Balloons, business and NASA

Four student teams are bound for NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. They are the finalists from ten teams who entered NASA’s Balloonsat competition, part of NASA’s education program, to design experiment payloads for balloons to be released from Glenn. The teams and their experiments are:

  • Charlottesville High School, Charlottesville, Va. — “The Effects of Near-Space Conditions on Escherichia Coli Bacteria”
  • Upper St. Clair High School, Upper St. Clair, Pa. — “The Effect of Near-Space Conditions on Microbial Life Forms”
  • Stansbury High School, West Jordan, Utah — “Thermal Moisture Penetration”
  • North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C. — “Variations on Polyethylene Hard Disk Radiation Shields”

They have been given funding to design and fly the experiments and travel expenses for themselves and an advisor to travel to the research center.

Although a fun way to involve students in NASA’s activities, the competition mirrors the way NASA actually does business, with other groups competing for contracts with the organisation. One such winner of such a contract, bringing in up to $45 million to the company concerned, is ERC Inc, which will work with the Space Technology Division in the Office of the Director of Exploration Technology at NASA’s Ames research center. ERC will work to produce hypervelocity vehicles for use in the atmospheres of different planets, including Earth’s. The areas of research the company will work on includes:

– Understanding the chemistry and physics of hypersonic, reacting and radiating flows;
– Analyzing the aerothermodynamics of entry systems, aeronautics and space vehicle trajectories;
– Developing, modifying and applying computational fluid dynamics tools and quantum computing capabilities;
– Engineering ablative, reusable and multi-functional thermal protection materials and conducting materials science research;
– Planning, executing and analyzing experiments and testing the thermodynamics of materials;
– Studying the mechanisms of pre-biotic geochemistry;
– Providing educational outreach and internship employment opportunities to acquaint students with public service, and enhance their educational experience in support of NASA technology research and development program requirements.

What comes out of this sort of stuff asides from jobs and money? Well, one thing to come out of research into air flow rates is this – a tiny sensor. Might not look like much, but the sensor will improve the characterisation of wind flow tunnels, which in turn will help improve everything tested in them from aircraft to racing cars.

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