Cal Poly Takes A Ride In Nasa's Vomit Comet

October 04, 2013


The purpose of the project was to develop and demonstrate technology to allow a floating experimental rig to track a target (a small purple ball in this case) in microgravity.  A laser pointer and feedback system kept then system tracking the purple ball while NASA’s “Vomit Comet Aircraft” had the apparatus and students floating together in a zero gravity environment as shown in the picture above.  NASA’s interest in the technology lies with future spacecraft which will use similar tracking software to lock onto objects or target areas, such as landing sites for spacecraft.

The students on the team were: Christian Hume (Electrical Engineering, Senior), Brandon Bussjaeger (Computer Science, Senior), Sara Lillard (Aerospace Engineering, Junior), Jenna Becker (Mechanical Engineering, Junior), and Bodin Rojanachaichanin (Mechanical Engineering, Junior).  Professor John Oliver of the Electrical Engineering Department served as the faculy advisor both on the ground and in the air.  Robert Hirsh served as the  NASA mentor for the project and his guidance contributed greatly to the succes of the project.

Cal Poly was one of 6 schools to participate in the SEED program this year, serving alongside: Carthage College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Yale University. The flights took place from July 30-August 2nd. A typical microgravity flight will have 30 parabolas of microgravity, 1 parabola of lunar gravity, and 1 parabola of martian gravity.  

. Each microgravity parabola lasts roughly 20 seconds, with 35+

seconds for the lunar and martian gravity parabolas.  These microgravity flights induced weightlessness and allowed the students to feel the same affects astronauts feel when on a satellite or a space shuttle.  The students took away a feeling of accomplishment with a successful project and a sense of awe for the vast unknown that is space.

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