CU-Boulder students become rocket scientists at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia

Published: June 21, 2013

A Colorado student space research consortium led by the University of Colorado Boulder teamed up with a Virginia space consortium led by the University of Virginia this week to help aspiring rocket scientists from around the country learn how to design, build and fly payloads.

The program allowed more than 120 students and educators from around the country to delve into the world of rocket science June 15-21 during Rocket Week at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. All participants -- including 10 CU-Boulder students -- were present for a sounding rocket launch carrying various experiments developed by students that successfully lifted off June 20 at 5:30 a.m. EDT.

Activities during the week included a “RockOn!” workshop for 50 university and community college-level participants led by Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, or COSGC. RockOn! introduces participants to building small experiments that can be launched on suborbital sounding rockets and supports a national program known as STEM that uses classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to improve the nation’s competitiveness in technology.

“Working with NASA, we have developed a step approach to expand the skills needed for students to enter careers in STEM,” said Koehler of CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department. “RockOn! is the first step, followed by RockSat-C and then RockSat-X. Each step is technically more challenging than the previous one, allowing the students to expand the skills needed to support the aerospace industry.”

The RockOn! participants built standardized experiments that were launched Thursday on a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital sounding rocket. The 35-foot-tall rocket flew to an altitude of about 75 miles. After launch and payload recovery, the participants began conducting preliminary data analysis and discussing their results. 

Nine custom-built Rocksat-C experiments, developed at universities that previously participated in a RockOn! workshop, also flew inside a payload canister on the rocket, said Koehler. About 50 students who designed and built the experiments attended Rocket Week. 

Also attending were university participants in RockSat-X, said Koehler. They are previous Rocksat-C participants who flew six custom-built experiments aboard a sounding rocket from Wallops in August.

COSGC is a statewide organization involving 17 colleges, universities and institutions around Colorado and is funded by NASA to give students access to space through innovative courses, real-world, hands-on telescope and satellite programs, and interactive outreach programs, said Koehler.  

COSGS is one of 52 space grant consortia in the nation -- including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia -- and is one of the most active, having flown scores of payloads on high-altitude balloons, sounding rockets and even space shuttles, giving thousands of undergraduates and graduate students a taste of space research since the program began in Boulder in 1989, said Koehler.

The week’s activities also included activities by the Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers and Students, or WRATS, for a high school audience. The rocket programs at Wallops continue NASA’s investment in the nation’s education programs by supporting the goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines critical to the future of space exploration.

The RockOn! and WRATS workshops are supported by NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program. RockOn! also is supported by NASA’s Office of Education and NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia.

For more information on COSPG visit and for information about NASA's education programs visit

Chris Koehler, 303-378-4765
Jim Scott, 303-492-3114

Orion sounding rocket (NASA photo)