Boredom in Math Class Has Some *Interesting* Results

I got bored in Diffy Q's today, so I made up a new function. It is a sort of step function, but it increases so fast that it blows your mind. I had to make up some new notation for it. Here it is:

f(x) = x!x

What it does is it takes the number x and puts it through x number of factorials. Thus,

If x = 1, f(x) = 1! = 1
If x = 2, f(x) = 2!! = 2
If x = 3, f(x) = 3!!! = 720!
If x = 4, f(x) = 4!!!! = (6.2 x 1023)!!

Obviously this is an impressive function. Just imagine how big a number you'd get if you have x = GoogolplexGoogolplexGoogolplexGoogolplex. YIPERS!!


I Just Stopped Grinning

... because it is the week before finals, a week appropriately termed "Dead Week." It is rainy and gloomy, and studies hang over students' heads like dark, ominous clouds. But with gritted teeth I forge onward, with the knowledge that the light at the end of the tunnel of my freshman year is just a week and two days hike from where I stand. This darkness of small hard things is a necessary disgruntlement before the pleasantries of the summer. Keep smiling, students!

My head is currently swarming with thoughts of first and second order linear differential equations, homogeneous and nonhomogeneous thereof, theorems of existence and uniqueness, of complex roots and multiple eigenvalues, of laPlace transforms and principles of linear superposition and linear operators, of Gaussian elimination and polynomial least squares regression... *Shudder.* Coincidentally, my brain is also trying to process the three laws of thermodynamics, isobaric and isochoric processes, internal energy and whether work is positive or negative, and a whole slew of other stuff pertaining to physics. I just mentioned .02% of what I dream about at night.

Final Examination... that phrase sends shudders up my spine.


USLI Recap

I must say, that was probably the most fun and exciting launch I have ever been to! All the rockets were so unique and high-powered. It's rather unfortunate we didn't get to stay for the entire thing, but what we were able to see was amazing.

Our own launch was not too bad. Everything recovered safely. Just having the rocket function properly was success enough. It tore off the pad and canted at a slight angle, thus only reaching an altitude of 3200 feet. The drogue and only the drogue came out at apogee. We then tracked the descent, and shouted for the payload to deploy. It was supposed to deploy at 2500 feet, but it did not. Finally, at 700 feet the main charge went off, and it popped out along with the main parachute. In 700 feet it was hard to tell if the CDV was doing its job, but it did land in the SE direction as programmed. The only catch is that it was 300m too far to the SE. However, it was closer to the mark than the rest of the rocket, which descended more rapidly than the payload. This suggests that the payload was at least trying to get back to the landing zone.

I can't stop grinning.

By the time we got home, we pretty much had our entire project for next year planned out.


Live Streaming Tomorrow

The launch tomorrow will be streamed live, so anyone that's interested can see it live:


There will also be a Twitter page:


Stay tuned! We hope to launch as EARLY as we can tomorrow, possibly as early as 8am.

Day Two: Rocket Fair, Rain, and Post-poned Launch

This post is about yesterday.

The rocket fair was half the fun. I enjoyed seeing all the projects other teams came up with.

This team was able to power there electronics with the exhaust of the motor.

MIT came up with a UAV. It was originally going to be autonomous, but not anymore.

Arizona State has a rover. Pretty legit.

Here's the team. Back: Chris. Middle: Krystina. Fore left: Thomas. Fore right: Mikaela.

So that was cool and all, the only catch was that Saturday was turning out to be terrible weather on the forecast. So we are now launching on Sunday.

This is good and bad. The good part is that there will be almost no wind, and our payload doesn't function well in the presence of even the slightest wind. The downside is that we have to be back for classes on Monday, and there is a 14 hour drive between us. We'll have to launch as early as we can and then leave, so we'll probably miss many of the launches. :(

Oh well. I'll fill you in on the happenings of today a little later.


Day One: NASA, Rocket Prep and Inspection

 The first day was the "fun" day, and we got to go behind the scenes of many of the NASA facilities there at Marshall Space Flight Center. Of the more interesting that we did was the friction stir welding, the life support systems facility, and the ISS Payload Operations Center.

We then headed back to the hotel to get our rocket inspected, where it was scrutinized thoroughly by very experienced rocketeers.

This shot is of the meeting at the beginning of the day, and shows just how many people are here for this event. We got to meet a few other teams here, including one guy that was on a team by himself.

This is one of the pieces they are fabricating using the method of friction stir welding. It is such a good method that it makes to pieces and turns them into one piece. They've never had to redo a welding job ever. Basically, how it works is that it has a spinny thing that rubs the metal so hard that it melts under the heat of friction, and then they stir it around and mix it up, and there you have it.

This here was originally going to be part of the Space Station, but it never got fully funded, so this place got it, and they use it to exercise in an our a day to collect sweat that they use for experimentation.

This building had giant doors:

The Payload Operations Center was very interesting. It receives data from every US experiment on the station and controls the operation of said experiments.

The minimum amount of monitors per computer I saw was maybe five. One computer workstation had ten monitors surrounding it in a perimeter.

The Payload Operations Center also has Shuttle Observation room which could serve as a mini control room in the event that there was a really bad storm or hurricane in Houston. While the guy was talking I opened up Minesweeper and got the high score. So now any engineers that play minesweeper on that computer are going to see my name.

Saturn V mock-up.

Getting ready for inspection: How many aerospace engineers does it take to screw in an eye-bolt?

