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Onward to Sub-Orbit: Next RockOn Workshop Set for June

The Terrier-Orion - used to support the RockOn student program at Wallops - is an amalgam of a U.S. Navy surface-to-air missile and a NASA Orion sounding rocket. Photo Credit: NASA

The Terrier-Orionused to support the RockOn student program at Wallopsis an amalgam of a U.S. Navy surface-to-air missile and a NASA Orion sounding rocket. Photo Credit: NASA

NASA has invited university faculty staff and students interested in learning how to build scientific experiments for space missions to its RockOn 2013 annual workshop at the Wallops Flight Facility from 15-20 June. Organized in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the event will teach participants to develop an instrument which will fly into suborbital space and reach an altitude of 73 miles on the final day of the workshop, 20 June.

“Now in its sixth year, this program provides the basics on building, testing, and flying a science payload on a suborbital rocket,” said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of Wallops’ sounding rocket effort. “This is an exciting first step for participants to gain hands-on experience in building more complex space experiments. The program provides students with a solid foundation on which to build a future aerospace career.”

Last year's launch, watched from Wallops Island by dozens of student participants, was an enormous success. Photo Credit: NASA

Last year’s launch, watched from Wallops Island by dozens of student participants, was an enormous success. Photo Credit: NASA

During its first three years of operation, from 2008-10, RockOn saw several three-member teams successfully build a sounding rocket payload from a kit in just three days, and finally launch into suborbital space atop a two-stage Terrier-Orion rocket from Wallops on the final day of the workshop. A glance at the agenda for last year’s event reads with all the drama and excitement of a real-life countdown to launch … which, indeed, it is. It begins with an emphasis upon team-building and evolves through the construction of testing of Geiger counters, the assembly and testing of equipment, integration into the storage canister, and the electrical and mechanical coupling of the payload to the rocket.

The launch vehicle is an amalgam of the U.S. Navy’s Terrier medium-range surface-to-air missile and NASA’s Orion sounding rocket, built at the Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, under the auspices of the Greenbelt, Md.-based Goddard Space Flight Center. It can support payloads weighing between 200-800 pounds and can achieve altitudes of up to 120 miles. Last year’s launch was an enormous success, rising into a cool dawn from the shore of Wallops Island at 6:40 a.m. local time, 21 June 2012, in near-perfect weather conditions. This summer’s event is expected to be similarly spectacular … and inspiring for the next generation of aerospace engineers.

“The purpose of the program is to bring together university students and instructors and introduce them to building scientific experiments for space flight,” explained Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. “We really get into the basics of building experiments, including developing circuit boards, programming flight code, and working together as a cohesive team on space projects.”

Registration for the event is open throughout May.

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