Small Satellites for Secondary Students

At yet another successful teacher training event held in Chico, we were able to assist young ladies in putting together their own payloads for take off. The payloads each had a micro-controller as well as a unique sensor used for measuring and sending data from above. Please find all details, files, and images from this event below.

Small Satellites for Secondary Students


Michelle Rodriguez and Salam Ali

Chico, Ca



We split the girls up into middle school and High School teams; each with 3 to 4 girls per team. Originally, the middle school teams were supposed to go to BalloonFest to collect their data by balloons, but we had an issue with insurance and parent apprehension about driving that far (5 hours). Therefore, both the middle and high school teams collected data by the M3 rockets.


All Participants

Participant Name Grade
Marissa Armstrong 7th
Rhiannon Besser 9th
Amanda Bestor 6th
Harley Blunkall 11th
Sara Brogden 7th
Natalie Canida 7th
Tarra Crowley 8th
Keris Friedrichs 7th
Alyssa May 6th
Iris Miller 11th
Laryssa Olson 9th
Tatiana Solis 8th
Lily Wright 11th


Payload Details

We built four payloads, each containing all the essential and basic parts. Then, each payload had a sensor. We had the following sensors: Accelerometer, Humidity, Barometer and magnetometer. All the payloads worked perfectly and logged data except one; the magnetometer sensor was faulty. We flew 3 of the 4 payloads by rockets. Unfortunately, the rocket’s parachute tore the rocket apart and it became too damaged beyond repair. The good news is that we were able to collect data for all the payloads that got launched.

(Click photo to enlarge)


Payload Data Collection and Presentations

We were able to collect data for the Accelerometer, Barometer and Humidity sensor. The presentations are attached to the email.


Analyzing data received from the payload 


Overall Experience

Soldering session

In the overall experience expressed by the participants, they all enjoyed it. The thing they enjoyed most was learning the various capabilities of the sensors and learning how to solder. In addition, they expressed how interested they were in pursuing a career in a STEM career. We also had some of the parents express gratitude and said that they were surprised that a project like this was happening in such a small town. They said that they would love to see this program continue and to encourage young women that they can achieve a degree.




Link(s) to included file(s):


Low Powered S4 Launch at Moffett Field


Our rocket sitting on the pad waiting to launch (far left)


Time (seconds) vs Altitude (meters)


3D view of flight profile

Saturday 1/18/14 marked the first time the S4 payload had been flown on an ‘over the counter’ model rocket motor. The launch was attended by myself (Kevin John) and Ken Biba. We flew a couple of different airframes, including a lighter, off the shelf airframe flying on an F-40, and a larger custom made airframe flying on a G-80. The included data is from the G-80 flight, which reached a maximum height of about 807 ft. Had it come off the rail a bit straighter, it would have made it to about 880 ft.

This also marked our first test of our new communication protocols which replace TCP communication for UDP communication. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, what it means to you is that we no longer have to worry about our payloads loosing connection and stopping data collection. It’s a big improvement to data efficiency and speed as well.

We’ll be getting in touch with our teachers on how they can get their hands on one of these new low powered rockets soon, as soon as we get our Spring shipments of payloads lined up.

Small Satellites for Secondary Students – Teacher Training, July 8th – 13th

In partnership with AeroPac and the Endeavour Institute, the Education and Public Outreach group at Sonoma State University (E/PO) has just finished a week-long training at NASA Dryden’s Aero Institute. Fourteen middle and high school teachers and four Girl Scout leaders learned how to solder, build, test and program small experimental payloads that can be launched on high-power rockets (HPRs) or flown on tethered weather balloons. This program, “Small Satellites for Secondary Students” or “S4”, fills an important “missing link” in NASA’s educational pipeline between Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) and sounding rocket flights that are usually conducted by graduate students at research universities. The S4 program has created an educator’s guide and associated videos, as well as a hardware platform that can easily be used by secondary students to create their own experiments. Training week concluded on July 13 with the launch of the teachers’ payloads at the Lucerne dry lake bed, with help from the Rocketry Organization of California. We flew 19 payloads, receiving live WiFi 802.11g telemetry from most of them, with additional data backup on SD cards within the payload.

