Students in the Space Systems Engineering class at West Virginia Wesleyan College are working in conjunction with NASA IV & V to build a satellite payload.
With the help of mentors Drs. Tracey DeLaney and Trevor Stevens, these students are competing with several other schools to secure their spot on the next launch.
A payload is a device that goes on a rocket, but is not an essential part of the machine. This could be anything from food for the International Space Station to the small satellite these students are constructing. The students are responsible for writing code and building the circuitry that will go on the satellite. If their project is selected, it will be sent into low-earth orbit and remain there for a few months. While in orbit, the payload will capture data on the earth's magnetic field, which the students will then interpret.
"The data collected on earth's magnetic field will allow us to create an accurate representation of the field," stated Jacob Poldruhi, a student working on the project. "As far as we know, we will have free use of the data the satellite acquires."
These students have thus far learned to program a small, central processing unit to read data from the magnetometer and output that data to a computer screen. They have learned about the polar orbit that the satellite will follow after launch, and they have put forth a science experiment to measure the rotation of the Earth's core using the magnetic field data from orbit.
The reason for the project is due to NASA's interest in preparing engineering students in the field of space systems engineering, which requires engineers to be involved and skilled in many aspects of spacecraft planning and deployment.
"There are many open-ended questions that are encountered in these types of projects, and this allows students to be intimately involved in the decision-making process along the way rather than just following a series of instruction," commented Dr. DeLaney. "The students have learned that there are many questions they do not yet have answers to, and that there is a great deal of trial and error that contributes to eventual success.
West Virginia Wesleyan should receive word if their project is selected within the next few months.
This project is being funded by the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, and NASA is providing technical help and instructions.