A team at USU working on cubesats and high altitude balloons.
GAS Team Projects
Utah State University’s Get Away Special Team has nearly 40 years of experience dealing with space and microgravity experimentation. Founded when a Gilbert Moore bought the first Get Away Special reservation from NASA and donated it to Utah State University, students have done various experiments over the years in partnership with multiple space programs.
The current team is pursuing the development of a single unit cube satellite designed to demonstrate a passive control system known as the Aeroboom. Unlike active control systems, such as magnetic torquing, that help to stabilize and orient a CubeSat in Low Earth Orbit, the Aeroboom is a deployable, inflatable tube that would extend a meter in length and harden into shape in the UV light.
A summary of USU’s Get Away Special history can be noted in the timeline below.
TSat was launched from Bothwell, Utah, on August 3, 2018, along with a Tsukuba University student experiment at about 8:40 am. After 20000 ft, the team stopped receiving the payload GPS location. After calling the FAA to alert them that something had gone wrong, the team was notified that the military was jamming GPS in the area. The payload is currently lost, with predictions putting the landing location somewhere along the Utah/Idaho state border, probably in the mountains.
Tiny Sat (TSat) is a satellite prototype designed with the primary purpose of deploying, curing, and returning the Aeroboom. It is of minimalistic design in comparison to other prototypes, carrying only the boom box with attached wire cutters, a barometer, and a camera as its main components. The code was written completely in python and can be found at https://github.com/impy17/TSat.
The new members of the team were instructed to direct this flight with supervision from the senior members. During launch preparations, it was discovered that the boom had deployed early with no clear reason why. Launch team members attempted to secure the boom again on-site and proceeded with the launch. Upon recovery, it was found that the boom did not deploy again in the air. Communications were also lost with ERRNO due to connections jostling loose during the ascent, although the FAA was able to track the flight via the APRS network. The payload's ascent rate was also much higher than calculated, which caused the overfilled balloon to burst much earlier than planned. However, the payload was safely recovered from the Wellsville foothills. The junior team members were able to launch, track, and retrieve the payload, completing the flight mission.
Two goals were maintained: deployment of a cylindrical boom and retrieval of images from the camera. A picamera and attached Raspberry Pi were introduced to the payload, replacing a uCam-II, and during the duration of the flight, over 390 images were saved. Many images showed the the Aeroboom extended in a cylindrical shape, although the addition of UV resistant Kapton tape on the lining of the outer boom prevented the resin from curing. The payload and flat boom was recovered from a corn field in northern Cache Valley.
There were two goals for the flight: keeping the battery at a higher temperature and deploying the Aeroboom at a higher altitude - around 80,000 ft instead of 70,000 ft. Both goals were achieved. Upon recovery, it was discovered that the Aeroboom had cured in a zigzag shape. Later experimentation gave evidence that the resin had froze in the extreme cold temperatures, not allowing the boom to straighten in the low pressure before curing.
The main goal of the balloon flight was to achieve deployment of the Aeroboom. The payload was launched from Blue Creek, Utah, and the Aeroboom appeared to have deployed at the correct altitude, although the payload entered a restarting loop and much of the internally stored data was corrupted or destroyed. The payload landed around 9,700 ft, somewhere on Logan Peak, and a team snowshoed to recover it from a tree the next day.
A cube satellite prototype payload was launched from Snowville, ID, and was recovered in the foothills near Hardware Ranch. The purpose of the flight was to test a medium filter the software team had designed, as well as to continuously test the deployment and performance of the Aeroboom. The boom did not deploy during the flight, due to a user error during payload preparation where some wires were connected incorrectly. On the ground, the wires were rerouted and the boom deployed as expected.
Loss of Information
Due to changes in leadership and student involvement as senior members graduated, there was a temporary loss of much of the information concerning progress made for the design of the CubeSat.
The CubeSat design was further optimized and added nichromewire cutters, a camera system, and separation switch to indicate deployment of the boom, and various sensors. A 3D printed model was made in order to verify fasteners, spacing, and assembly procedures. Various tests were conducted, showing that boom failure fell within NASA standards.
Further design changes were made to the CubeSat. Additionally, testing showed that the boom would be unable to perform at subzero temperatures, so heaters were added to the bottom of the boom holding bay in order to heat the Aeroboom before deployment.
