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University Students Fulfilling the Space Flight Dream
July 29, 2013

Growing up, many of us thought it would be so cool to participate in the space program by being an astronaut, launching rockets or building things to go into space. 

[image-51]For a group of university students from across the country, this dream will be become a reality when they journey to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in August to launch experiments they have developed over the past school year.

Their experiments will fly on the RockSat-X payload aboard a 44--foot tall Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket between 6 and 10 a.m., August 13.  The backup launch day is August 14.

Chris Koehler, Director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, said, “The goal of the RockSat-X program is to provide students a hands-on experience in developing experiments for space flight. This experience allows these students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to a real world hands-on project.”

“In addition these students are getting practical experience that will assist them as they enter careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” Koehler said.  Past participants in the program have entered careers within the aerospace industry.

RockSat-X, a joint educational activity between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant, is the third of three programs designed to increase students’ skill levels. The introductory level program is RockOn and the mid-level is RockSat-C.

“Each program is technically more challenging than the previous program, allowing the students to expand the skills needed to support the aerospace industry,” said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the sounding rocket programs office at Wallops.

Participating in this year’s RockSat-X program are the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan; the University of Maryland, College Park; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.; West Virginia University, Morgantown; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.

The university student payload experiments are:

  • Combined Rocksat-X team experiment:  7 HD video cameras, pressure/temperature sensors, accelerometers
  • Johns Hopkins University / University of Maryland: Measure electron density in the E region (90-120km), flight data GPS   acquisition, SiO2 aerogel dust collection via exposed telescoping arm
  • West Virginia University: Plasma density/frequency, magnetic field, flight dynamics, magnetic effects on ferrofluids in microgravity, protect a picosatellite payload consisting of an IMU and magnetometer, as well as a transceiver to transmit data back to Earth
  • University of Colorado at Boulder: Prove the validity of microgravity crystalline experiments on rockets using Sodium Acetate Trihydrate (SAT) and Succinonitrile-Camphor (SCN), analyze the differences between crystals grown in microgravity and crystals grown under normal gravity
  • University of Minnesota: The determination of the effect of a suborbital rocket flight on various electrical components due to radiation damage
  • Northwest Nazarene University: Determine the durability of flexible electronics in the cryogenic environment of space; create a de-spun video of the rocket flight.
  • University of Puerto Rico: Piezo electric sensor will detect the number of particles at impact and a porous aerogel will capture them for future analysis

Approximately 40 students will arrive at Wallops on Aug. 7 to work with the NASA sounding rocket team and integrate their experiments with the payload.  They also will be on hand to witness their experiments take flight.

The seven experiments will fly to a projected altitude of 97 miles in a 20--foot long payload. After the nearly 12-minute flight, the payload will return via a parachute and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 86 miles from Wallops.

The payload will then be recovered and the students will receive their experiments later in the day to see how their experiment performed and begin their data analysis. Additionally, payloads will transmit data during flight down to Wallops via a telemetry system on board the rocket.

Hopefully, with this dream accomplished, the students will set as their next dream to take the skills they have learned on to the next level in the aerospace industry.

Keith Koehler
NASA's Wallops Flight Facility

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Students from Northwest Nazarene University observe the pre-integration of their experiment into the RockSat-X payload at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in June. Students from seven universities are participating in the program and will attend the launch on August 13.
Students from Northwest Nazarene University observe the pre-integration of their experiment into the RockSat-X payload at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in June. Students from seven universities are participating in the program and will attend the launch on August 13.
Image Credit: 
NASA/K. Koehler
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Page Last Updated: July 29th, 2013
Page Editor: Rebecca Powell