The Launch Team with CanSat Payload loaded on rocket - all systems go!  (Kevin Davis, Dru Ellsberry, and Laura Meyer)

The Launch Team with CanSat Payload loaded on rocket - all systems go! (Kevin Davis, Dru Ellsberry, and Laura Meyer)


The University of Maryland CanSat Team won first place in the 2009 International CanSat design competition held in Amarillo, Texas the weekend of June 13th. The CanSat competition, now in its fifth year, allows students to design, build, and test a rocket payload the size of an elongated soda can. The CanSat mission this year was to develop an autonomous payload that would monitor its GPS position and altitude in flight and then take ground thermal data and transmit it back to a ground station for three hours after landing. The payload had to fit within a specified volume, descend at a given rate, remain intact and continue functioning after landing. Besides designing a minimum weight structure and parachute system, the UMD CanSat Team also had to build and test electronics that included radios, a GPS unit, temperature sensors, batteries, as well as a micro-processor -- software also had to be developed to process and record data, facilitate transfer from flight to ground mode, and respond to ground commands.

The team consisted of: Dru Ellsberry (graduate student), Laura Meyer (junior and team leader), Jarred Young (graduated senior and rising graduate student), Kevin Davis and Samantha Lustig (juniors), Connie Ciarleglio and A.K. Hyder (sophomores), and Keith Burghardt (freshman)--all aerospace engineering students, most associated with the ENAE Space Systems Lab and with previous experience building small payloads that are launched on weather balloons. This team of outstanding students, which was formed at the end of the fall semester, worked tirelessly through the spring to present professional quality design reviews and schedule updates and perform preliminary testing of subsystems. This effort culminated in a four day trip to Amarillo, Texas, where the final configuration was assembled, tested, and flown, followed by a post-flight briefing on performance and data collected. Despite severe sleep deprivation and a number of setbacks, the team never settled for anything less than their best effort, and ultimately beat the competition by a significant margin!

Having never participated in this competition before, the UMD CanSat Team came out of the blue to win by a score of 113%, while second place was taken by the University of Michigan THS (108%), and third place was awarded to the University of Alabama at Huntsville (106%)! Eighteen of Twenty-six registered teams competed in Texas, including teams from MIT, Virginia Tech, and the Indian Institute of Information Technology, as well as other international teams from Canada and Mexico. The competition was quite challenging , however, much was learned about design choices and last minute decisions, as well as the value of persistence.

Special thanks go to the Maryland Space Grant Consortium for funding the project and years of support building the infrastructure and expertise necessary to compete at a top level; thanks also to the Space System Lab and the aerospace department for providing lab space and equipment, overhead support, and additional funding; and thanks to Dean Darryl Pines, who has actively encouraged participation in national and international competitions.

Photos and article submitted by Dr. Mary Bowden

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June 16, 2009

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