26 August 2015

Launch Attempt #2

The RS-10 payload was relaunched on the morning of August 12th, 2015. Initial post-flight analysis of sample and flight data indicate that the experiment ran as planned and a sample was successfully produced. Part of the sample has been sent to the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base of more detailed analysis. Results from the sample and flight will be presented in the near future.

Launch Attempt #1

The RS-10 payload was launched on the morning of April 18th, 2015. After recovery of the payload, it was discovered that the payload experienced a failure and did not run the experiment as planned. The batteries needed to power the experiment were found to be depleted and could not power the experiment. This issue has been attributed to the voltage sensor used to monitor the battery voltage during the flight. In the end, the payload made it back to Wallops Flight Facility relatively unscathed. The current plan is to refurbish the experiment and payload during the month of May. After which, the payload will be placed in storage. If all works out, the payload will be reflown in August with the current RockSat-X 2015 launch program.


Pictures from Build-Up and Testing


Day In the Life (DITL) Testing

From 23 June to 29 June, members of the RocketSat-10 team traveled to Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to run DITL testing. Testing included full electronic testing with all experiments integrated into the rocket payload section.  This was followed by vibration testing to simulate the forces experienced on launch. Testing was finished up with spin and moment of inertia testing. This ensures that the different experiments do not affect the stability of the rocket. Unfortunately, RS-10 team was not able to run a full electronics test due to electronic component failures. However, testing verified that the software worked as expected and that the payload is structurally sound. The team is now working to upgrade the electrical system to be more robust and redundant. Overall, DITL testing was considered as success based upon the knowledge gathered from the test results.


Pictures from DITL Testing

(Images courtesy of Oscar Resto of the University of Puerto Rico)


Program Overview

RocketSat-X is a student-led project out of the University of Colorado at Boulder. The project lasts for about 10 months, and allows students in their freshman and sophomore years to get involved in the engineering process, all the way from the design and review process through the construction and launch of their payload. This year's RocketSat-X project is the 10th iteration of the RocketSat program.


Mission Objective

The objective of RocketSat-10 is to generate a sample of an immiscible alloy composed of 80% Aluminum and 20% Indium by mass to investigate the effect of microgravity on the solidification on a metallic microstructure. The team plans to complete this mission by fulfilling the following success criteria:

  • Retrieval of the Aluminum-Indium flight sample formed in microgravity
  • Generation of ground samples (control samples) for comparison to flight sample
  • Verification of successful heating and solidification processes via telemetry data


The Basic Science Behind the Mission

To explore how an immiscible alloy system behaves in gravity versus microgravity, a bimetallic system involving very different metals had to be used. The metals chosen for this experiment are Aluminum and Indium. Due to large differences in their densities and chemical properties, the two metals do not mix well when under the influence of gravity. They behave much like oil and water. However, there is point where the two will mix homogeneously. This equilibrium point exists in mixture of the two metals that is about 17.5% indium by mass. To gain a solid understanding of the system in microgravity, this sort of mixture is not ideal. A homogeneous mixture in gravity and microgravity will not show the influence of gravity on the system. By increasing the mass ratio of indium in the samples during ground tests, we can observe when the system clearly falls away from the equilibrium point. This will be indicated by a clear separation of the two metals after they have cooled. This point has been documented to be about 20% to 30% indium by mass. A sample with a mass ratio of 20% indium and 80% aluminum will be used on launch day. The use of this mass ratio was determined through extensive control sample generation and analysis under a Scanning Electron Microscope. The analysis was done in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This will give us two immiscible alloy samples where one is produced in gravity and the other in microgravity. From these samples, we will be able to help identify how gravity influences the solidification of a bimetallic alloy.


