The College of the Canyons Astronomy and Physics Club has been hard at work all summer as the club prepares and tests a prototype platform designed to collect cosmic dust particles in the upper stratosphere aboard NASA’s High Altitude Student Platform (HASP), a scientific weather balloon.
College of the Canyons is the only community college participating in this year’s HASP program, and it is one of only four community colleges ever chosen to participate in the program’s 10-year history. The program is run by Louisiana State University and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility.
Through funding provided by the College of the Canyons Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT), a six-person team will travel to Palestine, TX on July 31 for testing and device integration at NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility. The final payload will launch in late August from New Mexico.
“We are very thankful to all who have been involved in the process, and to have this opportunity,” said Teresa Ciardi, a physical science professor at the college. Ciardi and Greg Poteat, an adjunct manufacturing instructor, have been serving as co-advisors on the project, providing the team with guidance and support.
“To say that the students are super excited would be an understatement,” added Ciardi. “Greg and I are looking forward to seeing all of the work our team has done culminate in having our project integrated onto the flight platform.”
The team will be completing various stages of testing followed by integration onto the main platform, and acquiring pre-flight data before returning home on August 5.
A camera will be attached to the science balloon, which will allow the team to view the launch and the scene from above during the flight on the NASA HASP webpage.
The project originated from a proposal written in December 2015 by COC student Daniel Tikhomirov to send a payload on the HASP platform. The proposal was accepted in January 2016, which is when the team began to work.
“I’m feeling pretty good about it,” said Tikhomirov of the project and upcoming launch. His only concern is the possibility of the experiment being compromised by factors such as wind.
“Since it is flying up and coming back down, I’m worried about particles becoming detached,” said Tikhomirov. “We need to set up a checklist for ground control to follow.”
After the science balloon’s launch, the NASA HASP recovery team will follow the team’s specific checklist to retrieve, detach, pack, and send the team the box that was designed to trap Interstellar Dust Particles (IDP’s).
“If we are fortunate enough to capture IDP’s, I have a contact at Johnson Space Flight Center, Dr. Susan Lederer, who is going to work with us to analyze the particles which may result in a published astrophysics paper,” said Ciardi.