Helena native Joseph St. Columbia Jr., related his experiences as chief engineer of the Mississippi State Space Cowboys and his future internship with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Rotary's weekly luncheon Wednesday.
St. Columbia has been working with NASA the past 12 months. He provided a brief description on his up coming internship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
St. Columbia, a graduate of Desoto School and currently a senior at Mississippi State University, is completing his bachelor's degree in aerial space engineering. He is currently on the dean's list.
St. Columbia was invited to join the Space Cowboys space engineering rocket team and in 2012 was appointed chief engineer of the Space Cowboys. He was recently appointed as chief engineer for the 2013-2014 academic year.
“Who are the space cowboys? We basically compete in a university student launch initiative competition sponsored by NASA and ATK, another air space company,” stated St. Columbia.
According to St. Columbia, this allows students with a collegiate career to have hands-on experience in engineering before they go out into the real world of engineering.
St. Columbia reported that competition prepared him and his team for what they will be required to do in their career fields. He added that their team's project detailed a rocket-deploy telescoping mast integrated system, or ARTEMIS, that would ultimately meet the requirements NASA proposed.
“We basically had to design a rocket based on NASA standards and beyond, as I like to say,” said St. Columbia.
St. Columbia explained that the structure of the rocket started from the ground up including a rocket pad, arrow spike, motor, (the same motor type that is used for the space shuttle solid rocket boosters) payloads, a GPS to navigate where the vehicle has landed and an electronic source which ignites the motor.
“The requirements stated that the rocket should reach apogee or the highest altitude as well as a successful recovery system, which includes two parachutes that allow us to recover them,” commented St. Columbia.
St. Columbia went onto say that the rocket design that their team built was 11 feet tall and 6.62 inches in diameter and required a fin for stabilization as well as an equal distribution of mass due to fact that less weight is needed with more thrust.
“The success of a launch was based on the success of reaching a mile and successfully recovering your vehicle,” stressed St. Columbia.
We used an L1359 motor or L-class motor, which burns for 3 seconds, and the total flight path of the rocket is about 11 to 17 seconds,” said St. Columbia.
St. Columbia added that the project started in August when the team was given the rules and regulations and ended in May, about 9 months worth of work for 17 seconds of flight time.
Page 2 of 2 - “A lot of things can go wrong in 17 seconds,” he continued.
St. Columbia said measurements of wind velocity, launch angles, tons of simulations and countless hours were spent finalizing the design before the final launch date.
St. Columbia reported that the vehicles were equipped with payloads, which its primary function was collecting atmospheric data and taking pictures on decent and landing for 10 minutes.
“Virtually, its objective is to record temperatures, relative humidity, pressure, and UV radiation and send it to the location where we are stationed,” explained St. Columbia.
Fortunately, all the hard work paid off and according to St. Columbia the launch was a success and the team placed fifth among 35 teams and was awarded the best over-all project award.
Before closing St. Columbia thanked his dad and coach Ben Pittman who treated him to the rocket shows in Pensacola, Fla. and a real space shuttle launch, which sparked his interest in space at a young age.
“Without them, I wouldn't be the man I am today,” concluded St. Columbia.