Students Boosting Technical Skills At NASA Wallops’ Rocket Week

Students prepare their experiments during a previous RockOn workshop Image Credit: NASA/Berit Bland

June 11, 2019 – University and community college students will boost their technical skills as rocket scientists building experiments for space flight during Rocket Week June 14-21, 2019, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Nearly 200 students and instructors from across the country will build and fly experiments on a NASA suborbital sounding rocket through the RockOn! and RockSat-C programs.

“NASA has embarked on a journey to return humans to the Moon by 2024,” said Giovanni Rosanova, chief of the NASA Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops. “STEM programs using sounding rockets, such as RockOn! and RockSat-C, are beneficial to improve the skills of students that will enter the workforce as we journey back to the Moon and on to Mars and continue exploring Earth and space.”

Rocket Week culminates at 5:30 a.m. EDT, Thursday, June 20, with the launch of a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket carrying the students’ experiments. The rocket is 36 feet long and the payload weighs 667 pounds.

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 4:30 a.m. EDT on launch day for viewing the flight. Live coverage of the mission is scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. on the Wallops Ustream site. Launch updates also are available via the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites. Facebook Live coverage begins at 5:15 a.m. The rocket launch is expected to be seen from the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland.

The rocket will carry 28 experiments (measuring acceleration, humidity, pressure, temperature and radiation counts) from the RockOn! Program, nine experiments in the RockSat-C program and more than 80 small cubes with experiments developed by middle school and high school students as part of the Cubes in Space program, a partnership between idoodlelearning inc. and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

The rocket will fly the student experiments to nearly 73-miles altitude. The experiments will land via parachute in the Atlantic Ocean where they will be recovered by boat. The participants should have their experiments returned to them later in the day to begin their data analysis.

Conducted with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia, RockOn! is in its twelfth year and RockSat-C its eleventh year.

Participants in RockOn! receive instruction on the basics required to develop a scientific payload for flight on a suborbital rocket. After learning the basics in RockOn!, students may then participate in RockSat-C, where during the school year they design and build a more complicated experiment for rocket flight.

“The RockOn! and RockSat-C programs have shown that they are excellent training grounds for students exploring future careers in the aerospace industry,” said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.  “The interest in the programs continue to grow and is evident as this year was the earliest that we filled the openings for RockOn!.”

The RockOn!,and RockSat-C programs are supported by the NASA Sounding Rocket Program. RockOn! also is supported by NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement and NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia, as well as the program participants.

NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program is conducted at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility, which is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program for the agency.

RockSat-C participants and projects

  • Cubes in Space
    Cubes in Space is an educational program for students age 11-18 to design experiments in a 40 mm cube and launch on a sounding rocket. The program builds awareness in the pre-college age group about easily accessible, short-duration, and relatively low-cost spaceflight missions and opportunities in support of scientific exploration objectives. 
  • Clemson University, South Carolina
    The Clemson University team is developing a single segment of a spring based soft robotic arm to better analyze the forces and actuation of soft robotic devices during flight. From this experiment, the team is hoping to produce deflection analysis using a camera and motors that will adjust the robotic arm to stay fixed on a single point throughout the duration of flight. In addition, the team created an outreach program for local students to encourage interest in STEM and will fly a GPS receiver that was discussed and analyzed through the program.
  • Delgado Community College, New Orleans
    The Delgado Community College Shoe LAACES team is measuring the intensity of radiation and relative abundance of components produced by cosmic rays in the atmosphere using a Geiger Muller Tube and Cosmic Watch Scintillator system. In addition, the team will measure and record environmental data (pressure, temperature, humidity) and acceleration data throughout flight. The team hopes to use their data to baseline future cosmic ray components and assist cosmic ray intensity research at their college.
  • Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York
    The Hobart and William Smith Colleges team is studying the magnetic fields of the Earth and muon flux at different altitudes, and studying materials that will dampen vibration in order to open up new possibilities in the future for flying more sensitive equipment on sounding rockets. In addition, the team has created an outreach program for local middle school students to understand the science behind their mission and promote youth interest in STEM.
  • Langston University, Oklahoma
    The Langston University Lunar-BC team is studying the effect of suborbital micro-gravity effects on immune cell regulation. The team is placing plant and probiotic metabolite extractions in vials at varying distances from the center of their canister to show the effects at a molecular level of gene expression changes in activated immune cells during launch and at apogee. In addition, the team is flying environmental sensors (temperature, pressure, humidity) and an accelerometer to refine their results. The project is in conjunction with their existing NASA project investigating natural countermeasures to astronaut immune system dysregulation.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey
    The Stevens Institute of Technology team is conducting three separate experiments. First, the team is creating a reflow oven capable of soldering surface mount electronic components to a printed circuit board in the microgravity environment. With the oven reaching internal temperatures of 200 C and studying heat dissipation from the high temperature experiment, this will inform the development of a reflow soldering oven to be used on long duration manned space missions. Next, the team is creating a system that can record accelerometer data in the payload during launch that will help to build a model of the rocket telemetry. This will be accomplished with a pair of two-axis accelerometers, with one acting as a control and the other utilizing a passive material to provide filtering. The final experiment is measuring high-speed boundary layer transition from laminar to turbulent pressure waves using both a high and low frequency pressure transducer. The team hopes to characterize the transition phases of the boundary layer through various pressures along the surface of the vehicle.
  • Temple University, Philadelphia
    The goal of the Temple University Space Owls experiment is to detect muon radiation in the upper atmosphere while gathering auxiliary sensor data to better understand the performance of the design. After gathering the accelerometer data, the payload will be modeled with 3D software to show the orientation and activity of the canister during flight. Through this experiment, the team hopes their results will benefit not only scientists who study this field but also engineers and astronauts who design systems for these altitudes.
  • University of Delaware, Newark
    The University of Delaware team is interested in studying the performance and effect of radiation on a Gallium Nitride High Electron Mobility Transistors semiconductor during a sounding rocket flight. The team will baseline their results by measuring the drain-source voltage/current throughout flight and will see the effects of radiation on IV characterizes. In addition, the team continues to refine a reusable inertial navigation and sensor measurement system from previous missions to extend to future RockSat-C missions. Finally, the team is creating a method for “plug and play” experiments for local students. This will enable the students to attach smaller experiments to the main mission to allow all units to function autonomously and without interference.
  • University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
    The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee SEDS team is observing the effects of rocket flight in the lower atmosphere on bacterial DNA using multiple sensors to measure conditions during flight. In addition, the team will observe the effects that minimizing radiation has on DNA through the use of radiation shielding and test the effectiveness of different materials. The team believes the data will be useful in determining the survivability of microorganisms in space flight.
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown
    The West Virginia University RockSat-C team is divided into two subgroups: Blue Team and Gold Team. The Blue Team is studying the correlation of the accepted Earth magnetic field models with a MLX90393 magnetometer and measuring the change in radiation throughout flight while calculating an estimated altitude based on the radiation level encountered. In addition, the team is estimating attitude and spin rate using an inertial measurement unit and receiving and saving GPS band radio frequencies on a HackRF Software Defined Radio for later comparison with the known flight GPS data from Gold Team. The Gold Team is using on-board videography to gauge the accuracy of coastal matching by comparing calculated position from collect images to measure GPS position. The team hopes to calculate rocket telemetry from the optical coastal matching from their GoPro and compare the results to the tracked telemetry results from the GPS.