BU space device project launch date pushed back

By Linda Nguyen
Staff Writer

Baylor engineering students, in conjunction with the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER), are in the process of designing a device that will be sent into space in the near future.

The launch has been rescheduled multiple times from its original Aug. 9 launch date.

It is tentatively rescheduled for Sept. 18.

The project was introduced in fall 2011 as part of a senior engineering design capstone course.

The course is taught by Dr. Ian Gravagne, associate professor of engineering, and Dr. Brian Garner, associate professor of engineering.

So far, three semesters have been spent on the project and 18 Baylor students were involved.

This semester, there are four students working on the project. The team is led by El Dorado Hills, C.A. senior Nick Mulenos along with Apple Valley, M.N. senior Ty Groskreutz, Houston senior Devin Li, and Bandung, Indonesia senior Travis Hegle.

“The director of CASPER, which is Dr. Truell Hyde, approached us, and by us, I mean myself and Dr. Garner who are the co-instructors for the senior engineering design course, and asked us if we could pitch this product to our students both to satisfy the need for good design projects in the class and also to make some headway on it for the sake of CASPER and the other universities,” Gravagne said. “We brought it to the students and they were enthusiastic about it.”

One of the students who worked on the team during the spring, Jason Curran, who graduated last spring, said he recalls being excited about the opportunity to send a project to space.

“I had known about the project an entire semester before it was offered,” Curran said.

“I’ve been crazy about space since I was younger. When they offered the opportunity, I jumped at it,” he said.

The students designed a Piezo Dust Detector to orbit the earth.

Matthew Fellows, who is pursuing a Master of Engineering, is another student involved in the project.

Fellows said the purpose of the machine is to detect dust particles smaller than one millimeter.

“Typically we’re looking at dust particles that are one millimeter in diameter and smaller is the idea.

The reason why information about these particles is useful is that, in orbit, they can be traveling at such high speeds that even though they’re small, they can have impact energy similar to a .22-caliber rifle shot, so it’s capable of doing damage to satellites, especially over time,” Fellows said.

The detector will go into space this year as part of the RockSat-X program, a program that rewards schools with room on NASA rockets for their projects.

The rockets launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va.

The schools submit proposals for their projects to the RockSat-X program and the program selects which projects will be on the rockets.

Curran and Fellows spent the summer improving and refining the Piezo Dust Detector for the launch.

“We were awarded with the RockSat-X space about three-fourths of the way through the spring semester,” Curran said. “So we had to improve the design.”

The RockSat-X program is separate from the project, and the students are not collecting data during the launch.

The launch will only ensure the project design will survive in space.

“It’s a 15 minute flight to make sure that everything works in space because things work differently in space,” Fellows said.

Fellows said the students are hoping to enter into other competitions that would give them a chance to launch the device into space for a longer period.

They hope to launch their Piezo Dust Detector into space either late 2013 or early 2014.

The project, which has been in progress for the past year, has just begun its third semester of work by a new group of senior engineering capstone students.

Fellows is continuing to work on the project as a teaching assistant for the senior engineering design class.

“It’s good to be able to continue with the project, to provide continuity,” Fellows said. “It’s nice to be able to see the project through.”

Fellows says he hopes to be able to see it through until the end when they launch the final design into space in late 2013 or early 2014.