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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
Meredith Patterson, front row, center right, poses with her teammates in the High-Powered Rocketry Club at North Carolina State University on the day they launched the rocket they built for NASA’s 2023 Student Launch. The experience and knowledge Patterson gained from her years participating in the annual competition helped pave the way for a career at NASA after graduation. High-Powered Rocketry Club at NC State By Jessica Barnett
Sometimes, all it takes is a few years and the right people to completely change a person’s career trajectory. One such example is Meredith Patterson, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, who went from knowing little to nothing about rockets to being part of the team that is working to put humans back on the Moon.
She credits her success in large part to NASA’s Student Launch, which not only helped her uncover her passion for aerospace engineering but gave her the knowledge and experience she needed to get where she is today.
The annual Student Launch competition invites student teams from across the U.S. to spend nine months designing, building, and testing a high-powered rocket carrying a scientific or engineering payload. The hands-on, research-based engineering activity culminates each year in a final launch in Huntsville. This year’s challenge conclusion is set for April 10-14, with the final launch date set for April 13 at Bragg Farms in Toney, Alabama.
While Student Launch is open to students as young as sixth grade, Patterson was in her junior year of high school when she learned about the competition during a tour of North Carolina State University.
“When I walked into the rocketry lab there, I knew then, however many years it was going to take, I wanted to be the person who was able to run that and help put together everything for us to be successful in Student Launch,” Patterson said.
Meredith Patterson, then-freshman at North Carolina State University, assembles the competition vehicle used by the school’s high-powered rocketry club in this photo from the NASA’s 2019 Student Launch. Patterson was a member of the club and a regular participant in Student Launch for five years before graduating and turning her experience into a full-time career as an aerospace engineer at NASA. High-Powered Rocketry Club at NC State She attended North Carolina State for five years, participating in each year’s Student Launch competition and leading the team to a fourth-place win during her final year. She received her Level I and Level II certifications from Tripoli Rocketry Association through Student Launch, and she was able to connect with mentors from Tripoli and the National Rocketry Association that helped her get the hands-on experience and technical know-how she believes are key to success in the aerospace industry.
“My leadership skills grew, my system engineering skills grew, and my technical writing skills grew,” Patterson said. “Having mentors through the competition allowed me to ask questions and learn on the technical side of things, too. I think I use more information from Student Launch day to day than from almost any of my classes in college.”
She said attending an engineering camp at 16 years old first unlocked her interest in spaceflight and rocketry, but it was through Student Launch that she got to really dive in and deepen her passion.
“It’s crazy to think that less than 10 years ago, I had never even built a rocket, and now I can build Level II-sized rockets on my own and I’m actively working on the biggest solid rocket boosters in the world,” Patterson said. “Just in the past year, I’ve gone from the L-class motor that we used for Student Launch to casting 11-inch motors to now actively watching the casting of the SLS (Space Launch System) boosters.”
Meredith Patterson, a former competitor in NASA’s Student Launch Challenge, now works as an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.NASA Student Launch is part of NASA’s Artemis Student Challenges. Seventy teams representing 24 states and Puerto Rico were selected to compete in the 2024 Student Launch Challenge.
Marshall hosts the Student Launch challenge with management support provided by NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement – Southeast Region. Funding is provided, in part, by NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate and NASA’s Next Gen STEM project.
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NASA Student Launch Challenge
Middle/high school and college-level student teams design, build, test, and launch a high-powered rocket carrying a scientific or engineering payload.
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NASA and the agency’s international partners are sending scientific investigations to the International Space Station on the 30th SpaceX commercial resupply services mission, including tests of technologies to monitor sea ice, automate 3D mapping, and create nanoparticle solar cells. The company’s Dragon cargo spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in early March.
Read more about some of the research making the journey to the orbiting laboratory:
Plants off the Planet
Plants can be used in regenerative life support systems, to provide food, and to contribute to the well-being of astronauts on future deep space exploration missions. C4 Photosynthesis in Space (APEX-09) examines how microgravity affects the mechanisms by which two types of grasses, known as C3 and C4, capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Plants respond to stressful conditions based on their genetic makeup and the environment,” said Pubudu Handakumbura, principal investigator with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We aim to uncover the molecular changes involved in plants exposed to spaceflight stressors and develop an understanding of the mechanisms of photosynthesis in space.” Results could clarify plant responses to stressful environments and inform the design of bio-regenerative support systems on future missions, as well as systems for plant growth on Earth.
