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Drexel Space Systems Lab Students Take First Place at AIAA Conference

April 25, 2012

Drexel Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics (MEM) students from the Drexel Space Systems Lab took first place in the regional American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference at Penn State University on April 13 and 14. Top honors went to seniors Frank Arute, Kelly Collett and Tim Wilwert for their design of a spacer assembly for Polar Orbiting Passive Atmospheric Calibration Spheres (POPACS).

POPACS is a mission to assess changes in the density of the upper atmosphere in response to heightened solar activity. In partnership with Planetary Systems Corporation and project director, Gil Moore, the DSSL students designed a delivery system for POPACS that will protect it during it launch and deployment in to orbit.

Next year marks the beginning of Solar Maximum 24, a period when the sun experiences an increase in solar activity which results in a thickening of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The thickening creates increased drag on satellites during orbit shortening their lifespan. The POPACS team hopes their contribution to the research will provide valuable data to the scientific community and satellite engineers.

“It’s [about] the great unknown. We’re still really looking in to how things outside of our planet affect us,” Collett said.

For their work, the students won $500 and will present their design at the AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting in Grapevine Texas next January. The Drexel POPACS team is advised by Dr. Jin Kang.