Community College Students Set Sights on Space
In less than two months, a scientific instrument designed and built by students from four community colleges in Hawaii will be launched into suborbital space flight from a NASA facility in Virginia.
“Project Imua” saw a major test this week at the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL) at UH Manoa, where the rocket payload was tested on anelectrodynamic vibration table to test its durability. More tests lie ahead before the Aug. 11 launch from the Wallops Flight Facility aboard a RockSat-X rocket.
The program has progressed quite a bit since we previewed it on Bytemarks Cafe more than two years ago.
The two-year project was designed to test whether the specialized skills and strengths of different campuses can contribute toward the singular objective of developing and launching small satellite payloads. Organizers compared the collaboration to the Hawaiian concept of the ahupua‘a, where a division of labor across different resources from the mountain to the sea created a self-sustaining community.
The instrument the student team will be sending up with the rocket is an ultraviolet spectrometer that will measure the sun’s radiation above the Earth’s stratosphere, since ultraviolet light is absorbed at sea level. The information the spectrometer collects could be incorporated into future climate studies.
The four campuses and their contributions to “Project Imua” are:
- Honolulu Community College: Designing the payload’s electronic circuitry for power and telemetry.
- Kauai Community College: Designing and building the payload’s instrumentation.
- Kapiolani Community College: Designing the associated print circuit board.
- Windward Community College: Integrating all the components together and performing static tests on the payload.
Both Windward and Kauai community college students designed and constructed the payload’s mechanical housing as well. The Hawaii team is the only community college whose payload was selected for the launch (the other half dozen coming from mainland universities).
After the August launch in Virginia, organizers say they hope to place payloads aboard rocket launched by the HSFL from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
Placing payloads aboard rockets is only part of “Project Imua,” which is funded by a $500,000 NASA grant. The plan is to award as many as 100 scholarships to community college students in the UH system to provide training and hands-on experiences in building rocket payloads.
The long-term hope is to shepherd the arrival of “Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory 2.0,” building upon successful launches with an expansion plan that would include the creation of a mission-oriented science and engineering department focused on small satellite and UAV missions, and adding space technology elements to existing schools and colleges.