One of the main difficulties rocket scientists have to contend with—other than rocket scientist jokes—is weight. The payload's, that is, not their own. A given rocket can only lift so much, and that means many a scientific experiment bound for space has been put on a diet by its creators.
Which is why "make it fit inside a tennis ball can" isn't as goofy a goal for a NASA competition as you might think.
This year, a team of 10 UNH students entered the annual CanSat Competition in Texas for the first time and walked away with first place, beating almost two dozen other collegiate teams.
"Ten teams dropped out from the competition because they couldn't do it—including MIT, which really psyched us," says Rob Terry '08, '10G, an electrical engineering major and the team leader.
UNH's "satellite in a can" was the only one that met all the various design criteria for the payload, which had to measure and transmit the tiny changes in atmospheric pressure during a half-mile-high flight, deploy a parachute, descend at a particular rate to a particular place, dump the parachute and then stand up, all on its own.
"A lot of people worked a lot of time to make it fit," says Terry, who is an intern at BAE Systems (a major sponsor of the team) in Merrimack, N.H.
The team was helped by the fact that UNH's mechanical engineering department has a "rapid prototype machine," which is like an inkjet printer that lays down layer upon layer of plastic to create three-dimensional objects. Not everything in the yearlong effort was so sophisticated, however. The team, for example, did one parachute test by throwing the CanSat off the top of Morse Hall.
One of the last hurdles was commercial aviation. Says Terry: "You should have seen me going through security at the airport."Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents