Intercom Online......February 18, 1999

Highlight on Undergraduate Education


Engineering students raise the 12-foot model SPIRIT rocket
onto the launch rail at the Geneseo Airport in New York.

The model, two-stage, high-powered rocket launched successfully
and tested equipment that will fly on the real SPIRIT rocket
to be launched in May, right.
Above, members of the SPIRIT structures group determine
placement of experiments on the payload skeleton of the rocket.

 

 

NASA to launch
student-built rocket in May

While many students are worried about mid-term tests and weekend plans, a small group of Penn State engineering students is more concerned with constructing a rocket that will be launched by NASA in May at NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

Students involved with this two-year project, known as SPIRIT (Student Projects Involving Rocket Investigation Techniques), are responsible for the design and construction of a 36-foot, two-stage sounding rocket. Its payload, also designed by the students, will measure temperature in the middle atmosphere some 75 miles up.

The engineering students have moved from the drawing board to what they consider a more interesting phase of the project: the construction of the rocket.

"This is the exciting part," said Keith Soldavin, structures group leader. "We spent the last year looking at it on paper and now we can finally start to see it coming together."

The project is divided into four separate phases of development with responsibilities split among four different groups of students. The groups are each responsible for various parts of the rocket.

"We've spent the last few months testing everything we've constructed to make sure it's working the way we want it to," said Jason Whittle, power and wiring group member.

When the project began in September 1997, the "drawing board" consisted of more than 30 students attending classes, many who had to learn a whole new vocabulary of engineering terms. It progressed from the early phases of organization and design to the actual construction of the rocket, which is where the group is now.

"Constructing the payload has been the major focus of our attention," said Jeremy Trethewey, structures group member. "This is the part that will carry the experiments so it needs to float in order for us to recover it from the ocean. We'll be sealing certain areas to ensure flotation and protect the experiments inside."

The students recently returned from a trip to SUNY Geneseo where they launched a 12-foot model of the rocket. Two out of five experiments were carried on the rocket in order to test for accuracy and reliability. The equipment worked properly and the test was successful.

Once the actual rocket is constructed, all five experiments will be placed into the payload structure and set properly for launch.

"The growth and professionalism among the students have been clear," said Tim Wheeler, payload manager and class lecturer for the project. "We're doing with 50 undergrads in two years what it takes 25 professionals to do in one year, and that's pretty remarkable."

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