Category Archives: Education

High school team sends experiment to the International Space Station

A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft recently berthed to the International Space Station and delivered over a ton of scientific experiments, including many student projects. (See NASA articles here and here.) Student groups can participate in ISS science via programs such as these:

Here is an example of a high school team in Singapore sending an experiment to the ISS:

Singapore American School (SAS) sends Singapore’s first experiment
to the International Space Station

SINGAPORE, June 5, 2017 — On Sunday, June 4, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States, and sent the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. The spacecraft was carrying an experiment built by students at the Singapore American School (SAS) — the first ever experiment to be sent to space by high schoolers in Singapore.

The MicroLab — a container that encases a scientific experiment — is scheduled to arrive on the International Space Station (ISS) after two days of spaceflight. This is the first time a Singaporean experiment will be installed by astronauts on board the ISS.

For over a year, student leader Sunita Srivatsan and her team of five — Jaclyn Chan, Keshav Jagannath, Annie Kim, Madeline Smith, and Devansh Tandon, guided by SAS Robotics coaches Meredith White and Bart Millar — have been meticulously planning, collaborating, and researching to set up an experiment to study the effects of microgravity on mutations in bacteria.

As part of the Bhattacharya Space Enterprise program and under the mentorship of ex-National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientist Dr. Bidushi Bhattacharya, CEO and founder of Bhattacharya Space Enterprises and Priyadarshini Majumdar, a National University of Singapore graduate, the students learned about both the research and commercial aspects of space technology.

“This is a very exciting time for commercial spacetech growth, thanks to companies such as SpaceX. Traditionally, space-related career paths were feasible for students from larger nations, but rapid privatization and miniaturization of electronics has made space accessible globally. I am really excited about this group of students in Singapore who are actually delivering something into orbit,” said Dr. Bhattacharya.

Dr. Chip Kimball, superintendent of SAS, who is a strong advocate of exploring interests and pursuing passions said,

“Backed by a culture of possibilities, students at SAS are offered every opportunity to dive deep into an area of interest while building competence and self-efficacy to engage and impact the world around them. It has to be one of the most exciting things in the world to be able to take the science they’re learning and applying it to a new frontier.”

The SAS Foundation, an organization that continues to strengthen the school for the future by funding educational programs, operations, and capital initiatives, has been a strong supporter of this project. The organization paid for mentor training in San Jose, biological and mechanical materials to create the experiment, orbital launch services on the Falcon 9 spacecraft, and leased space aboard the ISS.

Majumdar was instrumental in encouraging the team to focus on the various stages of the mission, formulate a plan and execute it. In six months time, the students went from finding it hard to visualize how everything would fit into a MicroLab to building the engineering model and constructing the flight model in about a week.

The MicroLab will test radiation levels in space using melanin genes implanted in E. coli bacteria. Once the rocket’s capsule docks at the ISS, astronauts will offload the MicroLab and plug it into a rack that provides the power needed to run the experiment in a microgravity environment. Driven by a circuit board and computer programme that the students designed, the experiment will run for one month.

Periodically, astronauts will download data and photos back to earth so the students can collect, analyze, and monitor their experiment. The students will also be conducting their ground truth (control) experiments here at the school after the experiment is returned to them post-flight. If the team’s hypothesis is proven true, NASA will genetically modify plants to produce more melanin to make growing plants in the conditions of space easier.

“The main purpose of this experiment is to make space technology development a tangible career option for students. Young people across Singapore see this project as something that has been built by kids their age, handed off to NASA and managed by astronauts for them. We are hoping to take this to other schools in Singapore in the coming years,” said Dr. Bhattacharya.

According to Sunita Srivatsan, SAS senior and team leader for the project,

“It’s not often that high schoolers get an opportunity of this magnitude, and we’re grateful to the SAS community, the SAS Foundation, and to our coaches and mentors. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but the idea that our experiment could potentially impact the future of space research, kept us focused in the face of roadblocks and challenges.”

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Here is a video about the science that went to the station:

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EarthKAM captures the Grand Canyon

EarthKAM is a camera aboard the International Space Station that is controlled by middle-school students participating in the Sally Ride Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students (i.e. Sally Ride EarthKAM) program. Students recently took this terrific image of the Grand Canyon:

Space Station’s EarthKAM Sees the Grand Canyon

View of the Grand Canyon with EarthKAM [Large image.]
On April 3, 2017, the student-controlled EarthKAM camera aboard the International Space Station captured this photograph of a favorite target — the Grand Canyon — from low Earth orbit. The camera has been aboard the orbiting outpost since the first space station expedition began in November 2000 and supports approximately four missions annually. Mission 58 begins in fall 2017, and interested middle school students and teachers can sign up at the EarthKAM website.

