Most of the Ballenas Secondary School rocket payload team, and their teacher, Carl Savage (left), are working on an experiment that UBC students will be sending 10,000 feet up aboard a rocket. — Submitted by Carl Savage

Parksville students engaging in rocket science

BSS teens building experiment to be launched in UBC rocket

Those inclined to say high school isn’t rocket science would be wrong when it comes to 15 Ballenas Secondary School students.

They may not be building the rocket itself, but they are making what the rocket will carry.

Together with physics, astronomy and science research teacher Carl Savage, the students are building an experiment to be fired 10,000 feet up in a UBC student-made rocket during an international competition in 2018.

The school got the invite to be part of the UBC Rocket project through former BSS student Gibson Clark, who’s now on the UBC Rocket team, said Savage.

Having won the 10,000-feet Commercial Off the Shelf category in the Spaceport America Cup 2017, the UBC Rocket team is building two rockets for next year’s competition — one engineered to reach 10,000 feet, and another to reach 30,000 feet. High schools were invited to put together payloads for the 10,000-foot rocket, said Savage.

It’s an exciting opportunity that left many students questioning whether they had the skills to participate, he said.

“I put out an announcement: ‘Come help build a satellite,’ and everybody was saying, ‘I have no experience doing that, I have nothing to contribute to that,’” said Savage. In many cases, he said, it took some convincing. But now, not only has the team identified a science experiment for its payload, but members are also designing software and hardware and fabricating a payload to the specification of a cube satellite, or CubeSat, Savage said.

A CubeSat is a 10-by-10 cm standard cube that can be launched into orbit to perform experiments or provide data.

Though the BSS team’s CubeSat won’t be going into orbit, building to that specification means they are dealing with real-world scenarios.

“NASA, the European Space Agency, they all use this standard format,” he said.

The BSS team is creating an experiment with that CubeSat to test if a particular kind of cheap, readily available computer called a Raspberry Pi could survive a rocket launch.

If that kind of computer can survive such a launch, it would mean rocketeers have a cheap, easy-to-acquire option for getting more brains into their rocket or their onboard experiments.

The test these students are developing, however, is far more sophisticated than just putting a small computer on a rocket and seeing if it works after landing.

“This rocket will accelerate extremely quickly and put our satellite under a lot of stress and anything that’s in it, so the whole idea that we are hoping to do is be able to collect data on things like acceleration, altitude, temperature, pressure, magnetic field, yaw, pitch, roll of the rocket itself as it goes through its entire flight plan,” said Savage.

That will give an idea of what stressors might have had an impact on the computers the students will be sending up.

The students’ test will involve up to six Raspberry Pi computers, with one being relatively unprotected (the control), and others being protected in various ways to see what sort of protection the computer would need if it can’t survive on its own, said Savage.

Students are also doing promotional work, organizing funding and logistics.

Part of the effort includes sourcing local groups and companies that can help out with certain aspects of the project. For instance, the team is looking for a company that has a water jet cutter and can cut out some metal parts.

“So we are going to have to find out in the community where we can get that done,” said Savage.

The team has also recently set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $28,000 to send students down to New Mexico in June of 2018 for the launch.

“It would be obviously amazing to actually watch the launch itself,” Savage said. “Imagine being in your Grade 12 year and you get to go down to New Mexico and watch your payload launch. As a Grade 12 student, that would just be incredible. What a way to end out an education, right?”

Savage also said he hopes this project brings some attention to his and other students’ work.

“I think it’s really important that the community sees what kids are doing at this school,” he said. “They are doing amazing things, and most people just walk by the school every day and think it’s a school and they are just doing the stuff they did in the school. It’s totally changed.”

To check out the BSS team’s GoFundMe page, go to www.gofundme.com/ballenas-secondary-satellite-team.

For more info on the UBC Rocket team, go to www.ubcrocket.com/.

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