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NMSU’s Physical Science Lab assists NM Space Grant with Pathway to Space Program

For almost a year, members of the New Mexico State University Physical Science Laboratory’s unmanned aircraft systems team have been working with New Mexico Space Grant Consortium officials in support of their New Mexico Pathway to Space pilot project.

New Mexico Pathway to Space is a yearlong program which engages K-12 students in southern New Mexico in aerospace education. New Mexico Pathway to Space aims to create academic pathways for students in Title 1 schools to pursue STEM-related fields in higher education.

PSL’s UAS team provided the flight platform for the Gadsden Independent School District and Las Cruces Public Schools student-built CubeSats April 22. Based off the flight results, students are now working on a flight opportunity with Perlan in Argentina. The Mesilla Valley Model Aircraft Club also supported the event and provided hands-on activities, flight demonstrations and flight simulator flight time to the more than 80 students and visitors.

“The flights and demonstrations were the first stop on a full day for the students with tours and activities later in the day on the NMSU campus,” said Henry Cathey, PSL aerospace division director and NMSU UAS flight test site director. “There was great interaction and excitement as the students got to see their experiments take to the skies.”

Each CubeSat was powered by a 9-volt battery and included a real-time clock, accelerometer, temperature sensor, pressure sensor, photosensor, and a micro-SD card reader on an Arduino board. The approximately 320-gram CubeSats were integrated onto a drone built and designed by PSL’s Joe Millette, senior external UAS pilot and lead UAS safety analyst at NMSU. Millette is a UAS subject matter expert and FAA certified commercial and instrument flight rules pilot. Andrew Denney, PSL’s lead electrical engineer at NMSU, supported the design of the mounting mechanisms. 

The integration parts were 3D printed at PSL and allowed for easy installation of the CubeSats. Two sets of flights were conducted at the Las Cruces Air Park. The hexacopter flew multiple box loops for the students at various altitudes to collect data on the student-built payloads.

“Thanks to PSL’s UAS team support, our New Mexico Pathway to Space students have tested their payloads and are improving their designs for a flight with the Airbus Perlan Mission II in Argentina,” said Paulo Oemig, New Mexico Space Grant Consortium director. “We are working with 21st Century Academic Enrichment Programs CEO Mr. Andrew Moralez and New Mexico State Representative Raymundo Lara to secure continuous funding. NMSGC’s New Mexico Pathway to Space Program creates impactful collaborations to enhance the reach with minority and underserved student populations.”