Science & Research

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

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Bluefield State students prepare technology related to spacecraft launch at NASA Facility

Nearly 70 years ago, a group of intrepid young students from southern West Virginia learned about, designed and launched their own rockets, inspiring the movie, “Rocket Boys.”  In late 2016, in a laboratory and classroom at Bluefield State College (BSC), a team of young students is participating in a NASA project of their own.

The students are preparing the technology that will measure the flight dynamics of a spacecraft from launch to splashdown at NASA’s Wallops Island, Virginia, facility.  “Our students will design the equipment and instrumentation required to measure the attitude of a rocket, using an inertial measurement unit that includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer,” explained Jeff McFadden, a faculty member in BSC’s School of Engineering Technology & Computer Science.

The BSC student team will work with NASA engineers at the Wallops Island facility to load their equipment and instrumentation into a payload on board the spacecraft.  During the summer of 2017, the students will spend a week at the facility, culminating in the launch and recovery of the rocket and analysis of the data generated by the experiment.

Logan Spencer is the BSC student team’s project director, and fellow student Brian Sanders is the deputy project lead.  “Sensors will collect information regarding the position of the rocket—pitch, roll, and yaw (three different ways the rocket can move in space, trajectory, and g-forces in three different axes,” Sanders added.  “It will help in whatever I do within the field of engineering.”

To prepare, the BSC students are working with NASA engineers via teleconferences that take place each two weeks, and they’ll travel to the NASA site in Fairmont, West Virginia, on three occasions prior to the trip to Wallops Island.

Currently, they are preparing to submit to NASA a conceptual design review that includes the science behind the project.  Next, a preliminary design review will be developed.  “We have just received the hardware for the project, and we can now integrate everything into the payload,” McFadden added.

“This is a complicated, significant engineering project,” the BSC faculty member summarized.  “It’s a great experience for our students—a cutting-edge, real world experience.”