Going Weightless: Seven ENG Students Test Satellite on Zero-G Flights
By Mark Dwortzan
This summer seven College of Engineering students got a taste of the ups and downs of spaceflight. On August 17-25, they participated in a series of parabolic aircraft flights above the Gulf of Mexico designed to test, under zero- and microgravity conditions, hardware they developed for a Boston University satellite.
The seven ENG participants, master’s degree students Nathan Darling (ME’13), Erik Knechtel (EE’14), Josh Koerpel (ME’13), Steven Yee (AE’11, SE’13) and Elbara Ziade (ME’12’14); and undergrads David Harris (ME’15) and Christopher Hoffman (EE’13), are members of the Boston University Student Satellite for Applications and Training (BUSAT) team. Partially funded by the U.S. Air Force through the University Nanosat Program, BUSAT is a two-year student project to develop a functional satellite with a modular, scalable, scientific spacecraft platform for low-cost space research, and to use the platform to explore interactions between the Earth’s ionosphere and
magnetosphere. The team currently includes about 20 BU engineering, computer science, physics and astronomy students.
“The NASA Flight Opportunities Program offers zero-G flights as a means for studying and analyzing student projects that require a micro-gravity environment,” said Yee, noting that each flight, launched from a NASA facility in Houston, consisted of approximately 40 parabolas over the course of about two hours, with the zero-gravity portion lasting about 20 seconds per parabola. “The purpose of our flights was to validate and analyze the solar panel and antenna deployment system.”
BUSAT team members also participated in flight tests of the main BUSAT avionics module in Texas and New Mexico as part of a NASA and Louisiana State University very high altitude balloon program, and successfully completed a U.S. Air Force performance review of the BUSAT project at the Small Satellite Conference in Utah.
“It was a busy month,” said Darling, the team’s project manager.
“Dean Lutchen’s support of these efforts was critical to the success which the BUSAT team achieved in these venues,” said BUSAT’s principal investigator, Professor Theodore Fritz (Astronomy), who holds joint appointments in the ME and ECE Departments.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program provides low-cost access to suborbital space, where researchers can expose their technologies to brief periods of weightlessness in a reduced gravity environment using both commercial aircraft and rockets, or loiter high in the Earth’s atmosphere using commercial balloons.