Tucked deep back in the tightly guarded machine shop of California’s oldest prison, well away from the muscle flexing inmates in “the yard,” a select group of convicted felons has their eyes on space. They fabricate metal housing for miniature satellites designed to explore the heavens. That’s right. San Quentin inmates serving time for horrible crimes are given easy access to some of the sharpest metal humans can make.
They are, most likely, the only prisoners on Earth helping to develop products for space exploration.
Working under the strict guidance of NASA, a handful of skilled inmate machinists are making something most people have never heard of: P-PODs, Poly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers, essentially, aluminum boxes designed to hold tiny satellites known as CubeSats, which ride “piggyback” into space as secondary payloads.
The devices are part of a new generation of low-cost, miniature launch vehicles developed for research used by more than 150 universities worldwide.