NASA Rocket Mission Carrying Baylor Student Experiment Scheduled for Friday Launch

August 23, 2012

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Baylor contact: Lori Fogleman, (254) 710-6275
NASA contact: Ann Marie Trotta, 202-358-1601
Wallops Flight Facility contact: Keith Koehler, 757-824-1579

Baylor joins Virginia Tech, University of Colorado and University of Puerto Rico in RockSat-X educational project

The Aug. 24 launch was postponed again due to boats in the hazard area. Weather will prevent a launch attempt Aug. 25. A new launch date is to be determined later.

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (Aug. 23, 2012) - University students, including engineering students from Baylor University, will put their academic skills to the test when atmospheric and technology experiments they developed fly on a NASA suborbital sounding rocket. The launch is scheduled to take place between 5:30 and 9:30 a.m. CT Friday, Aug. 24, from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va. The launch was originally scheduled for today (Aug. 23) but was scrubbed due to boats in the hazard area.

Four experiments, including an interstellar dust detector designed by Baylor engineering students - in collaboration with the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER) faculty and staff, the Institute of Space Systems at the University of Stuttgart and the Max-Planck-Institut at Heidelberg - will be flown as part of an educational project called RockSat-X, which is designed to provide students hands-on experience in designing, fabricating, testing and conducting experiments for space flight. The project is a joint effort between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The selected experiments for this year's RockSat launch are from Baylor, the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Puerto Rico; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Va.

"RockSat-X is part of a series of student flight programs designed to enhance students' skills and prepare them for careers at NASA and in the aerospace industry," said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

The program begins with a hands-on workshop called RockOn and then proceeds to the RockSat-C and RockSat-X programs. At each level, the experiments become more complex, which provides students an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the requirements for developing space-based experiments.

The experiments will fly on a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket to a projected altitude of 98 miles. After the 15-minute flight, the payload carrying the experiments will splash down via parachute in the Atlantic Ocean about 66 miles off the coast of Virginia. The 875-pound payload will be recovered for re-use and experiment analysis.

Interstellar dust detector

Virginia Tech and Baylor have teamed up to measure nitric oxide and atmospheric dust and also provide flight experience to the two sensors designed by students. During the spring, Baylor senior engineering capstone students designed, built and tested a Piezo Dust Detector (PDD) that collects data on small interstellar dust and orbiting debris particles. The PDD will be on board the rocket when it launches Friday.

The spring student design group from Baylor's School of Engineering and Computer Science included Aimie Cox, team manager; Jason Curran, structural specialist, mechanical team; Jordan Wood, interfacing specialist, mechanical team; Lucas Devine, assembly specialist, mechanical team; Chris Faulkner, hardware specialist, electrical team; Matthew Fellows, digital specialist, electrical team; and Anthony Mendiola, interfacing specialist, electrical team.

Brian Garner, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Ian Gravagne, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, provided oversight from the School of Engineering, with Rene Laufer, Ph.D., associate research professor and head of the Space Science Lab within CASPER; Ralf Srama, Ph.D., associate adjunct professor with CASPER and head of the Cosmic Dust Group at the University of Stuttgart and the Max-Planck-Institut, Heidelberg; and Alex Wolf, graduate student at the University of Stuttgart, providing science support for design and development.

Curran and Fellows stayed on during the summer as part of Baylor's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the Waco Aviation Alliance and CASPER.

"Baylor was selected for this project because of an existing partnership we've had with Greg Earle, who was formerly with the University of Texas at Dallas and is now with Virginia Tech, and Troy Henderson, a Baylor physics graduate, also now at Virginia Tech," said Truell Hyde, Ph.D., vice provost for research at Baylor and CASPER director. "For this project, Baylor engineering students produced a working design. We shipped it to Virginia, and it made it through all the initial tests, like the shake test and thermal test. We want it to survive launch and prove that it's working. If we do that, then we can say this design worked, has flown and is space qualified."

Other experiments include a mass spectrometer used by the University of Puerto Rico to conduct an analysis of atmospheric particles and pressure. The University of Colorado will test a device to assist in de-orbiting small spacecraft. The Colorado Space Grant Consortium will fly seven cameras to capture all the action in high-definition, which will be made available to the public shortly after recovery.

The RockSat-X concept provides students with a payload structure with pre-defined mechanical, power and data interfaces and volume and mass limits. This is the second RockSat-X mission, with the first having been flown July 11, 2011.

The project will be the ninth suborbital rocket mission this year from NASA's launch facility on Wallops Island and the first of four launches scheduled through mid-September.

Baylor research experiences

Baylor's engineering and space research programs are among those that will move into the new Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), the centerpiece of the Central Texas Technology and Research Park. The BRIC includes 175,000 square feet of graduate research space for Baylor and an additional 50,000 square feet for collaborative industry/university research, as well as an additional 45,000 square feet of high tech workforce development space through TSTC Waco to increase the value of these university/industry-based joint research efforts.

Baylor's participation in programs like RockSat-X reinforces the university's emphasis on increasing opportunities for students - both undergraduate and graduate - to engage in research with faculty at all phases of the discovery process, enhancing connections between teaching and scholarship.

"Experiences like this allow Baylor students at all levels to develop a way of life that integrates the work they do in the classroom with the larger opportunities available in their future," Hyde said.

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

The School of Engineering and Computer Science is home to computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering and computer science and provides a solid foundation to graduating computer scientists and engineers. Baylor engineering students achieve a higher passing rate on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam than students from any other engineering program in Texas. Baylor Computer Science students compete at the highest level in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest and Baylor is a past National Champion. Each of Baylor's engineering and computer science programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

The Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER) is a stand-alone research center located at Baylor University. In addition to spacecraft instrumentation, CASPER teams also conduct research in a number of theoretical and experimental areas including meso and nanostructure formation, complex (dusty) plasmas, protoplanetary/protostellar evolution, M-theory, early universe cosmology and high energy astrophysics. The Center also offers basic research and engineering and design opportunities for graduate, undergraduate, technical support and high school students as well as grade school, middle school and high school teachers. For more information, visit