For the fourth consecutive year, a team from HWS spent a week at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, where a year of planning and testing culminated in the launch of a NASA sounding rocket carrying a research module designed by students and faculty advisers at HWS.
Following success in similar programs in 2015 and 2016, the HWS team entered a design proposal last fall to build a research module for the 2017 Colorado Space Grant Consortium RockSat-C program. Their winning proposal, one of only nine selected for this year’s competition, was designed to contain Geiger counter radiation sensors to measure the efficiency of various shielding materials at attenuating radiation, a muon detector to measure the muon flux at different levels in the atmosphere, and a spectrometer to measure the visible light spectrum throughout the atmosphere.
The design was informed by five years of research by the team’s advisers, Assistant Professor of Physics Ileana Dumitriu and Physics Lab Technician Peter Spacher, Ph.D., and builds on work by previous HWS RockSat-C teams to detect muons (subatomic particles similar to electrons). Funded by the HWS President’s Office, the Hobart and William Smith Dean’s offices and HWS Student Government, this year’s team included students Zahra Arabzada ’19, Charles Brown ’19, Emily Kreps ’20, Jesse Maltese ’20, William Ortlieb ’19, Cody Rivera ’17, Duinya Syed ’20, Hayes Torrence ’20 and William White ’20, as well as Dumitriu, Spacher and student advisers who participated in previous years, Christopher Demas ’17 and Frank Oplinger ’18.
“RockSat-C allows us at HWS to get our feet wet in doing real and meaningful research projects in a space-based environment,” says Spacher. “It gives our students the chance to use STEM principles, to meet, learn from and interact with other students, researchers and NASA scientist and engineers which allows for an advancement of the students’ skills set.”
“RockSat-C taught me the importance of having detailed, yet adjustable plans that are easily understood by your teammates and advisers,” says Maltese. “NASA is not an organization which accepts incomplete ideas; either your payload meets the design requirements or it does not fly.”
“Working with our team, other teams and the NASA scientists and engineers helped me see just how much work goes into a large project of this nature,” says White. “Seeing the high caliber of work and degree of professionalism gave me a better understanding of what to work toward in my own academic career.”
As part of a community outreach initiative, the HWS team launched the GSat-1 Program during the academic year to promote STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the Geneva School District. More than 20 local middle school students were selected to join the HWS team to learn about the science and technology behind the payload and to help with assembly, testing and communication with the RockSat project manager leading up to the launch at the Wallops in June.
“Our hope is that an outreach program will allow students in Geneva to work with college students on a college aerospace research project, with NASA, in a college environment,” says Cody Rivera ’17, who during his senior year coordinated youth advocacy initiatives, including the GSat-1 program. “This program has the ability to show students that it is possible to attend college and to work on research that has a significant impact in aeronautic advancements.”
“By giving public school students a chance at learning more about STEM related areas, our HWS students also learn about becoming contributing community members and ways that they can strengthen the community through leadership and volunteer roles,” says Dumtriu.
For Rivera, being part of the Rocksat-C/GSat-1 program “not only created job opportunities…but…pathways to new ideas, pathways to explore new interests and careers, pathways to creating new conversations with new people, and lasting relationships with the students and advisers on the team.”
Demas, who has been involved in all of the Colleges’ RockSat projects and helped guide this year’s team, notes the gratifying payoff of the teamwork and communication leading up to the launch. “Although the project is incredibly difficult,” he says, “at the end you can call yourself a NASA scientist, which not a lot of people can say.”