For fifteen 6th grade S.P.A.R.T.A. team members from Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) Timberlane Middle School (TMS), and their science teacher, Kimberly Renick, spring break was a little different this year. Instead of binge watching favorite TV shows, sleeping in, or embarking on a family road trip, the students participated in a contest sponsored by NASA’s Microgravity University for Educators (MgUE).
The contest challenged students across the country to design the best Satellite Launching Experimental Device (SLED) that would solve the International Space Station’s thorny extraterrestrial problem of failing to release satellites when commanded. Student designs needed to account for a satellite travelling no more than 5 ft./sec., mimicking a true satellite deployment speed, and intersect a target moving at 1 ft./sec. They also had to decide whether they thought an automatic or manual launch best solved the problem. Though TMS students presented 66 designs based on historical and current launching devices to Ms. Resnick, 6th grader Bryce Ansari’s was chosen by MgUE and TEAM S.P.A.R.T.A. was given the go ahead, along with only eleven other national teams, for prototype building.
For many of the S.P.A.R.T.A. team members that met before and after school, and on one long weekend, the experience of building the prototype not only introduced them to the many frustrations of building machines but it was also the first time using saws and drills. Though teachers were on hand for guidance, the students did all of the work. In the end, students built a sling shot-type mechanism that projected a disk when triggered by a hand-held remote.
During the week of April 3rd, Renick and the other teachers representing 14 states and 1 territory, tested the student-built prototypes of the twelve selected teams in the microgravity environment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houseton, Texas. Though the actual testing was physically performed by teachers, students across the nation were in constant touch, watching the unfolding events via a live video feed, providing direction for prototype improvements.
Though the SLED reached its target twice during testing, the remote control experienced a delay and S.P.A.R.T.A.’s SLED. didn’t win the contest. Despite the disappointment, “It was a huge deal to be selected,” said Renick whose team fixed the remote issue when she came home with the device.
For a video of S.P.A.R.T.A.’s SLED, see below:
Satellite Launching Experimental Device (SLED) that will automatically deploy a mock satellite into a targeted zone mimicking a Mars orbital insertion in a simulated microgravity environment at Johnson Space Center