Engineering students head to NASA’s Wallops Island flight facility for Saturday rocket launch
Three aerospace experiments built by Virginia Tech College of Engineering students are slated to travel into space on Saturday aboard a NASA Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket at the space agency’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast.
The experiments, part of Virginia Tech’s MAVREX – that’s short for Mechanical Aperture-cover and Virtual Reality Experiment – payload, will be one of five U.S. university payloads on the rocket, all part of the national RockSat-X program. Attending the launch at Wallops Island will be several student team members who began the experiments nearly two years ago under faculty advisor Kevin Shinpaugh, an adjunct faculty member with the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.
The rocket launch is scheduled to blast off between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday, according to NASA. The space agency will broadcast the event live on its UStream webpage.
This is the second major attempt at launching the rocket by the agency. The launch was slated for late March, but was delayed more than once due to rough seas and/or weather, according to NASA.
“The team and I are very excited to get our experiments launched,” said Brian McCarthy of Vienna, Virginia, who graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2014 with a degree in aerospace engineering. “The team put many late nights and long hours into the project to ensure success. I feel proud to be a member of this team and privileged to have had an opportunity to work with this great group of guys.”
Weather and calm seas are vital to a successful launch, said McCarthy, who served as team co-leader. “NASA has a boat that travels out to retrieve the payloads, but because of high seas, the boat could not go out in March,” he added. “All of our experiments are contingent on retrieval of the rocket, so NASA did not want to take a chance losing it.”
The Virginia Tech experiments include a mechanical sensor aperture cover, a nitric oxide sensor, and a Go-Pro camera rig that will be used to film a panoramic view of the flight, using four lenses, with the footage eventually being used to create a visual map for a simulation of a similar flight in virtual reality.
Virginia Tech’s team has worked on the project as an extracurricular activity through Virginia Tech’s Center for Space Science and Engineering Research, commonly referred to as Space@VT . After the launch, McCarthy said his team will analyze captured data and perform post-processing of the cameras to map them to an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. “We are looking forward to showing off our success after the payload has been returned to us and learn from our experiences for future designs,” he added.
Additional team members attending the launch are: David Black of Richmond, Virginia, who graduated in May 2014 with a degree in aerospace engineering; senior Jared Carter of Sterling, Virginia; junior Ryan Ligon of Midlothian, Virginia; senior Stephen Mayhugh of Fairfax, Virginia; junior John Mulvaney of Versailles, Kentucky; and senior Jason Webber of Prince George, Virginia, all of aerospace and ocean engineering; and Sebastian Welsh of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, a junior studying computer science.
Sponsored by the Colorado Space Grant Consortium and NASA, RockSat-X gives university students an opportunity to have a direct hands-on, minds-on approach to designing payloads for suborbital flight. Other universities with payloads aboard the rocket are the University of Colorado, Boulder; Idaho-based Northwest Nazarene University; the University of Puerto Rico; and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.