CU-Boulder Students Set To Launch Student Rocket Payloads June 27

Published: June 24, 2008

A NASA sounding rocket launching from Virginia on June 27 will carry one University of Colorado at Boulder student payload to measure greenhouse gases and 19 other payloads developed by teams from around the nation from kits produced by CU-Boulder students.

The CU-Boulder payload, developed by a team of undergraduates from the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, or COSGC, will provide an atmospheric profile of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Known as RocketSat IV, the payload was developed in collaboration with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists to learn more about greenhouse gases in the atmosphere tied to climate warming, said COSGS Director Chris Koehler.

The other 19 payloads flying aboard the 20-foot-tall Orion sounding rocket will be built during a weeklong workshop dubbed "RockOn!" sponsored by NASA, COSGC and the Virginia Space Grant Consortium hosting 57 participants from 22 states in Virginia, said Koehler, who is leading the workshop. Each of the RockOn! payloads will contain a Geiger counter and sensors to measure atmospheric temperature, pressure, acceleration and radiation.

The 19 participating RockOn! teams will assemble the payloads and integrate them into canisters for launch, slated from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Friday, June 27.

The RockOn! workshop being held June 22 to June 27 at Wallops Island is designed to expose faculty and students from around the country to the basics of building experiments for flight on suborbital rockets, said Koehler. Koehler has directed similar workshops at CU-Boulder ever summer for the past six years, resulting in more than 100 hands-on high-altitude balloon programs by high schools and colleges across the country.

"This workshop will equip faculty with the skills and knowledge to start their own student-led sounding rocket programs at their university or college," said Koehler. "We expect that many of the participants will have students come to Wallops to fly their own sounding rockets in the coming years."

The CU-Boulder RocketSat IV payload, dubbed "AirCore," will collect profiles of carbon dioxide and methane from about four to 40 miles high and is expected to expand the range of data previously collected by NOAA. The experiment should help scientists better understand Earth's upper atmospheric chemistry, said Jessica Brown, a sophomore in aerospace engineering and the AirCore project manager.

AirCore is a cylinder about 10 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter packed with coiled, stainless steel tubing that will collect air samples as it floats back to Earth and is similar in concept to an ice core, Brown said. "As the rocket falls, the air samples will be 'stacked' into a long coil of tubing in the order they are collected for later analysis," she said.

The payloads from the AirCore and RockOn! efforts will be recovered by NASA personnel at the Wallops Flight Facility and analyzed by the respective teams, said Koehler.

Shawn Carroll, the RockOn! project manager and a junior in aerospace engineering at CU-Boulder, said this is the first hands-on, higher education rocket workshop ever put on by COSGC at a NASA facility. "The goal of these workshops is to give higher education faculty and students the know-how to start high-altitude balloon payload programs at their own institutions," said Carroll.

"We hope that the RocketSat program will provide new experiences for undergraduate students and perhaps ultimately a platform for college faculty working with students to demonstrate their research in space," said Koehler.

Other members of the RockOn! team include CU-Boulder juniors David Ferguson, Eric Pahlke and Riley Pack and sophomore Ana Ilic. Additional AirCore team members from CU-Boulder include CSGS coordinator Brian Sanders, juniors Aaron Russert and Josh Tucker and sophomore Kristin Brenner. An additional 10 CU-Boulder students from CSGS were involved with AirCore over the past year, said Brown.

Of the 52 space grant consortiums in the United States, Colorado's has been one of the most active, designing, building and flying three sounding rocket payloads, three space shuttle payloads, a satellite and hundreds of balloon experiments in the past 16 years, Koehler said.

For more information on the Colorado Space Grant Consortium visit: