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Aerospace Students To Ride NASA Vomit Comet

Date: Aug. 9, 2001
Story and photos by: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Archive: Research Archive

For the second time in two years, a team of University of Cincinnati aerospace students has been chosen to fly an experiment on board NASA's infamous "Vomit Comet."

nanosatellite lab work

The specially equipped KC-135A jet flies in a roller coaster-like pattern over the Gulf of Mexico, simulating the effects of weightlessness in space.

The UC students are trying to improve on control mechanisms for tiny satellites officially known as "nanosatellites." They are very small and inexpensive, but must fly through space together in tight formations to be completely effective. Unfortunately, Earth's gravity eventually takes its toll, and the nanosatellites would be knocked out of alignment.

Associate professor Trevor Williams is advising the students as part of his own research in nanosatellites. Together, they hope to find a simple method to nudge the satellites back into formation. During flights scheduled for August 14-17, several UC students will climb on board the Vomit Comet to test one control system.

nanosatellite lab work

They call their project "MAGICSat," which stands for Mass Aerodynamic Gravity-Gradient Interaction Control Satellite. For practical purposes, that means the students are using a redistribution of weights to change the angle of the satellite. Moved one way, the satellite would speed up. Moved to a different angle, it would slow down.

Those slight adjustments should be enough to get a nanosatellite back into its proper position, but the students will find out in a few weeks just how well the system works. If the experiment is successful, that means NASA might one day not need to use expensive propellants to control satellites in space.

The student team members are:

Aaron Swank, team leader, Wellington High School, Wellington, OH Bryce Smith, Monroeville High School, Monroeville, OH Carrie Rhoades, Clermont Northeastern High School, Batavia, OH Eric Riedl, Northwest High School, Cincinnati, OH Katherine Grendell, Beaumont School, Highland Heights, OH Kevin Harsley, Elder High School, Cincinnati, OH Matthew Urbaniak, Notre Dame Cathedral Latin, Painesville, OH Michael Volle, Badin High School, Hamilton, OH Scott Estridge, Mount Healthy High School, Cincinnati, OH Richard Garrison, Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville, OH

Get more information on the students' web site.

For information, photos, or video of the UC students on board the KC-135, contact NASA Program Coordinator Ms. Koan Davis at (512) 232-7516 or Eileen Hawley at the Johnson Space Center Media Relations office at

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