SSU undergraduate student Kevin Zack and Santa Rosa Junior College student Aaron Pacheco were primarily responsible for the design and manufacture of the S4 board, which has been commercially produced by Advanced Circuits.

The core of the training took place at Aero Institute’s offices in Palmdale, CA. Which, in early July, often saw 100+ degree F days.


The first two days were spent learning the basics of electronics and soldering which were then put to use in constructing the flight board.

flight board construction

flight board construction

Once the flight board was finished the educators were introduced to programming in Arduino’s Processing language. They were then able to upload the programs to the payload after which they installed the sensors onto the flight board and finalized the payload.

Beth Hill's finished payload

Beth Hill’s finished payload

On Thursday the educators took their payloads out to a local high school’s fields. They readied their payloads for tethered helium balloon flights, three-to-a-gondola, as dark storm clouds were approaching. Once a helium balloon was filled and tethered the winds really kicked up and and it began to rain.

With the weather too chaotic to fly helium balloons, the educators took their payloads around the high school on foot in order to get data.

Sam Koshy collecting data manually

Sam Koshy collecting data manually

The educators then proceeded to reduce their data and give presentations on it on Thursday and Friday.

On Saturday the training was shifted to the Lucerne dry lake bed about 70 miles east of Palmdale. There, the payloads were flown on 3 and 4 inch diameter rockets to altitudes as high as 4500 feet with on-site routers taking live data of each launch.

Donald Repucci rocket retrieval

Donald Repucci’s rocket retrieval

During the 2013-2014 academic year, the pilot teachers will help their students build their own experiments. Once completed, the payloads will be flown by partners including: California’s AeroPac prefecture of the Tripoli Rocketry Association, the LUNAR chapter of the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and ROC, as well as through programs such as the Endeavour Institute’s Balloon Fest. Students will be able to view many of the flights in real time, over the Internet, through the use of AeroPAC’s Virtual Classroom. They will then collect and analyze the resulting data. This program will provide unparalleled access to the design, development and flight process for hundreds of students involved in the pilot teams, while allowing thousands of additional students to participate online in the flight events and data collection and analysis.

WiFi Data Analysis

We are still deep in the data analysis phase, but we have some preliminary results. The 3 highest flights from which we received good WiFi signal were:

Greg  – max altitude 1828.1 meters (aqua)
Cougar – max altitude 1329.2 meters (yellow)
Kurt – max altitude 1244.7 meters (cyan)



We’ll see if anyone recorded a higher altitude on their SD cards and get back with that data on the next post.

Jeff’s Post



Hi, my name is Jeffrey and I’m a student from Napa Valley College working at Sonoma State University this summer. I applied to work for NASA E/PO at SSU because I am majoring in aerospace engineering and working full-time for NASA is my ultimate goal. The work done by NASA E/PO appealed to me a lot because I was excited to get some hands-on experience in rocketry and ballooning. I also appreciate the purpose of the S4 project, introducing rocketry to students at a younger age, making this hands-on experience more accessible to them by incorporating it into their math and science classes, and other activities the students are already involved in.

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Lauryn’s Post

Lauryn with Rocket

Hi! I’m Lauryn Loudermilk, and I’m a senior at SSU working on my degree in Computer Science. I started working for NASA EPO when Kevin John showed up at a Computer Science Club meeting that I was attending and announced he needed a web developer for the group. In a week I had been hired as a “Web Assistant” at my first official job as an undergrad.

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Balloon Fest April 20, 2013 – Analysis of ‘off the shelf’ WiFi signal strength


This year at Balloon Fest, we wanted to demonstrate a complete wireless setup that was not dependent on the Virtual Classroom, as shown here:

This could allow teachers and students in the S4 program to test their payloads on balloons before they attempt a rocket launch. We believe that a balloon launch to 1,000 ft is something that teachers in the S4 program could likely conduct on campus at their schools. During the experiment we were able to show that the wireless signal strength between the payload attached to the balloon and the ground based ‘off the shelf’ commercial router remained strong enough to continue the real-time transfer of data from the payload to the server. During this field test, we also were successful in debuting our new server model where data is saved to a MySQL database instead of a static text file.

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