The Sally Ride Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students (Sally Ride EarthKAM) program provides a unique educational opportunity for thousands of students multiple times a year. EarthKAM is an international award-winning education program, allowing students to photograph and analyze our planet from the perspective of the International Space Station. Using the Internet, students control a special digital camera on the orbiting laboratory to photograph Earth’s coastlines, mountain ranges and other interesting geographical topography.

Image Credit: Sally Ride EarthKAM

Spaceport America Cup – Collegiate rocket competition in New Mexico, June 20-24, 2017

The Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) and Spaceport America (near Las Cruces, New Mexico ) are sponsoring the Spaceport America Cup university student rocket competition, which will take place at the spaceport over June 20-24, 2017:

The Spaceport America Cup is designed around IREC – the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition for student rocketry teams from all over the country and around the world. With over 110 teams from colleges and universities in eleven countries, 2017 will be the competition’s biggest year yet. Students will be launching solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets to target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet.

In addition to the competition rocket launches, the interns at United Launch Alliance will be firing off their big rocket: United Launch Alliance Announces Payloads to Fly on World’s Largest Sport Rocket – 53-Foot-Tall Futu – ULA.

Sixteen payloads from K-12 schools and educational organizations throughout Colorado have been confirmed to fly on United Launch Alliance’s Future Heavy intern rocket this summer. The 53-foot-tall, high-power sport rocket launch will take place at Spaceport America, New Mexico, on Saturday, June 24, during its annual Spaceport America Cup International Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in association with ESRA the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association.

Since 2009, ULA has teamed up with Ball Aerospace to offer its interns a real-world space industry experience by launching rockets and payloads (onboard instruments/experiments deployed after launch) they volunteer to build during their internships.

Update: Some articles about the event:

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NASA sounding rocket to light up Eastern Shore + College students launch Mars rovers

Early on the morning of May 31st, people living along the Mid-Atlantic region of the US coast may see a big light show in the sky:  NASA Sounding Rocket will Release Early Morning Artificial Clouds Light | NASA

The early morning skies along the mid-Atlantic coast will light up with luminescent clouds as NASA tests a new system that supports science studies of the ionosphere and aurora with a sounding rocket launch May 31 from the Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia. Backup launch days are June 1 through 6. 

During the flight of a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 4:25 and 4:42 a.m. EDT, ten canisters about the size of a soft drink can will be deployed in the air, 6 to 12 miles away from the 670-pound main payload.

The canisters will deploy between 4 and 5.5 minutes after launch blue-green and red vapor forming artificial clouds. These clouds or vapor tracers allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.

The development of the multi-canister or ampule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously allowed when deploying the vapor just from the main payload.

Ground cameras will be stationed at Wallops and in Duck, North Carolina, to view the vapor tracers. Clear skies are preferred, but not required, at both sites for the launch to occur.

The vapor tracers are formed through the interaction of barium, strontium and cupric-oxide. The tracers will be released at altitudes 96 to 124 miles high and pose absolutely no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast.

The vapor tracers could be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward to Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Recently a sounding rocket launched from Wallops Island (near Chincoteague Island) with Mars rover prototype models built by university students:

Student-Made Mars Rover Concepts Lift Off

Virginia Tech students watch a Black Brant IX sounding rocket take off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. [Larger image.]
Witnessing a rocket launch is a special occasion. Watching a rocket launch with materials you made go up into the sky is priceless.

That’s how it felt for researchers from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and students from Virginia Tech and the University of Central Florida as they watched a sounding rocket launch on Tuesday, May 16 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. On board: Mars rover concepts designed by the students.

“Very few students get the opportunity to design something, put it on a NASA rocket and fly it,” said Jamshid Samareh, ‎research engineer at NASA Langley’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate (SACD), who assisted the students.

Funded through NASA’s SACD Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program, the project saw more than 30 Virginia Tech students and one Central Florida student conceptualize, design and build 3-D printed test models of deployable Mars rovers.

Dr Jamshid Samareh with the a design of a Mars Rover. [Larger image.]
The Mars rover concept has its roots in recreational vehicles that have elements that can fold, going with the theme that collapsible items make for easier transport to Mars. This concept has pop-out sections like RVs that would deploy once on Mars.

