NNU’s RockSat Team reports successful launch

August 12, 2013, 3:32 pm
Members of NNU's RockSat team (1)

Tuesday morning, August 13, a group of NNU engineering students and their faculty advisor launched a novel experimental payload 150 miles into space over the Atlantic Ocean aboard a NASA sounding rocket.

This is the culmination of two years of collaborative work with Boise-based American Semiconductor, Inc (ASI). ASI recently announced the world’s first physically flexible portfolio of integrated circuit chips named FleX™, including microcontrollers, analog-to-digital converters (ADC), radio frequency (RF) wireless communications, and non-volatile memory (NVM). NNU’s experiment is designed to mechanically and electrically exercise ASI’s new flexible electronics in the cryogenic environment of space.

“We are pleased to provide the NNU RockSat team with FleX-ICs for their experiments. We appreciate the excitement the students experience flying their project on a NASA rocket and are pleased to provide them hands-on experience with cutting edge FleX technology that will have further interest from both NASA and commercial markets,” said Rich Chaney, General Manager of American Semiconductor.

NNU’s research team was selected to join teams from the University of Minnesota, University of Colorado, University of Puerto Rico and West Virginia University as a part of NASA’s RockSat-X program. RockSat-X, a joint educational activity between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant, is the highest level of three programs designed to increase students’ skill levels.

Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, said, “The goal of the RockSat-X program is to provide students a hands-on experience in developing experiments for space flight. In addition, these students are getting practical experience that will assist them as they enter careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),”

NNU’s new engineering program has been active in research projects with NASA. This is the fourth consecutive year of NNU’s participation in RockSat and their first year of participation in RockSat-X.

Professors Dan Lawrence and Stephen Parke mentor the team of seven mechanical, electrical and physics major students. The students are Benjamin Gordon, David Vinson, Drew Johnson, Seth Leija, Ryan Lofthouse, Darrell Leber and Lukas Rieke.

The rocket was launched Tuesday, August 13 at 6 a.m. EST aboard the 44-foot tall Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket. It reached an altitude of 150 miles, during a short 15-minute flight while transmitting test data to the ground. The payload was recovered 100 miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean. The team’s initial forensic analysis of the payload suggests promising results.

Dr. Parke describes some preliminary findings: “We have just begun to study the electrical continuity data on the tests trips recorded both in our on-board SD memory card and on NASAs telemetry data recorders. The most amazing result thus far is that somehow a single FleX chip that we attached directly to the aluminum exterior of the payload survived the 20g launch, the -50C vacuum of space at 100 miles up, the fiery reentry and splashdown and soak in the Atlantic.” Additionally, the spaceflight video taken by the NNU team was breathtaking and is one of only two successful recordings from the various teams involved in the project.

Doug Hackler, CEO of American Semiconductor, said of the NNU team and the program, “The NNU’s RockSat program supports a number of great objectives. It provides an excellent experience for student engineers to do real engineering. But in my mind, the more important outcome of the program is the spark of imagination that it creates by allowing young engineers to participate in the dream of accomplishments beyond our current world and technology. The students that we have become acquainted with at NNU are topnotch and inspire confidence for the future of our industry.”

To view an article by the Idaho Press Tribune, go to

Photo Cap #1: Several members of NNU’s RockSat team, pictured left to right: Drew Johnson (Tacoma, Wash.), Darrell Leber (Nampa, Idaho), Ben Gordon (Oakridge, Ore.), Dr. Stephen Parke and David Vinson (Elbe, Wash.).

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