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Returning Payloads to Earth

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics club is working with NASA’s pres­ti­gious Stu­dent Launch Ini­tia­tive to determine how to return a pay­load to Earth using an autonomous robot and rocket.


Source: News @ Northeastern

The task pre­sented to Northeastern’s stu­dent chapter of the Amer­ican Insti­tute of Aero­nau­tics and Astro­nau­tics is one that NASA engi­neers have been working to resolve for some time: how to return a pay­load to Earth using an autonomous robot and rocket.

Stu­dents in the aero­space club are spending most of this aca­d­emic year deter­mined to help NASA find a solu­tion to that challenge.

Ear­lier this fall, the club was accepted to NASA’s pres­ti­gious Stu­dent Launch ini­tia­tive, a research-​​based, com­pet­i­tive, and expe­ri­en­tial explo­ration project that pro­vides rel­e­vant and cost-​​effective research and devel­op­ment to sup­port the Space Launch System. North­eastern is one of 23 col­le­giate teams com­peting for a $10,000 grand prize.

It’s very com­pet­i­tive,” said club pres­i­dent Andrew Buggee, E’16. “It’s the only col­le­giate rocket com­pe­ti­tion that you have to be selected for. It’s an unbe­liev­able opportunity.”

The charge of this year’s com­pe­ti­tion is to design and build a rocket with a robotic com­po­nent that can grab a pay­load and load it into the rocket. The rocket then must be able to pre­pare itself for lift off, launch into the air, and then jet­tison the pay­load at a spe­cific alti­tude. The teams launch their exper­i­ments on high-​​power rockets and share their research results, which will be used by NASA in future projects.

NASA is trying to come up with ideas for how to return things to Earth, specif­i­cally from Mars,” Buggee explained. “That’s no small task.”

Ear­lier this year the club received a Provost’s Under­grad­uate Research and Cre­ative Endeavors Award, which sig­nif­i­cantly strength­ened the stu­dents’ appli­ca­tion to enter the NASA com­pe­ti­tion. The awards offer finan­cial and aca­d­emic sup­port to North­eastern stu­dents seeking to con­duct orig­inal projects of their own design; the aero­space club is using its award to build more sophis­ti­cated rockets and enter more competitions.

The NASA com­pe­ti­tion will take plae April 7 at the Mar­shall Space Flight Center in Birm­ingham, Alabama. Ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion, the club will hold reg­u­larly check-​​ins with NASA engi­neers to dis­cuss its design plans and progress.

Not only does the com­pe­ti­tion involve designing and building a rocket, par­tic­i­pating stu­dent groups must also do com­mu­nity out­reach with area school chil­dren. Buggee said the club plans to partner with Northeastern’s Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion, which hosts middle school field trips, and visit Boston-​​area schools.

Northeastern’s AIAA chapter has expe­ri­enced great suc­cess in its inau­gural year, including win­ning its first com­pe­ti­tion in early April. Stu­dents also suc­cess­fully launched a weather bal­loon equipped with a GoPro and an iPhone and mon­i­tored the balloon’s journey from Cobleskill, New York, to Bed­ford, New Hampshire.

Andrew Gould­stone, the club’s fac­ulty advisor and an assis­tant pro­fessor of mechan­ical and indus­trial engi­neering, attrib­utes the club’s early suc­cess to the stu­dents’ drive and passion.

These are stu­dents with a real pas­sion for what they do,” he said. “They wanted to start a club that can actu­ally achieve things and they are tremen­dously tal­ented. I have nothing but admi­ra­tion for this group.”

Related Faculty: Andrew Gouldstone