Friday, October 24, 2014

Get Involved! Q&A with PSAS

2:51 PM

Maseeh College student groups are crowdfunding now until October 31 to raise money for their projects. Learn more about Portland State Aerospace Society and their their campaign at the College's Portland State of Mind Open House on Tuesday, October 21st from 2-5 pm. 

Q: Please introduce yourself, your school standing and your position in the group!
A: Hi! My name is Erin Schmidt, and I'm starting my senior year as a mechanical engineering undergraduate student. I'm officially 'el presidente del PSAS', however we are a very horizontally integrated group (fitting perhaps for such an ad hoc collection of space nerds and open source hippies).

Q: What are you most looking forward to this year?
A: We have lots of cool things going on this year! In a nutshell, PSAS was basically founded on the somewhat absurd ambition of injecting a 1 kg nanosatellite into Low Earth Orbit. To do this requires, among other things, a steerable rocket. This is because getting to orbit fundamentally requires hitting a hitting specific trajectory, not just 'keep flying upwards till you're in space'. So, building a steerable rocket, how hard could that be? Well, pretty hard it turns out: we've spent most of our last 15 years as a student group just building up the technological platform for a steerable rocket test bed. We've had some great successes, as well as few humbling failures (AKA “learning experiences”), along the way. We homebrewed our own Intel Atom based flight computer, which runs a custom compiled Linux kernel. We've built and flown a fully functional roll control module, which is a major step towards our goal of a steerable orbital rocket. We also are able to get streaming telemetry, eventually including digital video, from the rocket over WiFi at velocities beyond Mach 1. We are now getting to the point where we've developed enough of the experience and technology that we can start thinking seriously about our groups bigger goals, e.g. the space rocket, which means the days are growing quite heady indeed! What I look forward to most is the upcoming pair of launches planned for this coming spring and summer, including one with our shiny, new, super strong and ridiculously low weight carbon composite airframe. It is going to be an awesome experience!

Q: What are some exciting new events/projects your group will be starting?
A: This year we want to put the finishing touches on our new carbon composite airframe, miniaturize our flight computer to fit the standard ‘cubesat’ form factor, develop a static test stand for testing more powerful liquid engines than the solids we are currently using, and building a 6-axis attitude control system.

Q: What can students get out of by being involved with your group?
A: Firstly, rockets are intrinsically cool, and working on them is its own reward. Secondly, people who become involved in our group can expect to get lots of hands on experience with innovative technologies, and will quickly be immersed in tricky systems engineering set in an extremely interdisciplinary setting. Our group has mechanical, electrical & computer and computer science graduate and undergraduate students. Along the way, mechanicals can't help but learn something about real time computing and embedded systems, and electrical & computer engineering students might become surprisingly well educated about the subtleties of carbon composite manufacturing processes… We’re a bunch of star-stuck dreamers, and sometimes we find personal inspiration in seemingly impossible projects.

Q: How can others help?
A: Well, given the scope of our goals, we want as much help we can get. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to contribute, we encourage anyone who is interested and willing to get their hands dirty to come check out our meetings every TUESDAY at 7:00 PM in FAB 86-01. There are also intro meeting for new members every first Tuesday of the month, they start at 6:00 PM in FAB 86-01 as well. These meetings are the best way to learn what we're about and how you can help! Also, bring your space nerd friends even if they aren't engineering students; we need all sorts of unique skills to make this project work.

Q: What difference will a successful crowdfunding make? What can this support enable you to accomplish?
A: No one ever said getting to space was easy. In the grand historical scheme of things, it is a trick our species has managed only very recently. It is inspiring to me that we are now to the point where mere university students can dream, not idly, of sending their own rockets to space. Indeed, there is now a space race of sorts going on to see who will be the first university group to breach the von Karman line, the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, 100 kilometers up. There is some serious competition out there, from groups in Europe and from elsewhere in the US. It is very likely that somebody will manage to do it in the next 3-5 years. However, we are hoping the very first will be from Oregon.

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