Colorado Space Grant Consortium/NASA Launch Student Experiments

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

August 12, 2015 – NASA launched a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket carrying the RockSat-X payload with university and community college student experiments at 6:04 a.m. EDT Wednesday, August 12, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The launch was originally planned for Tuesday, August 11, but was postponed due to inclement weather in the area.

More than 60 students and instructors from across the continental United States, Hawaii and Puerto Rico were on hand to witness the launch of their experiments.

Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops, said, “This is the fifth flight of a RockSat-X payload. The program has provided students a way to not only showcase their skills, but also challenge them in developing experiments for suborbital flight. We are thrilled to be part of a program that encourages students to expand their capabilities.”

Image Credit: NASA / Brea Reeves

Image Credit: NASA / Brea Reeves

The payload flew to an altitude of about 97 miles and descended via parachute into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Wallops. Payload recovery operations began after lift-off.

Developed by students from seven higher education programs, the experiments flew through the RockSat-X program in conjunction with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

RockSat-X is part of a program that introduces secondary institution students to building experiments for space flight and requires them to expand their skills to develop and build more complex projects. The experiments are flown approximately 20 miles higher in altitude than those in the RockOn and RockSat-C programs, providing more flight time in space.

“Each year the RockSat-X projects are expanding their reach into the complexity of experiment design. We are pleased to be working with NASA and the sounding rocket program in providing an avenue for these students to expand and put into practice their skills as they prepare to enter careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM),” said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

“Through RockSat-X, we want to provide higher education students an avenue to work as a team and go beyond the classroom into hands-on applications and developing experiments for space,” Koehler said.

Participating institutions in this flight are the University of Colorado, Boulder; Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho; the University of Puerto Rico; the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg; Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Maryland; and University of Hawai’i Community Colleges at the Honolulu, Kapi’olani, Kaua’i, and Windward campuses.

Participating universities in this RockSat-X flight and their experiment descriptions:

University of Colorado Boulder

Students have developed an induction heater that will melt two metals in microgravity. Aluminum and indium, which are immiscible in gravity, will mix together to create an alloy in the absence of gravity provided during this flight. The effects on solidification and microstructure of the aluminum-indium alloy will be investigated.

Capitol Technology University

The experiment is testing an OSHComm (Onboard Satellite Hotspot Communications) System using TCP/IP Protocol by tapping into an existing network of communications satellites. The project intends to fly commercial off the shelf equipment that is TCP/IP compliant. The system uses an Android smart phone and an Iridium GO modem to send data from the rocket. The smartphone will pair with the iridium go via WIFI and will create a mini WIFI network on the ROCKET. The android phone will send data over to the Iridium GO via the WiFi network and out to the iridium satellites to the operators on the ground. If successful, this system will be prove to be a cheaper alternate for payload communications.

University of Hawai’i Community Colleges

Four community colleges in Hawai’i — all in affiliation with Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium — have teamed up to encourage students to explore STEM-based careers. UHCC’s Project Imua payload will make direct measurements of the sun’s ultra-violet (UV) irradiance without atmospheric absorption. Variations in the UV components of the solar spectrum directly affect the earth’s thermosphere/ionosphere and ultimately climate. Data will be analyzed to contribute to an understanding of solar dynamics. An array of photosensors for determining the orientation of the payload to the sun and a miniaturized IMU/accelerometer built from off-the-shelf components make up the payload’s two engineering experiments.

Virginia Tech

The student team has designed and built their own 3D printer to operate in space. They plan to collect information concerning the effects of changing gravitational loads on 3D printing. VT will make their results freely available, and hope to provide meaningful results for future experiments concerning 3D printing in microgravity aboard a launch vehicle. The team will improve their 3D printer design based on results from this flight.

University of Nebraska Lincoln

The team will continue research on crystalline growth in microgravity. They aim to further characterize crystal growth through the study of buoyant convection in a supersaturated solution of sodium acetate. They will be triggering a crystal to form at the apogee of the flight, and study how crystals formed in microgravity are larger and more pure than in gravity.

Northwest Nazarene University

The experiment will test for functionality of American Semiconductor FleX electronics in the sounding rocket environment. A FleX analog to digital converter will collect data which will be sampled and stored for investigation after the flight. Additionally, the experiment will fly electronics intended for use on a future CubeSat. These electronics will be exposed to the space environment for testing and then re-sealed using a deployable drawer system.

University of Puerto Rico

The experiment will allow the detection of high density particles found within the parameters of 130-165 kilometers above Earth’s sea level, in order to study their physical and chemical properties. Achieving this through their early micrometeorite impact detection system, collector, and various other measuring devices, this project could aid in developing a clearer image of space particles, and potentially lead to the discovery and subsequent genome sequencing of organic materials found within the aforementioned particles. This year, the UPR experiment focuses on cross-contamination mitigation through the use of plasma gas decontamination.

University of Colorado Boulder

The RockSat-X High Definition video payload is intended to provide a view of the experiments from space. The system houses four HD cameras that record the flight and any deployments or activations on student experiments. The cameras are deployed on individual track systems utilizing stepper motors to get a better view down the experiment section of the rocket. Each camera is housed in a sealed container with a pressure and temperature sensor to give important data on the integrity of the system during the flight to space.

The next launch scheduled from Wallops is a NASA Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket carrying several technology development instruments. The launch is scheduled between 7 and 7:41 p.m. September 29. The backup launch days are September 30 through October 12.