Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 6, 1995

Student-led HRRE Team Shoots for the Stars

By Ken Keatley

     Welcome to the real world.
     That was the unspoken message from the eight-member
Universities Space Research Association review panel that spent
the better part of last Wednesday politely grilling an
interdisciplinary team of students, faculty and research
scientists from Hopkins, Morgan State University and the Applied
Physics Laboratory. 
     The mood was tense in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and
Astronomy classroom, since the stakes were literally sky-high: if
their design for a $4 million satellite is one of the two chosen
from a field of six entrants, the Hopkins team--with the
sponsorship of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium--will go on to
build the spacecraft that in 1997 will search for the mysterious
"dark matter" that may make up most of the universe.
     "They're tough," said Mark Chang, a poised sophomore
majoring in electrical engineering, moments after completing the
presentation for his design group, Command and Data Handling.
"But it's not something that we didn't anticipate. We were
prepared to show them that there are significant risks to this
project, given the severe monetary constraints."
     Under the direction of principal investigator Richard C.
Henry and project scientist Marsha Allen, both Hopkins
astrophysicists, about 60 engineering and physics students and 30
scientists have worked on an integrated design for the satellite,
which has a minuscule budget compared to other similar space
mission projects. 
     Their intense, four-month effort began Oct. 1, after their
conceptual design was among six selected out of 66 proposals that
had been entered in the Student Explorer Demonstration
Initiative, a NASA-funded program. (Other finalists are groups
from the University of Michigan, University of New Hampshire,
Boston University and two from the University of Colorado).
     Twelve sub-groups--including Mission Operations, Radio
Frequency Communication and Budget--were assembled to design all
aspects of the satellite, which is called the Hydrogen
Recombination Radiation Experiment.
     And while the faculty and research scientists guided the
effort, the majority of the design work was orchestrated and
completed by students.
     "The students are terrific," said Dr. Henry. "If we win, it
will be because of the quality of the student presentations you
will see."
     Almost all of Wednesday's presentations before
representatives of the USRA, which is managing the STEDI program
for NASA, were made by students. And it was often students who
calmly responded to the pointed questions--on parts procurement,
details of a design component, etc.--from the panel.
     Jeff Booth, a junior majoring in physics and the lead
presenter for the Science Data Processing group, said that
compared to similar presentations he's seen for other projects,
the Hopkins/Morgan/APL effort was the best. He should know_as a
high school student in Norfolk, Va., he helped design a satellite
that flew on a space shuttle mission in September. He's also
worked in mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
     "This is the most hands-on experience I've had," Booth said.
"I hope we get it--I could use a summer job."
     If the team is selected, it will construct a 3-foot-long,
30-inch-wide satellite that will be deployed in early 1997 and
operated for one year. Its mission is a bold one: to detect
ultraviolet light in an attempt to measure the radiation from
hydrogen gas that scientists believe occupies the vast space
between galaxies. 
     If it succeeds, it will be a scientific landmark supporting
the Big Bang concept that "will approach Nobel Prize-winning
caliber," Dr. Henry said. "It's a major challenge."
     While the Hopkins/Morgan/APL team is eager to have the
opportunity to make history, participants agree that the
experience of designing a satellite has been an unforgettable and
invaluable educational experience.
     "I gained an aspect of engineering that you wouldn't get in
the classroom," said Cathryne Tondreau, a junior majoring in
electrical engineering.
     Braddock Gaskill, a colleague of hers in the Command and
Data Handling group, which had the reponsibility of designing the
onboard computer system, agreed.
     "It's been a real learning experience in more than just
engineering," said Gaskill. "I've gotten to work with a lot of
professional people in other groups and seen exactly how a big
project works. It gives you a feeling that all the more abstract
things learned in classes have a real application." 
     Hopkins was the first stop on the USRA review panel's tour.
Selection of the teams that will build the satellite should be
made by mid-February, panel chairman James S. Martin said.

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