The team faced significant difficulties identifying, procuring, and sealing materials for the inflatable boom system. The final design resulted in three layers: an inner and outer layer of Teflon, surrounding a middle layer of fiberglass impregnated with a UV curing epoxy. Each end of the boom was sealed into G10 plates.
After completion of initial testing and meetings with SDL, it was determined that the boom would have to be qualified by NASA safety standards. The team turned their focus to the attitude control issue of the boom, since it was discovered previously that the gravitation gradient effect was not enough to maintain passive control at the predicted altitude of 325-350 km. Although the primary mission remained a technical demonstration of an inflatable boom, a secondary science mission was selected that would study drag and the gravity gradient effects. As a result, the gravity gradient boom was renamed the Aeroboom.
The LEOP CubeSat was renamed to the Get Away Special Passive Attitude Control Satellite, or GASPACS. It’s purpose was to demonstrate a 1 meter inflatable gravity gradient boom, meant to help stabilize a single unit CubeSat. The inflatable gravity gradient boom would contain a UV curable epoxy and would be deployed while in orbit.
Due to design reviews and passive attitude control analysis, the team determined that the photography mission would likely be impossible due to design constraints and the technical capabilities of the team. Instead, a new mission was designed based around the gravity gradient effect on CubeSats in low earth orbit.
Through a series of design reviews, the LEOP CubeSat concept was determined to be insufficient for a successful completion of the earth photography mission and more development would have to be made.
To addressed the lack of ADCS – attitude determination and control system – in their design of the LEOP CubeSat, Utah State University team members pursued a passive attitude control method. Active control of the CubeSat, such as boosters or other methods, proved to be more expensive, power hungry, and complicated than the team was willing to undertake. They instead initially designed a deployable, 1 meter long boom of spring tape.
The Low Earth Orbiting Photographer, also known as LEOP, was a theoretical design that involved a single unit, earth pointing CubeSat with a camera meant to photograph large earth features such as islands and polar ice caps. However, during a preliminary design review conducted by members of SDL, it was found that the design was inconsistent between sub-teams, that there was an incomplete definition of CubeSat parts and development, and that there was no planned ADCS – a module used to stabilize and then orient a satellite in a specific direction.
Among the first cube satellite concepts designed by Utah State University students, it was named Little Nik in reference to Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. The design of Little Nik was similar to the ISIS CubeSat structure and involved a measuring tape deployable antenna system. The project was eventually abandoned in favor of a microgravity experiment and other, more pressing projects.
Space Shuttle Columbia
shuttle’s left wing. Upon reentry, the damage caused hot atmospheric gas to destroy the internal wing structure, forcing the shuttle to break apart. After the disaster, NASA shuttle operations were suspended for more than two years. The Get Away Special Program was also canceled, due to payload and program limits set on the remaining shuttle missions until the expected STS close-out in 2010. This was the end of the Get Away Special Program.
STS-108 / Endeavour
Payload G-221. Again, Utah State University students assisted with outreach payloads for local High School and Elementary School experiments. Box Elder High School had an experiment to see how liquid boils in space. Moscow High School looked at how compounds found in the human body crystallize in space. The Shoshone-Bannock Jr/Sr High School experimented with food growth in space, testing soluble phosphate fertilizer.
Six students from Utah State University were able to fly with three new experiments on the Vomit Comet. One of the experiments tested the design for a future shuttle experiment. The second experiment tested theories about the formation of the Solar System. The final experiment tested convection currents in granular materials.
STS-91 / Discovery
Payload G-090. The payload was primarily and outreach payload, where high school students from Box Elder High School, Moscow High School, and Shoshones Bannock Jr/Sr High School conducted experiments concerned with convection currents, crystal growth, and chemical processing respectively. The payload was also a milestone because the chemical processing experiment was the first Native American experiment to fly in space.
Once again, Utah State University was privileged to send students to fly on NASA’s Vomit Comet. Students flew a modified version of the granular material experiment they had flown the previous year.
STS-85 / Discovery
Payload G-572. As a collaboration between Bellarmine College, the University of Utah, and Utah State University, the payload was constructed to investigate the effect of weightlessness on the human heart. The experiment was named Hearts in Space, and attempted to answer why astronauts’ hearts got smaller while in orbit.
For the first time, NASA offered flights on their Reduced Gravity Airplane to college students. Utah State University was chosen as one of 24 teams to fly on the Vomit Comet and conducted an experiment that dealt with glass beads.
