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Using Rockets To Unify Topics In An Electro Mechanical Engineering Technology Instrumentation Course

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Electromechanical & Manufacturing ET Curriculum

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1408.1 - 11.1408.19



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Paper Authors


Dale Litwhiler Pennsylvania State University-Berks

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Dale H. Litwhiler is an Assistant Professor at Penn State Berks in Reading, PA. He received his B.S. from Penn State University, his M.S. from Syracuse University and his Ph.D. from Lehigh University all in electrical engineering. Prior to beginning his academic career in 2002, he worked with IBM Federal Systems and Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems as a hardware and software design engineer.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Using Rockets to Unify Topics in an Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology Instrumentation Course


Model rockets are being used at Penn State Berks to unify topics in an electro-mechanical engineering technology instrumentation course. Model rockets provide an exciting platform on which to carry many types of devices and sensors. Throughout the semester, several types of sensors and transducers are introduced and studied. Sensors include thermistors, micromachined accelerometers and integrated pressure transducers. The physics, construction and characteristics of these sensors are discussed in the course lectures. The students also receive hands-on experience with many of the sensors through the course’s laboratory experiments. Analog to digital conversion techniques and data acquisition systems are also studied in this course. To help pull together the topics and concepts discussed in class, a rocket payload data acquisition system is employed. As each device is studied, its application to the payload system is presented and discussed. A thermistor is used to measure the air temperature at various altitudes. A micromachined accelerometer is used to measure the acceleration of the rocket during launch and throughout the mission. Integrated silicon pressure transducers are used to measure both altitude and speed of the rocket. The axial speed of the rocket is determined by using the body of the rocket as a Pitot tube together with a differential pressure transducer. The timing, power management, control, measurement and data storage for the entire payload is handled by an embedded PIC™ microcontroller. A rocket launch date is set near the end of the semester with a well-publicized formal countdown commenced well in advance of the launch to help promote interest and build excitement for the event. The students are active participants in the launch and recovery operations. The raw data collected during the flight is uploaded from the payload memory for interpretation and analysis by the students. A flight performance report based on the data is submitted by each student. This paper presents and discusses the details of the rocket system, the role of the project in the course and feedback from the students involved.


The use of model rockets in engineering education is well documented 1-4 Students generally find working with model rockets an exciting way to learn engineering concepts. The experience usually takes the class out of the classroom and, due to the nature of model rocketry, this experience usually occurs on days of nice weather. The anticipation of a countdown and the thrill of watching the launch is an added bonus to the experience. Besides the pure enjoyment of a launch, the model rocket also makes an excellent platform on which to attach a plethora of useful educational payloads. The work presented here puts an emphasis on the sensor payload but also exploits the inherent fun as the catalyst to learning.

As part of a junior-level instrumentation and measurement theory course at Penn State Berks, a model rocket packed with sensors is used to help unify the concepts of the course. This course is part of the electromechanical engineering technology program. In this course, the theory of temperature, pressure, fluid flow, displacement, velocity, and acceleration measurement are

Litwhiler, D. (2006, June), Using Rockets To Unify Topics In An Electro Mechanical Engineering Technology Instrumentation Course Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--275

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