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Eberly News Blog

19 Aug

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a sounding rocket, launched annually by West Virginia University students from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.

Students in the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in the June RockSat launch. WVU has joined other colleges in participating every year since 2009.

This time, though, it also served as a dry run for a more complex rocket mission WVU students will attempt in April.

The two flights are part of a broader program called the Undergraduate Student Instrument Project, an educational flight opportunity sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics by providing a hands-on spaceflight experience.

WVU is one of 10 universities from across the United States funded by the project that will build, test and launch instruments on platforms ranging from weather (high-altitude) balloons to parabolic-flight aircrafts to rockets.

In the April 2015 mission, WVU students will launch a sounding rocket to measure electrical and magnetic phenomena at an altitude of 100 miles well within the Earth’s ionosphere – the edge of space.

“Space weather is a cutting-edge research topic that ties in our knowledge of electricity and magnetism in the upper atmosphere, to the effects on spacecraft operating in that environment,” said Dimitris Vassiliadis, research associate professor of physics at WVU.

Vassiliadis directs the project along with John Christian, aerospace assistant professor, and Amy Keesee, physics research assistant professor.

“Powerful space weather can (also) disrupt the function of technological assets on Earth, such as the power grid,” Vassiliadis said.

In addition to a plasma physics package, the rocket payload will contain a spaceflight instrumentation box, a GPS receiver, an atmospheric dust detector, radio antennas and several cameras.

Other universities funded by NASA’s Undergraduate Student Instrument Project include the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the University of Houston, the University of Central Florida, Louisiana State University and Carnegie Mellon University.

WVU involvement in rocket flights began in June 2009, with RockOn, a two-stage rocket, which like June’s RockSat reached an altitude of 75 miles.

WVU teams have designed and built a variety of physics, chemistry and engineering experiments that have flown on these missions.

The Undergraduate Student Instrument Project is a new NASA flight opportunity, which unlike its predecessor, includes experiments on rockets, balloons and aircraft. WVU is the only team to fly its experiments on a rocket.

WVU students in science, technology, engineering and math are needed starting this fall to prepare for the upcoming launch this spring.

Humanities students, particularly English and journalism students, are also welcome to sign up for an independent study course, to write about the development of these space experiments.

If you are interested in taking a course for credit, or simply helping with the project, contact Dimitris Vassiliadis at



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