STS-77 / Endeavour
Payload G-200. Three experiments were involved: a water polarization experiment, a sound sand experiment, and a growth of slime mold experiment. In addition, the payload contained more popcorn kernels as an experiment by an elementary school. After being flown, the elementary students popped the popcorn and compared it with a similar control sample.
STS-69 / Endeavour
Payload G-726. Called the Joint Damping Experiment, the contents of the payload were designed to study the gravity dependent behavior of pin-jointed trusses. Although not much information was found on the involvement of Utah State University’s Get Away Special Team, the experiment was conducted by USU’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and funded by the NASA Office of Space Access and Technology through the In-Space Technology Experiments Program.
Student Parabolic Flight Campaign
Utah State University participated in the first European Space Agency ESA Student Parabolic Flight Campaign. Two students were fortunate enough to pretend to be astronauts for a day. They conducted an experiment that studied properties of water in weightlessness.
STS-64 / Discovery
Payload G-254. Utah State University sent experiments that explored the details of distillation, convective instabilities, the changes on the photosynthetic ability of a plant lichen, the interference patterns on the surface of a bubble in microgravity, and included the first flight of space popcorn for elementary school children to study. Another major component was a flight test of a sample of a future experiment structure called the iso-grid.
Space Shuttle Challenger
Just 73 seconds after launch, the orbiter Challenger broke into several pieces and claimed the life of her crew. The explosion was traced to a failed O-ring seal, used in one of the right solid rocket booster joints. Due to the disaster, it was nearly three years before the next Shuttle flight.
Payload G-010. Aboard STS-51-B were the first two satellites to be ejected from a GAS canister. NUSAT, standing for the Northern Utah Satellite, was an idea conceived by a Federal Aviation Administration engineer to help provide a safer and more efficient means for the FAA to calibrate airport radar equipment. The satellite was built as a Weber State College senior class project and was assembled with components and technical backup from an all-volunteer team comprised of Utah State University, New Mexico State University, the FAA, Goddard Space Flight Center, the US Air Force, and more than 26 private corporations. Because NUSAT was the first-of-a-kind and an example of extraordinary cooperation between education, industry, and government, the satellite’s structural test prototype became part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection in October 1987.
STS-41-G / Challenger
Payload G-518. Utah State University students demonstrated an ability to refly GAS experiments within a short turnaround when four of the experiments flown on STS-41-B were configured into a single payload and flown four months later. The brief time between flights was one of the fastest turnarounds for space experiments in NASA history up to that points. The experiment explored capillary waves caused when water is excited, separation of flux and solder, thermocapillary convection, and a fluid flow system in a heat pipe experiment.
STS-41-B / Challenger
Payload G-004. Utah State University’s second GAS canister flew with experiments by Space Science students from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. This was made possible by USU’s newly designed spacepaks – hexagonal trays that housed individual experiments. Aberdeen students flew experiments on spore growth, three dimensional Brownian motion, and dimensional stability. USU experiments dealt with capillary waves on a water surface and thermocapillary flow in columns of melted wax.
Payload G-008. Another payload also flown was purchased by the Utah section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and housed experiments from two universities and a high school. Utah State University also had room in this payload and redesigned the soldering experiment already flown in G-001. USU also tested a heat pipe to be used in future space experiments. Brighton High School students prepared a radish seed germination experiment, and a University of Utah group studied the crystallization of three different protein samples in small capillary tubes.
STS-4 / Columbia
Payload G-001. The world’s first Get Away Special payload, named G-001, was prepared by Utah State University students and contained ten experiments within a 5-cubic foot container. Experiments tested the effects of microgravity on the growth of generations of fruit flies, epoxy resin-graphite composite curing, brine-shrimp genetics, duckweed root growth, soldering, homogenous alloy formation, surface tension, growth rate of algae, and thermal conductivity of a water and oil mixture. A student’s master thesis also surveyed the distribution of temperature within the payload.
First Flight of Shuttle Program
Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center as the first flight of NASA’s Shuttle Program. The official name for the Shuttle Program was the Space Transportation System, or STS for short.
Get Away Special Flight Program
NASA introduced the Get Away Special Program as a way for interested individuals, corporations, or universities to fly small experiments aboard their space shuttles. Gilbert Moore, a previous Utah State University professor who was working for Morton-Thiokol at the time, purchased the first reservation and donated it to USU.