How the Mission Will Work

Besides exploring the behavior of an immiscible alloy in microgravity, the payload also employs a unique system in order to complete the objectives of the mission. The heating and melting of the sample will be done with an induction heater. The sample will placed within the induction coil and heated via an induced current. The induction coil requires at least 12 VDC to run. This results in the induction coil system pulling about 10 A during the operation of the experiment. Power for this system will be provided through lithium-polymer batteries. The sample is predicted to reach about 900 degrees Celsius. To contain the heat, the sample will be contained within the induction heater encased in concrete. Cooling of the system will take place using conduction throught the copper ring. The copper ring will act as a heat sink for the sample after the heating system has been deactivated. Shown below are images of the fully assemble payload. The top two images show the outside of the payload and the accompanying paint scheme. The bottom image shows the fully assemble system inside of the payload. The concrete encased induction coil can be seen at the top of the payload. The rest of the system includes the resonator (left), the Arduino Mega and printed circuit board for power regulation and sensors (bottom), and batteries (right).




Mission Timeline

Time (with respect to launch) Time Event
T - 180 seconds

Begin recording payload and experiment sensor data

T - 0 seconds

Launch of sounding rocket.

Switch to power provided by sounding rocket batteries and continue recording payload and experiment sensor data.

T + 103 seconds

Sounding rocket activates ACS for despin and enters a minimal gravity environment

T + 130 seconds

Experment begins by starting induction heater and metling the Al-In system

T + 190 seconds

Deactivate induction heater and allow the sample to cool

T + 198 seconds

Rocket payload reaches apogee

T + 298 seconds Finish cooling of Al-In system
T + 308 seconds

ACS activates to spin-up rocket in preparation for re-entry

T + 332 seconds

All payloads are deactivated and safed in preparation for re-entry

T + 470 seconds

Parachute deploys

T + 832 seconds Splash down in Atlantic occurs


The Rocket

The rocket provided by Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) for the RocketSat-X program is a simple sounding rocket. More specifically, the rocket is called a Terrier Improved Malemute. It is a two-stage rocket using solid rocket boosters. The video below shows a launch of a Terrier Improved Malemute. The video was recorded by WFF and shows the RocketSat-X launch from 2011. More information on the different rockets WFF uses can be found here at WFF's website.


The X-HED project first flew in 2013 along with the RocketSat-9 payload. Besides providing views from 115 km, X-HED provides views of the other payloads. Some payloads have deployable sections and cannot record or see them. X-HED provides video of the flight to other payloads. Overall, COSGC must provide video of the flight and X-HED fulfills this requirement. X-HED will be flying again along with RocketSat-10 on this year's rocket.


RocketSat-9 and Past Missions

RocketSat-9 was the 9th iteration of the RocketSat national program run the University of Colorado-Boulder. RocketSat-9 is also known as the Crystallization in Microgravity Experiment (CRYME). CRYME was built to investigate the validity of microgravity crystalline experiments on sounding rockets. A supersaturated solution of Sodium Acetate Trihydrate (SAT) was used to analyze difference in reaction speed and uniformity between results obtained under Earth and Microgravity conditions. To conduct this experiment, four wells were constructed out of aluminum. Two 42 mL wells housed the supersaturated solutions, and a seed crystal was introduced via linear actuator to initiate a crystallization reaction. In addition, two 2 mL well were also constructed to serve as control trials for the experiment. Results of this experiment were recorded on board with a high definition camera and telemetry data was downlinked to a ground station by means of a low resolution camera. The results of this investigation contribute to a wide range of fields, specifically pharmaceutical, semiconductor, and crystallography research.

The following pictures show a basic layout of the payload along with the finished product. The SolidWorks models show how the wells and electrical housing interface with each other and the payload deck. The model also shows how the camera is situated above the wells (purple object). The final pictures show the payload right before final integration and flight.





In the end, an electrical failure within the payload resulted in a partial success. The seed crystal failed to reach the SAT because the actuator was not able to activate. However, the partial success was achieved through a secondary objective. The hypothesis before flight was that the vibrations of launch would not crystallize a solution of SAT and only a seed crystal could trigger the reaction. This hypothesis was validated by post-launch investigations. Visual inspection and low resolution images proved that the SAT solution remained un-crystallized throughout flight. Activating the mechanical triggers after launch verified that a seed crystal is the only known way to initiate the reaction. Final scientific results, analysis, and more mission details can be found here.

To read about past RocketSat projects and their missions, click here.

For more information on the RocketSat-X national program, please visit their page found here. If you would like to receive more information on RocketSat-10 or any other past RocketSat projects, please contact Kristian Kates at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Last Updated 05 May 2015

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