Rocket launches from Wallops Island with student experiments from Virginia Tech

Posted at 5:50 AM, Aug 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-12 06:23:29-04

Wallops Island, Va. - A sounding rocket from Wallops Island successfully launched shortly after 6am this morning.

The rocket was carrying experiments from several schools, including Virginia Tech. The 872 pound payload aboard a NASA two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket is predicted to reach an altitude of 94 miles.

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

Jesse Austin, program manager Colorado Space ‎Grant Consortium, oversees Marcus Yamaguchi from Kauai Community he prepares to integrate their experiment into the payload of a Terrier Improved Malemute sounding rocket. (Credits: NASA / Patrick Black)

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.

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.”

The payload, with the experiments, will descend by parachute and is expected to land 15 minutes after launch in the Atlantic Ocean, about 63 miles off the Virginia coast. The experiments and any stored data will be provided to the students later in the day following recovery.

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.

Two of the institutions, Capital Technology University and the University of Hawai'i Community Colleges are participating in the RockSat-X program for the first time.

Rishabh Maharaja, adjunct professor at Capitol Technology, said, “I can lecture all day in class and bore the students, or I can participate in the RockSat-X program and allow the students to "apply" what they learn. Space research is open to all majors. Our team has an array of students with various lines of study. We come together as a team and apply knowledge from various different degrees. The program also allows the students to understand that a project flying into space requires team work. Because, there are various people involved, the students are presented with a dynamic learning environment in which they have to learn how to work together.”

“Unlike other rocketry programs that can span several academic years, RockSat-X's rigorous one-year timeline — from concept of design to payload launch — affords us a practical timeframe to engage our community college students in a demanding and comprehensive aerospace project, while ensuring their participation in a complete mission from start to finish,” said Joseph Ciotti, professor of physics, astronomy & mathematics at Windward Community College.

“Through RockSat-X's challenging telecon review sessions that simulate the procedures followed by NASA employees and sub-contractors, our undergraduate students have gained invaluable experience with aerospace engineering protocols and skills that are difficult, if not impossible, to teach in a formal classroom setting,” Ciotti said.

The following experiments are included in the payload:

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.