“It’s always fun when practical solutions necessitate creativity – not to mention it always looks cool!” said Central Florida student J.T. Madigan.

The test models were launched on a 56-foot-tall Black Brant IX sounding rocket as part of the SubTec-7 payload mission.

The Mars RV rover concepts were part of the nearly 1,200-pound payload, which flew to an altitude of about 154 miles before descending by parachute and landing in the Atlantic Ocean to be recovered. SubTec-7 provided a flight test for more than 20 technologies to improve sounding rocket and spacecraft capabilities.

Students at Virginia Tech are pictured working an assembling their Mars rover concept. [Larger image.]
A sounding rocket’s overall time in space is brief, typically five to 20 minutes, and at a lower speed than vehicles designed to go into orbit or beyond. The short time and lower speed are more than adequate (in some cases they are ideal) to carry out a successful scientific experiment.

Solving a packaging problem

Samareh has worked on many projects in his time at Langley, and says that getting materials to the Red Plant safely and efficiently is one of the bigger challenges.

“Part of the problem we keep running into is packaging,” he said. “We have to carry a lot of payloads – rovers, habitats and such. We want to package them on top of the launch vehicle.”

That problem-solving drive led to teams of undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Tech and Central Florida to work on this project on campus with the support of Langley researchers.

The researchers and students designed 18 Mars rover concepts using Computer-Aided Design, or CAD, software.  Four of those designs were fabricated, assembled and tested before they were delivered to Wallops for flight on the sounding rocket.

“I have always thought of mass to be the limiting factor in space travel,” said Virginia Tech student Alex Matta, who was also the team’s graduate advisor. “Participation in this project led me to realize that minimizing volume of the cargo is important as well.”

“A rover is one the big pieces that we want to be able to see if it can be packaged in any way,” Samareh said.

The objective of the project is to develop rigid and deployable Mars rover concepts to improve lander packaging efficiency and aerodynamic stability during entry, descent and landing, and aerocapture, which is a flight maneuver that inserts a spacecraft into orbit around a planet or moon by using the destination’s atmosphere like a brake.

Previous concepts for rovers on Mars from decades ago were not the sleek designs of today – they were big, bulky and heavy, something Samareh did not want to recreate.

“They’re not realistic,” he said. “They cannot be efficiently packed.”

Evolution of the deployable Mars rover design started simple and changed to meet certain requirements, such as the height, width and weight needed to fit on a launch vehicle while taking up as little space as possible.

“Real estate on any type of launch is valuable, so I think it’s awesome that such a novel project was given the opportunity to flight test hardware,” Madigan said.

Samareh encouraged the students to come up with all of the crazy ideas they could so they could pick a few and specifically work on them.

“They come up with these ideas that I cannot come up with,” he said. “They have a different mentality. That worked out nicely.”

The Mars RV rover concepts also received recognition outside of NASA, winning first place in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Region I Student Paper Conference for the Undergraduate Team category in April.

When all was said and done, seeing the students’ faces at the launch at Wallops was “the biggest payoff,” Samareh said, adding that there is not only value in the designs, but also in getting students involved with NASA and motivated on a deeper level for space flight.

“There are things we learned from them,” he said, “and there are things they learned from us.”

Eric Gillard
NASA Langley Research Center

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See also: Sounding Rocket Mission Providing Real-World Test for New Technologies | NASA.

“Train Like a Martian Challenge”: Sign up for a week of activities for all ages

The Mars Generation is sponsoring the second Train Like A Martian Challenge event May 22-26, 2017:

Sign up now and join us for our second annual #TrainLikeAMartian event! We expect the event will be a blast!

#TrainLikeAMartian is an entire week of activities to bring awareness to the importance of STEM education, space exploration and physical fitness to students and adults around the world! This is a chance to have fun, spread an important message and also have a chance to win some cool prizes!

Prizes include TMG keychains, TMG magnets, TMG patches, TMG pins, TMG logo t-shirts, TMG logo sweatshirts and more! One lucky participant has the chance to win an OSMO Coding Jam, sponsored by STEM Genius Hour. We are excited to share that our grand prize is a Jade Robot by Mimetics valued at approximately $200 (USD). 

We are also raising funds to support the programs that The Mars Generation operates including sending students with financial need to Space Camp. Fundraising is not required to participate. We have special rewards for donors and fundraisers. Click here to see rewards.

Sign Up Now to qualify for prizes and also receive email updates for the Train Like A Martian Challenge!