Students in the University of Kansas School of Engineering will have a rare opportunity to test a design project in a weightless environment this summer at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston. The team of 11 students will be one of the first in the state of Kansas to participate in this special NASA program for students.
The KU Microgravity Team (KU MGT) will test its work to develop a miniature maneuvering control system for satellites. The project will be flown between June 23 and July 2 on NASA's "Weightless Wonder," a C-9 aircraft used for astronaut training and experiments. The Weightless Wonder creates a reduced gravity environment by flying several steep climbs and dives that produce 20 to 25 seconds of weightlessness at a time. While weightless, the control system will be tested by flying a set sequence of maneuvers.
The NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program (RGSFOP) is designed to give undergraduate students a better understanding of the formal procedures surrounding a spaceflight mission. Loral O'Hara, aerospace engineering senior from Sugarland, Texas, and team leader, says the project has been an eye-opening experience.
"I've actually started a list of everything I'm learning because there is so much," O'Hara said.
To compete for a spot on the Weightless Wonder, students were required to develop a proposal for a reduced gravity experiment and submit it to NASA. More than 100 schools submitted a proposal and only 50 student teams from 38 universities across the country were selected. Pittsburg State University also was accepted and will participate this summer.
KU MGT is an offshoot of The Kansas Universities Technology Evaluation Satellite (KUTEsat) program. The KUTEsat project is divided into three phases. In phase one, KU students design, build and operate a CubeSat, a small cube-shaped satellite, which will be flown in low Earth orbit. KU MGT represents phase two in which students develop a miniature maneuvering control system for a future satellite. The final phase, the MIST mission, will develop and simultaneously test prototype satellites.
During flight week, KU students will have two days to test their design with two chances to fly. Students also will participate in physiological training in the hypobaric chamber, tour Johnson Space Center and listen to various speakers. A total of four students from KU will be able to ride along during the experiments.
Teams accepted to RGSFOP participate in outreach activities that are designed to encourage high school students with an interest in math, science and space exploration. KU MGT students will travel to schools in southwestern Kansas and the Kansas City area in April and May to discuss and display their project.
Students participating include Eric Buschelman, Sergey Dremin, Jesse Jacobsen, Katie Lollis, Matt Lueger, Joe Munn, Loral O'Hara, Ben Parrott, Austin Pyle, Zach Schauf and Robert Zernickow. Trevor Sorensen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and Ray Taghavi, professor of aerospace engineering are in charge of the project. The Kansas Space Grant Consortium also is providing support for the project.
Southwest/South Central Kansas schools:
Colby High School
Dodge City High School
Garden City High School
Liberal High School
Kansas City schools:
J.C. Harmon High School
F.L. Schlagle High School
Washington High School
Wyandotte High School
Story by Pauline Himmelwright