Launching Research at NASA’s Rocket Week – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Launching Research at NASA’s Rocket Week

A group of HWS physics, architecture and pre-med students recently traveled to Wallops Island, Va., to test their muon detector research at the Colorado Space Grant Consortium RockSat-C program. During the program, which was part of NASA’s Rocket Week, the group launched their research payload into sub-orbit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility using an Orion Sounding Rocket. The rocket launched successfully at 6 a.m. on Friday, June 24, 2016.

RockSat-C is a national program for students to design and build a sounding rocket payload to launch in a rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility. The program gave Frank Oplinger ’18, Rousseau Nutter ’16, Lauren St. Peter ’18, Robert Hooper ’18, Kemal Turksonmez ’19 and Tyler Hanzlik ’17 an important opportunity to conduct independent aerospace research, which they prepared for under the guidance of Physics Lab Technician Peter Spacher, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Physics Ileana Dumitriu.

The year-long research experience culminated with the launching of the multimillion-dollar sounding rocket. “After spending a year of researching, building and planning for the launch, finally being at Wallops and watching the payload being integrated onto the rocket was an amazing experience,” says St. Peter.

“For the students, working alongside some of the best engineers in the country at NASA, and designing and building an experiment that they have analyzed and approved for the RockSat-C mission, has been an inspirational lesson,” Spacher says.

Dumitriu adds that “having an interdisciplinary team meant that each student had his or her own strengths in different areas, but they were all able to bring it together and work out the challenges.”

The team submitted their “Intent to Fly” form in September 2015, outlining their project, which built on the 2015 team’s success detecting muons — subatomic particles similar to electrons — and hoped to improve on the results. Upon acceptance to compete for space on the rocket, the team prepared a series of intensive proposals outlining their experiment, its scientific grounding, preliminary engineering design and utility of the potential results. The experiment was selected in January 2016, making HWS one of just nine teams from across the nation to have space reserved on the rocket for their research.

“Throughout the year, I developed not only through physical experiences like soldering and building the payload; but also through emotional experiences like reacting to upcoming due dates and making project changing decisions,” Turksonmez says.

For Oplinger, the project provided an outlet to pursue an academic interest outside of the classroom. “The engineering mentorship provided by the program and the hands-on building differentiated Rocksat-C,” he explains. “Skills such as model design, Eagle Cad, and electrical soldering would have been inaccessible without my participation in this program. Finally, the connections solidified by working side-by-side with NASA engineers will hopefully prove to be invaluable in my future career.” ?

The students joined more than 150 students and faculty from other institutions who participated in NASA’s Rocket Week. The series of events also included a RockOn! program, in which students had three days to produce experiment kits that were launched on the Orion suborbital rocket along with the HWS students’ more complex experiment.

The project was funded partially with grants from the HWS President’s Office, Student Government, KETEK Corp., ALCOA Aluminum, and the New York State Space Grant Consortium.