Press Release

Federal grant emphasis on STEM affords Community College of Aurora students chance to visit NASA facility

By SpaceRef Editor
October 3, 2014
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Dreams will take flight for a few select CCA students chosen to launch rockets at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility next June. CCA is one of the Colorado community colleges. Prospective candidates currently are being identified to form a team of three that will represent the college for the first time at a RockOn! Workshop held in Virginia.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” said CCA Science faculty Victor Andersen, who serves as the Colorado Space Grant Consortium’s affiliates director for the college. “These are the big-life opportunities for students.”

The chance arose through proposals generated from up high – in Washington D.C., not space, in this case.

NASA’s Office of Education awarded more than $17.3 million in August through the National Space Grant and Fellowship Program to increase student and faculty engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at community colleges and technical schools across the United States.

The winning proposal by the Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC) calls for a minimum of 40 additional community college students and eight community college faculty members in COSGC programs. CCA is among the chosen few that will have students competing for scholarships, in summer internships at NASA centers, and the RockOn! Workshop at Wallops Flight Facility.

“This is one of the things I have been thinking about for a long time,” said Andersen, now in his eighth year as CCA faculty. “It’s been one of my goals.”

During his tenure, Andersen has been a party to student presentations on balloon flights to scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., zero-G flights at Johnson Space Center in Houston, and an oversized balloon-satellite launch in Fort Sumner, N.M.

A new emphasis on community colleges and a resulting grant that removes the cost barrier has delivered new possibilities.

The RockOn! Workshop affords those students chosen a chance to visit a NASA facility and, in a six-day span, learn the basics of payload building and integration on a rocket. The work at Wallops won’t be judged by Andersen, but by professionals in the field of space exploration, raising the stakes even further.

“A NASA engineer or engineers are sitting across the table, and if you don’t satisfy them, the rockets don’t fly,” Andersen said.

Participants then return to CCA with the skills and resources necessary to design, build and integrate a sounding rocket – which is a craft designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during sub-orbital flight. That ensures a continuing relationship with Wallops Flight Facility through its RockSat C or X programs.

 The students then will wholly design and engineer an experiment for rocket flight at CCA that will be taken out for a trip to Wallops for a second launch in summer 2016.

Details remain, but the students representing CCA will come from groups participating in the college’s Experimental Design course and workshops running this fall. The former will launch balloon-satellites in the spring; the latter will work on a robotics project. It’s important that whomever is selected not only possesses the requisite skills, but also is early enough in his or her college life that the students can remain in the project for the long haul.

“Technical skills are important. Interest is important.  But the final thing is intangibles,” Andersen said. “The ability to work independently, the ability to work as part of a team, the ability to overcome obstacles.

“We’re not evaluating whether they know how to solder or how to program microcontrollers, but as we give them more obstacles, can they figure things out on their own?  Can they overcome challenges? Those are the kinds of things we’re really looking for.”

The rockets that will be launched next summer over the Atlantic Ocean will travel 62.5 miles into the atmosphere before returning to land.

The rocket system is comprised of a pair of motors that run two distinct stages. According to NASA data, the propellant system running the motor results in thrust levels of approximately 19,000 pounds during the first four seconds of burn then trails off to approximately 3,000 pounds until burnout around 25 seconds. Payload weights can range from 200 to 800 pounds.

So, this is no backyard toy – just as they will be no ordinary students running this airborne marvel.

“They are the engineers and scientists of the future. And there’s lots of roads to go where you want to go, but this is a high payoff road,” Andersen said. “A high percentage who go through this will succeed.”

About CCA
Community College of Aurora has campuses at CentreTech and Lowry in the greater Denver area. Equipped with the latest technologies, CCA allows students to study new and traditional programs while also offering Colorado online classes and degrees. CCA’s service community spans 325,000 people in a 350-square-mile area. The college serves this diverse community by providing high quality instruction and support services to prepare students for transfer and employment.

Media Contact: Lee Rasizer, Community College of Aurora, 303-360-4728,

SpaceRef staff editor.