Inspection went well. We only got four fixes on our fix-it sheet, all of which were doable.

Inspecting the altimeters.

I do enjoy converting hotel rooms into rocket workshops. 



Going on a Cool Adventure

This morning we are embarking on an exciting trip down to Huntsville Alabama where all our hard work over the past year will come to fruition.

Did I mention that NASA is ridiculous sometimes? Like, for getting a waiver for 5600 feet when the altitude goal is 5280 feet, and then restricting teams from using the motors they need that will get them close but a little over the altitude goal which is nearing the waiver limit but which is really not a big deal because you can always add mass to the rocket to bring it down to the right altitude and you can't always reduce mass to increase the mass and I'm sorry for the run-on sentence. And hopefully they do not read my blog, because I wouldn't want to insult the agency that went to the moon and is doing our judging and all that... But seriously, come on, NASA. Get your head in the game. Get out and actually go to a few high-power rocket launches once in a while.

I'll get off my soapbox.

Anyhoo, wish us well. Things could either go really well, or really bad.

The payload is 99% complete. We'll probably be putting all the finishing touches on it in our hotel or something. That would be funny.


Structure of the Payload Complete, Programming Complete, Leaving Tomorrow

The payload is finished. The electronics are all soldered down. The program that runs it all has been completed in its first revision. The rocket has been painted snazzily. The only downside to this progress is that we worked until one in the morning, and I had a diff eq quiz at eight in the morning. SO... I took a three hour nap between 1:30 and 4:30, woke up and studied solid until now.

I brought some radio control equipment to try doing some drop tests in the Howe Hall atrium, but the only thing we learned from our one drop test is that we need a bigger parachute. It came down hard and fast, and broke off one of the freshly epoxied pieces. Easily mended though.

I'm not sure we'll be able to get much done today, however, because tonight the ISSS club is hosting a "Yuri's Night" party, a celebration of 50 years of human space travel, and everyone is going to be involved in hosting this. I might sneak in a few moments to put on the finishing touches though.

There will hopefully be live streaming of the USLI event on NASA TV this Saturday, so stay tuned for that. I'll post a link.


Payload Taking Shape

The CDV is starting to come together. I've been working on some of the functionality of the design, and composed this drawing:

The idea is to guide the payload in the style of a skydiver, pulling on the parachute shroud lines to cause it to drift in that direction. This is accomplished with a model sailboat servo mounted on the base of the nosecone. All of the shroud lines are anchored to the eye-bolt in the tip of the nose, but additional lines are added to the right and left shroud lines for control. That way the servo doesn't bare any of the shock.

Here's a photo of the nosecone with the servo resting on top:

In addition to working on the structure of the payload, we continued to work on the programming of the microcontroller unit. We also started soldering the board together more permanently.

Sadly, we lost a chip. It was a gyro, that measured the angular speed. It must have gotten dropped in the lab somewhere. At least it wasn't the most vital chip, like the GPS unit. We could probably get by without it, because we didn't even write it into the code.

We have only today and tomorrow to get this thing finished.


We Have GPS!

Yesterday we got a lock on satellites with our GPS unit, wired together most of our electronic components on a breadboard, and outlined our entire code in C++, all in one day. It was a very productive day. Today, hopefully we will finalize the rough draft of our code, and hard-wire our board together. We might even get to mounting stuff in the nosecone, which will be our controlled descent vehicle (which from hence forth I will refer to as the CDV, a la NASA).

I'm going to bring my camera in today so you can see some pictures of what we're up to.


Electronics for Our Payload

Shockingly, the USLI launch is in just one week. We have very little time to complete the electronics for the payload, and with many, many roadblocks, we just might be pulling some long hours in the coming days. So here's the rundown:

We were using a program called MPLab to program the MCU, but day after day, we would spend ALL our time getting back up to the point we had left off the day before, and thus could make no forward progress.

The functionality of these electronics are so advanced that even the seniors on the team are confused (so of course, I am almost no help, but I've learned the most of everybody). These electronics have a very steep learning curve.

But basically, the goal is to have a controlled descent vehicle deploy at 2500 feet on the way down, and get data from GPS, calculate a landing zone destination, and use servos connected to the parachute shroud lines to guide it in that direction. Yah. We were pretty ambitious. But we could pull it off. Actually, our decision to make the entire thing completely autonomous stems from a laziness on our part. We didn't want to have to hassle with a ground tracking station, which is actually more work than it sounds. A computer could actually (probably) control the descent vehicle better than a human could.

But since MPLab was giving us fits, we are now using an open source system called Arduino, and is working MUCH better. Now are only serious problem (besides the fact that we're behind schedule) is that we can't get a lock on any GPS satellites.

We leave on Wednesday. The launch will be on Saturday.

I'm not really pinning any hopes on winning this competition. I don't care if we're third to last. I just want to beat the other schools I applied to: Embry-Riddle and MIT.

Well, that's all for now. I'll be sure to try and update the blog daily, so you can follow our progress.


I Won a Competition!!

Of four people that entered the Iowa State Space Society's model rocket beauty contest, I came out on top, shockingly. Especially considering the fact that I decided to enter and started building only yesterday.

It was modeled after a rocket propelled grenade, and it flew like one, too. I packed the fuselage full of orange chalk-line powder for added effect. It was epic. I'm kind of disappointed that I forgot to bring my camera.

The first prize was a signed copy of "Rocket Boys" by Homer Hickam.

I'll post a picture of the rocket once I get it fixed. It had a rather rough landing...