UPR experiment to rocket into space
The UPR project was one of four university experiments selected nationwide to be flown as part of an educational project called RockSat-X, which is designed to provide students hands-on experience in designing, fabricating, testing and conducting experiments for space flight. The project is a joint effort between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
UPR will use a mass spectrometer to conduct an analysis of atmospheric particles and pressure.
Virginia Tech and Baylor universities have teamed up to measure nitric oxide and atmospheric dust. The University of Colorado will be testing a device to assist in de-orbiting small spacecraft and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium will fly seven cameras to capture all the action in high-definition, which will be made available to the public shortly after recovery.
The launch is scheduled for Thursday morning from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va.
“RockSat-X is part of a series of student flight programs designed to enhance students' skills and prepare them for careers at NASA and in the aerospace industry,” said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.
The program begins with a hands-on workshop called RockOn and then proceeds to the RockSat-C and RockSat-X programs. At each level, the experiments become more complex, which provides students an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the requirements for developing space-based experiments.
The experiments will fly on a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute rocket to a projected altitude of 98 miles. After the 15-minute flight, the payload carrying the experiments will splash down via parachute in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 66 miles off the coast of Virginia. The 875-pound payload will be recovered for re-use and experiment analysis.
The RockSat-X concept provides students with a payload structure with pre-defined mechanical, power and data interfaces and volume and mass limits. This is the second RockSat-X mission, with the first having been flown in July 2011.
The project will be the ninth suborbital rocket mission this year from NASA’s launch facility on Wallops Island and the first of four launches scheduled through mid-September.
Little Puerto Rico plays big role in space research
The upcoming launch adds another chapter to Puerto Rico’s prominent role in the nation’s space and astronomy research.
The island is home to the world’s largest radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory, which has racked up a series of milestones since its construction in 1963. The radio telescope identified the first planets beyond the solar system, and it once sent a three-minute broadcast to the Hercules constellation in 1974 in a quest to contact alien civilizations. Earlier this summer, astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory determined that an asteroid was twice as large as originally estimated, and large enough to have serious global consequences if it were to hit the Earth. However, a new orbit solution also derived from the radar measurements showed that it doesn’t any chance of hitting the Earth for at least the next 750 years.
Puerto Rico students continue to shine at NASA’s annual Great Moonbuggy Race, with two Humacao teams leading the way to take first and second place in the high school division in April. The UPR Humacao team placed second in the college division, falling just shy of defending the title it had won in both 2010 and 2011.
Researchers at UPR Arecibo have launched a catalog of potentially habitable Earth-like planets orbiting other stars and habitable moons orbiting planets in other solar systems. The Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) not only identifies new potential habitable exoplanets, including exomoons like the Pandora world in the movie Avatar, but also ranks them according to various habitability indices.
Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans continue to hold key roles at NASA.
Astronaut Joseph Acaba, who in 2004 became the first Puerto Rican astronaut candidate, accompanied Russian spacemen Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin as they made their way to a four-and-half-month journey to the International Space Station in May. It was his second venture into space after his maiden orbital voyage on NASA’s space shuttle in 2009.
Puerto Rican scientist Yajaira Sierra Sastre has been put in charge of creating the menu for the first manned mission to Mars, which is scheduled for 2030 and calculated to last some 2 1/2 years.
Earlier this year, Puerto Rican engineer Orlando Figueroa was pulled out of retirement by NASA to lead a newly established task force to remap the federal space agency’s Mars exploration program amid federal belt-tightening that poses a new obstacle to putting humans on the “Red Planet.”
Puerto Rico also remains in a three-way race with Florida and Texas to land a planned SpaceX rocket launchpad, which has heated up after the California-based company became the first private business to send a cargo ship to the space station in May.