NASA Successfully Launches Student Experiments From Wallops

Image Credit: NASA/Wallops

Image Credit: NASA/Wallops

August 17, 2016 – NASA successfully launched the RockSat-X education payload on a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket at 5:33:30 a.m. MDT August 17 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Participants included students from eight community colleges and universities from across the United States, including the University of Colorado Boulder.

The payload carrying the experiments flew to an altitude of 95 miles. Data was received from most of the student experiments. However, the payload was not recovered as planned. NASA will investigate the anomaly.

Experiments flown on this RockSat-X flight are:

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.

University of Hawaii Community Colleges

Four community colleges in Hawaii have teamed up to encourage students to explore STEM-based careers. The experiment’s purpose is to demonstrate proof of concept for multiple experiments. The first primary experiment is to measure thermal neutron and gamma background radiation using scintillators and photomultiplier tubes. The second primary experiment will deploy a naphthalene sublimation mini-rocket made from 3D printed materials and capture imagery of the sublimation rocket’s release. The secondary experiments onboard will evaluate a 9-axis IMU motion tracking device and wirelessly transfer video from the sublimation rocket-mounted cameras back to the experiment.

University of Nebraska Lincoln

This experiment is aimed to develop and streamline the mechanism for a deployable boom and solar panel system. If successful, the deployable boom system could be used for suborbital and small satellite missions. This mechanism could also increase safety and ease of recovery for delicate deployed hardware. For the 2016 flight, this experiment will fly as a mechanical experiment only, in order to test the resilience of the retracted boom system.

Capitol Technology University

This experiment, TRAPSat, is using a silica aerogel to capture micro-debris. CTU is utilizing this RockSat-X mission as a proof of concept both for the use of aerogel as a medium to remove debris, as well as to prove the viability of using aerogel blanketing as an alternative to Multi-Layer Insulation. A camera will also be used on this experiment to image the micro-debris and thereby record data about their impact. Data from this mission will be used to improve the next iteration of TRAPSat before it flies on a NASA CubeSat in 2018.

Northwest Nazarene University

The goal of this experiment is to test the feasibility of flexible electronics in the space environment. Utilizing passive flexible radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, provided by American Semiconductor, recordings of temperature will be transmitted and received during the space flight. A boom will extend an RFID tag away from the experiment, during which temperature and transmit power will be recorded via the RFID reader powered by a smartphone. The boom deployment will also be recorded on a GoPro. The second part of the experiment is to utilize a microcontroller to facilitate the control and sampling of the American Semiconductor FleX-Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) accelerometer alongside a traditional ADC to compare the use of flexible electronics in space with standard off the shelf parts.

Virginia Tech

This experiment will demonstrate the capability of software defined radio (SDR) in spaceflight communication systems.They also hope to show the possibility of using economically priced SDR devices such as the Ettus E310 that is being used in this experiment. Data will be transmitted to the Virginia Tech Ground Station using the Ettus E310 and a helical transmit antenna that deploys from the rocket in the direction of the Virginia Tech Ground Station. The transmitted packages contain gyroscope, acceleration, pressure and temperature data.

Carthage College

The objective of this experiment is to observe very low frequency electromagnetic waves that come from lightning discharges. As the payload increases in altitude, the experiment will observe the impact that the ionosphere has on these low frequency waves. This experiment utilizes two electric field plate antenna pairs and three magnetic loop antennas (x,y,z-axis) with which to detect electromagnetic waves. The signals from the antennas are amplified and then stored onboard in an xCORE computer with microSD card.

University of Puerto Rico

The experiment will allow the detection of high density particles found within 130-165 kilometers above Earth’s sea level, in order to study their physical and chemical properties. This objective will be met through the use of the UPR 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. The experiment is also utilizing a Leica SL UHD 4K video camera pointed aft to record video of the flight.

The experiments were flown 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.

“RockSat-X is a continuation of the Rock-On and RockSat-C programs that introduce students and instructors to building scientific experiments for suborbital flight,” said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. “This third level not only challenges students’ technological skills but also the skills needed to work as a team to accomplish the scientific goals.”

This was the sixth flight of a RockSat-X payload.

The launch was originally planned for August 16, but was delayed due to a boat breach in the safety protocol.

The next sounding rocket launch from Wallops is a Black Brant IX currently scheduled for December.