What happens when a team of engineering students partner to construct a payload meant to reach the ionosphere 75-miles into space in just under two-minutes?
It turns out that, yes, it is possible to know what you're doing and still not know what you're getting into.
One Senior Design team collaborated for months to design a payload—attached to a NASA rocket—meant for the ionosphere, about 75 miles above the Earth.
The goal was to obtain and measure data collected on the makeup of this layer, which affects everything from satellite signals to radio wave transmissions.
The team worked with a NASA coordinator on design and development before driving to Wallops Island in Chincoteague, Virginia for the launch. And though they spent so much time up-front planning and designing their payload, the roller coaster of a project picked up speed shortly after they checked-in to the hotel, alongside other schools and their teams.
"Most of the other teams had been through this three or four times, but we'd never been," said Nenad Markovic, one of the team members. "We had no idea coming in what we were getting into."
After checking-in to the hotel, the team scrambled to get ready for launch the following day.
At 6:00 am, they were still working—to the surprise of their faculty advisor, Dr. John Helferty, who spotted the weary students huddled in blankets while going out for a morning bike ride.
"We were like, Doc we haven't gone to bed yet," cracked Reith Nolan, another team member.
The team had to repair issues after NASA conducted an intense vibration test. Thankfully, their room was fully outfitted with lab equipment.
"Just think of a normal sized hotel room with 3D printers everywhere, solder stations, one of the beds were piled up with just about everything we used for a year. The room looked like a lab, basically," Nolan said.
The team made it to launch the next morning, their seven-pound payload sharing a launch canister with another college. And though their payload sustained damage that led to some data loss, enough data was pulled for them to analyze.
"The RTV poked a hole and shined light on an extremely sensitive photodiode. Mechanical and software failure essentially destroyed our radiation package, but we got data on the way up," Nolan said.
Along with the data, the team also took away the experience of being exposed to hands-on experience in the NASA environment. Nolan and Markovic also plan to advise future teams to help avoid some of the pitfalls they experienced.
"It was awesome," Markovic said.
Follow along our coverage of this semester's Senior Design teams on social media with #TUSeniorDesign2017, and stop by the poster presentation on December 5.