, he’ll make Sweetwater his home track while traveling to other venues in Idaho and around Utah in his third IMCA season.

“Growing up. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I wouldn’t have thought it would be those two things. I crewed for my dad (and fellow Stock Car driver Jeff) who raced on dirt and asphalt when we lived in Louisiana and followed him into the sport,” Danos said. “Racing is just awesome – I like the competition and it’s pretty cool to work on the car, tinker with it and try to go faster. A lot is seat time and always trying to improve and get better.”