College of the Canyons students started constructing projects for NASA’s High Altitude Student Platform program in 2016. In the time since, COC has become the only community college selected to participate in the HASP program multiple times, and students have only continued to build on that initial success.
Members of the school’s astronomy and physics club recently returned from Virginia, where they launched a payload for the RockSat-X program, and with only a few weeks until the team heads to New Mexico to launch yet another HASP project, students barely have enough time to reminisce on their recent experiences.
Two projects are better than one
COC is no stranger to the HASP program as it prepares for its fourth launch in September. And while it’s certainly impressive to be the only community college to participate in the prestigious program, Astronomy and Physics Club’s adviser Teresa Ciardi said, the college really set itself apart with its work for the RockSat-X program.
“We had already been a part of the HASP project before, but we’ve since added the rocket (RockSat-X), which is totally next level,” Ciardi said. “In terms of intensity with the timelines and the work that goes into launching on a rocket, I’d say it’s anywhere from 10 to 100 times more challenging than the science balloon with HASP.”
Ciardi added students really stepped up their game during the attempt to test a landing system that didn’t require a parachute or specialized rockets.
“Everything you do has to be cleared by the various departments, so we had to rush to get everything assembled up until testing day,” said Kyle Strickland, a project manager who made the trip to see the project launch in Virginia.
In years prior, scholars from Academy of the Canyons, iLEAD Schools and West Ranch High School have worked with the college’s HASP team, and this year was no different.
Elizabeth Provencio started her senior at West Ranch this month and she’s currently preparing to fly to New Mexico to launch the college’s payload.
“It’s really cool to be with the group because I’ve learned so much,” Provencio said. “I’ve gotten to learn a lot about drilling,” and many other useful lessons when building the projects.
“She can also say that a project she’s worked on has gone 93 miles up all the way into space and back down,” Ciardi said, adding the payload is predicted to be 62 miles off the coast of Virginia and about two miles deep in the ocean.
Despite the fact that they’ve had to dedicate hours of their own time to work on the project outside of school, team members said it was no doubt worth the effort.
“We truly learned the value of Starbucks instant coffee,” Project Manager Coulson Aguirre said, joking about the long hours necessary to complete the project. “For me, it’s been two years, so it feels relieving because you worked so hard on something and saw it completed. Being in community college, I never thought I’d be able to do something like this, but we have to find a way to do it again. This is an amazing experience.”
As a faculty adviser, Ciardi said she’s always learning something new from the students who participate in the projects.
“It’s incredible to watch. I open my lab, let them get to work and they’re so dedicated that I never have to tell them to stay on it,” Ciardi said, adding her duties mostly entail finding the funds that are necessary to put together the innovative payload projects. “We have to submit our intent to fly, which requires us to pay a deposit, so we’re always looking for additional funding because we also need funding to send the students to testing and launch.”
Only two students were able to fly to RockSat-X this year, but Ciardi and the team are hopeful they’ll all be able to make the trip next year.
“The travel aspect is important because a lot of networking happens over there,” Strickland said. “You meet a lot of professionals and really get a good feel for what it’s like in the real world. The hands-on experience is invaluable.”
Strickland added, “We already have a whole lot of designs ready for the next project,” such as ones that use radios to communicate or carbon fiber parts instead of aluminum.
“They’re just little improvements that make it more likely to not fail,” Strickland said.