Asee peer logo

Ionospheric Rocket Payload Development: Project and Course

Download Paper |


2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Spacecraft Design Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.862.1 - 25.862.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Dimitris Vassiliadis West Virginia University

visit author page

Dimitrios Vassiliadis received his Ph.D. in plasma physics, University of Maryland, College Park, in 1992. Following that he was a Postdoctoral Fellow under the National Research Council program at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center for two years. He went on to work for NASA/Goddard as a contractor scientist in magnetospheric and ionospheric physics until 2007, when he moved to West Virginia University as a Research Associate Professor. His interests and teaching experience are in the fields of plasma physics and engineering, nonlinear signal processing, forecasting and control theory, microcontrollers, and MEMS applications.

visit author page


D.J. Pisano West Virginia University

visit author page

Department of Physics

visit author page


Yu Gu West Virginia University

visit author page

Yu Gu was born in Huainan, China, in 1975. He received a B.S degree in automatic controls from Shanghai University in 1996, a M.S. degree in control engineering from Shanghai Jiaotong University in 1999, and a Ph.D. degree in aerospace engineering from West Virginia University in 2004.
Since 2005, he has been a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.V. His main research interests include sensor fusion, flight control, and small unmanned aerial vehicle (SUAV) design, instrumentation, and flight testing.

visit author page

Download Paper |


IONOSPHERIC ROCKET PAYLOAD DEVELOPMENT: PROJECT AND COURSEIn the last three years, the departments of Physics and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at WestVirginia University have developed an undergraduate project course on rocket payloads which hasparticipated annually in NASA’s RockSat program. The main course goal is to provide students with ahardware-oriented, open-ended, space science project experience. The project is offered as a two-semester course: in fall, the students learn about rocket dynamics and propulsion through theory, dataanalysis, and simulation. They practice mechanical and electrical design, and prepare conceptual,preliminary, and critical reviews. The payload concept and documentation are reviewed by RockSatmanagers and NASA engineers and if accepted the project continues in the spring semester. Studentsthen construct and test the actual payload while documenting its development in progress reports andregular telecons with RockSat managers and, on specific milestones, with NASA engineers. The payloaddesign has focused on capturing and understanding the vehicle’s flight dynamics via different sensorsand an onboard camera, and measuring properties of the ionospheric and upper-atmosphericenvironment. With a flight apogee of 120 km, the payload is designed to measure cosmic-ray fluxes, theterrestrial magnetic field and its fluctuations, and ionospheric plasma density. The 2011 payloadfeatured a capillary-flow experiment developed in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry andthe 2012 payload will include a dusty-plasma experiment. A four-student team travels to NASA’sWallops Flight Facility to integrate the payload on the rocket and attend the launch; following that, flightdata are analyzed and a final report is prepared and submitted to RockSat. The project involves thecollaboration of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center researchers and involves several industry partnersand donors . Team students tend to have primarily mechanical/aerospace and computerscience/engineering backgrounds. The course can fulfill a technical elective requirement in the School ofEngineering curriculum. Overviews of the experiments conducted and descriptions of the courseprocedures are given in the paper. Examples of the positive outcomes for the students’ personal andprofessional goals are recounted. Lessons learnt by the faculty advisors and suggestions for otherschools planning to participate in such programs are summarized.

Vassiliadis, D., & Pisano, D., & Gu, Y. (2012, June), Ionospheric Rocket Payload Development: Project and Course Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21619

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015