Seedlings germinating for the APEX-09 C4 Space investigation. Pubudu Handakumbura Sensing the Sea
The ocean significantly affects the global climate. A technique called Global Navigation Satellite System reflectometry (GNSS-R), which receives satellite signals reflected from the surface of Earth, shows promise as a way to monitor ocean phenomena and improve climate models. Killick-1: A GNSS Reflectometry CubeSat for Measuring Sea Ice Thickness and Extent (Nanoracks KILLICK-1) tests using this technique to measure sea ice. The project supports development of space and science capabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, by providing hands-on experience with space systems and Earth observation. More than 100 undergraduate and graduate engineering students participated in the project.
“The most exciting aspect of this project is that students have the opportunity to launch a mission into space,” said Desmond Power, a co-investigator with C-CORE of Canada. “It is also exciting to build a tiny satellite that does different things, including contributing to our knowledge of climate change.”
GNSS-R technology is low-cost, light, and energy efficient. Its potential applications on Earth include providing data for weather and climate models and improving the understanding of ocean phenomena such as surface winds and storm surge.
The KILLICK-1 CubeSat ready to pack for launch. Memorial University, Canada Automated Autonomous Assistance
Multi-resolution Scanner (MRS) Payload for the Astrobee (Multi-Resolution Scanning) tests technology to automate 3D sensing, mapping, and situational awareness systems.
“Our MRS on an Astrobee free-flying robot will create 3D maps inside the space station,” said Marc Elmouttie, project lead with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. “The technology combines multiple sensors, which compensates for weaknesses in any one of them and provides very high-resolution 3D data and more accurate trajectory data to understand how the robot moves around in space.”
The technology could be used for autonomous operation of spacecraft with minimal or no human occupancy where robots must sense the environment and precisely maneuver, including the lunar Gateway space station. Other uses could be to inspect and maintain spacecraft and for autonomous vehicle operations on other celestial bodies. Results also support improvements in robotic technologies for harsh and dangerous environments on Earth.
Project Lead Marc Elmouttie with the MRS hardware housed in an Astrobee robot. NASA Placement of Particles
The Nano Particle Haloing Suspension investigation examines how nanoparticles and microparticles interact within an electrical field. A process called nanoparticle haloing uses charged nanoparticles to enable precise particle arrangements that improve the efficiency of quantum-dot synthesized solar cells, according to Stuart J. Williams, principal investigator with the University of Louisville Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Quantum dots are tiny spheres of semiconductor material with the potential to convert sunlight into energy much more efficiently. Conducting these processes in microgravity provides insight into the relationship between shape, charge, concentration, and interaction of particles.
The investigation is supported by NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which partners with government, higher education, and industry on projects to improve a research infrastructure and research and development capacity and competitiveness.
A capstone student assembles part of the Nano Particle Haloing Suspension hardware.University of Louisville Download high-resolution photos and videos of the research mentioned in this article.
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 mission to the International Space Station Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA/Joel Kowsky NASA is inviting the public to take part in virtual activities for the launch of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station.
NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick, commander; Michael Barratt, pilot; and Jeanette Epps, mission specialist; along with Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin, mission specialist, will fly to the space station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.
Launch is targeted for no earlier than 12:04 a.m. EST on Friday, March. 1, from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Members of the public can register to attend the launch virtually. As a virtual guest, you have access to curated resources, schedule changes, and mission specific information delivered straight to your inbox. Following each activity, virtual guests are sent a mission specific collectable stamp for their virtual guest passport. Hear more about the virtual guest program from the Crew-5 astronauts.
Live coverage and countdown commentary will begin at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 29 on NASA+, NASA Television, the NASA app, YouTube, and the agency’s website. Details about the mission and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program can be found by following the Crew-8 blog, the commercial crew blog, X, and Facebook.
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