Team RockSat launched experiments

June 27, 2012, 9:56 am
(left to right): Back row: Ben Gordon (Oakridge, Ore.), Chad Larson (Medford, Ore.) and Seth Leija (Boise, Idaho); Front row: Dr. Dan Lawrence, Drew Johnson (Tacoma, Wash.) and David Vinson (Elbe, Wash.) stand in front of the rocket that carried their experiment.

Team RockSat, a crew of six engineering students from NNU, launched two experiments inside a rocket payload as part of NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium’s RockSat program last week at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. After the payload was recovered, the team compared the before and after samples of each experiment.

The first experiment partnered the RockSat team with company engineers at American Semiconductor Inc. The team tested radiation-hardened chips and new flexible FleX chips for their ability to perform in environments with increased radiation. “Sometimes chips have errors when processing data. These errors can increase when radiation is present (like in space). We are hoping that these new FleX chips will have fewer errors compared to regular chips,” said Ben Gordon, sophomore team member from Oakridge, Ore. The team will spend what is left of the summer processing the data they gathered during the flight.

The second experiment tested the superhydrophobic material developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Laboratory. This is the same material that was used in Team Super-Hydro’s Microgravity University: Systems Engineering Educational Discovery (SEED) program. This experiment gives Team RockSat the opportunity to test the material in a high-vibration, high-acceleration environment to determine the feasibility of using the material on future space missions.

“Essentially, the material consists of diatomaceous earth paste that causes water to ball up and roll off the surface. We tested if the high forces and vibration of a rocket flight would damage the surface so that it wouldn’t repel water effectively,” Gordon continued.

Chad Larson, a senior team member, said, “We have tested the material and it seems that it survived the 2,500 mph, 72-mile spaceflight and return to earth with relatively little damage.”

John Simpson, the senior research scientist from Oak Ridge National Laboratories who developed and enhances the material, said, “ORNL plans to concentrate on commercialization of this product; we already have close to a dozen licensees. This summer the big thing is to push durability.” The data gathered by NNU’s team is giving a better understanding of the material’s capabilities.

Developed in partnership with NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, the RockSat program guides faculty and students from across the United States through the construction of a rocket payload before launching the rocket composed of payloads from various universities. Participants built a computer board and a scientific experiment (Geiger Counter), programmed the system, and mechanically integrated it into the RockSat payload canister at a workshop last summer.

The experience can be found on RockSat’s blog at


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