Project at the Colorado Space Grant Consortium

January 2014 - April 2016

rs10 team
The RocketSat-10 launch team. From left to right: COSGC Director Chris Koehler, Science Team Lead April Olson, Project Manager Kristian Kates, Systems Engineer Tyler Joy, Structures Team Lead Ashley Zimmerer.

Program Background

The RocketSat-10 project was a part of the national RockSat-X program run by the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. RockSat-X provides low cost access to space for experiments designed by student teams at universities across the United States. The RockSat-X sub-orbital Terrier Improved Malemute sounding rocket launches from Wallops Island, Virginia.

RocketSat-10 Mission

My team worked with scientists from the Air Force Research Laboratory to determine our mission: to melt a sample of the immiscible elements aluminum and indium in microgravity, and compare the resulting microstructure to that of an identical sample melted on Earth.

My Role

As the Team Lead for the Structures sub-system, I collaborated with the Electrical and Science sub-system teams to meet all our design requirements. I designed parts and the component layout, sourced materials, manufactured components, and tested the payload.


payload render2
The induction coil that melts metal sample generates extreme heat. To protect the other electronics, I positioned it along the outer edge of the payload.
payload internals
The concrete encasing the copper coils both insulates the sample inside, and helps shield the electronics from heat.
payload render1
The payload seals to protect the electronics from damage and the sample from possible contamination. All components are secured to an aluminum 'mounting plate'. Bolts attach the aluminum shell through a rubber gasket and the mounting plate to the flight plate.
shell render
I designed the shape of the shell to contain as much volume as possible while meeting the payload's volume restrictions. The flat side of the shell provided an ideal surface for mounting the power and telemetry connector.
rs shell
I designed the aluminum shell to hold atmospheric pressure against the vacuum of the outer atmosphere and the water pressure of an ocean landing.
To prevent the printed circuit boards from shorting with the aluminum mounting plate and spacers, I designed and laser cut acrylic 'isolation plates' which the boards attach to with plastic bolts. The isolation plates are then secured to the mounting plate with steel bolts.
heat sink
I machined the copper heat sinks my teammate designed for cooling several electronic components.
fan bracket
We used fans to force convection over the copper heat sinks so the electronic components would cool faster. I designed the plastic brackets that held the fans in place.
payload pano
The fan brackets were 3D printed with strong, lightweight, PLA plastic.


multi part
I used a ProtoTRAK CNC to machine many of the parts used on our payload. This is one of the drawings I referenced when hand-programming the CNC.
Our experiment called for many of the same flat-pattern copper part. To save time, I stacked multiple sheets of copper, overlaid them with a thicker aluminum sheet, bolted them to a block, and machined up to 18 flat-patterns at once.
I also used the ProtoTRAK CNC to machine the copper heatsinks mentioned above.


Ashley and rocket
I assisted with much of the testing we performed. We generated at least one hundred metal samples in the lab to ensure the systems worked properly. We later compared these samples' structures to the sample melted in microgravity.
Ashley and rocket
At Wallops Flight Facility, I mounted the payload to the Terrier Improved Malemute sounding rocket with the help of NASA technicians. The rocket underwent center of mass and vibration testing.


rs10 launch
The RocketSat-10 payload launched on April 18th, 2015 and August 12th, 2015. All systems worked as intended before and after each launch. Unfortunately, the first flight was delayed, resulting in the payload's onboard batteries draining. The second flight went according to plan, and we obtained a sample melted and re-solidified in microgravity.

'Header' rocket launch image credit: NASA/Alison Stancil, April 18 2015
'Result' rocket launch image credit: NASA/Chris Perry, April 18 2015