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Physics Students Teaming with NASA for Airborne Experiments

LSU was one of four schools that had a unique opportunity to work with NASA this summer in the launching of the High Altitude Student Payload, or HASP, to the near-space environment of the upper atmosphere.

A NASA scientific balloon measuring 11 million cubic-feet carried the HASP facility on its first flight out of Ft. Sumner, New Mexico on September 4.

The project comes from an agreement between the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy and NASA that is designed to provide students with opportunities to perform hands-on, real-time experiments in upper-atmospheric conditions without the expense or risk of a rocket launch.

“A lot of what happens in physics, is students don’t get to practice what we preach,” explained LSU Professor of Physics & Astronomy T. Gregory Guzik. “This allows us to show the practical application of what we teach these kids. It makes it more concrete for them.”

Guzik further explained that the HASP agreement grew out of work that LSU conducts with NASA on the Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter, or ATIC, and Aerospace Catalyst Experiences for Students, or ACES, programs.

Guzik works extensively with NASA on the ATIC program, which involves measuring cosmic rays via weather balloons launched in the Antarctic.

“It doesn’t cost very much for NASA to sponsor these flights,” said Guzik. “Whereas if we wanted to do this on our own, it would be pretty expensive. We hope to do this every year.”

LSU has a contract for two more HASP flights in 2007 and 2008. The flights are open to students from any school that wishes to participate in the program. LSU students who wish to participate in the program will have until December 15 to sign up for the next flight.

Guzik hopes that continued success of the HASP flights will lead to even more student work with NASA.

“Eventually, we’d like to be able to send up satellites built by students,” he said.

The HASP platform itself – built entirely by LSU physics and mechanical engineering students with support from the Louisiana Board of Regents, Louisiana Space Grant, and the LSU College of Basic Sciences – carried 12 instrument payloads also created by students from Texas A&M, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.

An 1,800-pound balloon carried the platform to an altitude of approximately 37 kilometers for a 15-hour flight.

Student teams designed and developed their experiments during the 2005-06 academic year and then integrated the experiments with the HASP facility during the summer.

The experiments carried by HASP during this flight were developed to study the cosmic ray flux, test the performance of different rocket nozzle designs, measure the thermal characteristics of the balloon, evaluate an accelerometer-based inertial guidance system, and perform remote imaging.

Guzik explained that balloon flights of this sort are conducted in September due to the “turnaround conditions” in high-altitude winds that are prevalent during the summer-to-fall seasonal transition.

“The winds change directions between the seasons,” he said. “In September, they drop to a condition we call near-zero. Basically as the winds change, they slow down, which is the conditions we want flight to take place in so we can better control the balloon.”

The HASP flight was terminated on September 15, with the platform parachuting to Earth and recovered. Guzik called all 12 experiments a success, with the platform sustaining very little damage on its fall. Students were also able to view live, streaming video from the platform during the launch and flight via the CosmoCam on the HASP Web site http://laspace.lsu.edu/hasp/. Pictures and readings from the flight can also be viewed.

Guzik said that he anticipates even greater success with next year’s flight.

“It was definitely a great learning experience,” he said. “We learned a lot about what to do and not do.”

Students who participate in the program will work on their experiments during the 2007 Spring semester. Six spots on the 2007 launch are reserved for LSU experiments, while the other six will go to other schools who wish to join the program. According to Guzik, the Universities of Montana, Virginia, and Kentucky have all expressed interest.

Billy Gomila | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2007

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