June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Pre-College Engineering Education Division
A near space research experience for high school students was created at XXX XXX in XX, XX in 2011, and held each summer since then to motivate high school students to pursue careers in science and engineering. During the week-long experience students are exposed to fundamental concepts involved in researching the near-space environment through the launch, flight, and recovery of a high-altitude balloon carrying student-built balloonsat payloads. During the first day of the experience students are introduced to balloon flight procedures and watch a video recording of a previous flight. Next, students learn about the microprocessor-based sensor system they build to record data taken during the ascent and descent of a balloonsat payload during a high-altitude flight. The sensor data recorded during the flight includes the voltage of the battery supply, internal and external temperatures, and the ambient atmospheric pressure. During the next class students are introduced to the software package Matlab. With the instructor’s assistance they write a Matlab script file capable of analyzing and plotting the hundreds of measurements taken during the flight. Finally, the students are introduced to circuit construction techniques and soldering. The students develop and practice these skills constructing a commercially available soldering practice kit. The first day ends with the students dividing up into teams of four students with skills sufficient to construct their sensor system payloads and the balloonsats that will carry them.
During the morning of the second day each team begins construction of their balloonsat and payload. The microprocessor-based sensor system and its associated analog signal processing circuitry is assembled on a custom printed circuit board designed and manufactured for the sensor system. It is important to verify circuit operation periodically during construction because most of the students lack significant experience in electronic circuit construction. The balloonsats are constructed from 3/8 inch thick foam-core board from which a cross-shaped pattern is cut. The pattern is then folded up to form a cube approximately 6 inches on each side and the interior filled with pieces of ½ thick foam containing voids to fit the payload. The second day concludes with thermal and vaccum tests necessary to simulate the extreme conditions encountered by the balloonsats in the near-space environment, as well as verify the functionality of the sensor system.
The morning of the third day the students activate their payloads, assist with inflating the balloon with hydrogen, and then launch the balloon with its payloads during the designated launch window. The balloon train includes one or more APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) beacons whose data packets are received by digital repeaters (digipeaters) and then transferred to Internet gateway stations (iGates) so that students are able to monitor the progress of the balloon flight in real-time on their smart phones. Once the balloon has burst and the payloads return to earth by parachute, students are transported to the landing location to recover their payloads and their data.
During the last day of the camp each team each spends the morning analyzing their data and then prepares and delivers a final presentation of their results to the entire group in the afternoon. Students also completed an evaluation of the week’s experience and the curriculum using a Likert-type scale with five possible responses ranging from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. In responding to the most recent evaluation 14 out of 15 students either Agreed or Strongly Agreed with the statement “The activities conducted during the week met or exceeded my expectations for the camp.” Additionally, 10 out of 15 students either Agreed or Strongly Agreed with the statement “I am more interested in studying XXX engineering as a result of this camp than I was before.” Finally, 13 out of 15 students either Agreed or Strongly Agreed with the statement “I would recommend this camp for others to attend.” This paper provides details of the topics, schedule, enrollments, and student evaluations of the Near-space Research Experience conducted at XXX XXX in XX, XX since summer 2011.
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