"Rising" to the Challenge

By Helee Shukla

From nearly 600 teams that applied to NASA’s TechRise Challenge, Sewanhaka’s Pre-Engineering II class secured a spot in the winning 57. The NASA TechRise challenge provides students an opportunity to advance space exploration and broaden knowledge about planet Earth. All applying groups were to choose from two options: the Suborbital rocket with about three minutes of microgravity, or the high altitude balloon which visits various hemispheres of Earth's atmosphere.

Source from Helee Shukla

Mr. Chen's Pre-Engineering II is one of 57 winning teams that will be launching their balloon.

While students are given the choice to decide on which path they’ll send their experiment, the challenge imposes several limitations– each experiment must fit inside a 4 x 4 x 8 inch box, weigh less than one kilogram, and only rely on the balloon or rocket for power. To give the class a chance to present individual proposals for the challenge, they were given a brainstorming period to write their ideas on Post-Its and stick them on the wall. Each student then voted for three proposals, reviewing each with Mr. Chen, Sewanhaka’s Pre-Engineering II instructor. This process repeated until the class was down to two proposals to choose from– one for the suborbital rocket and one for the high-altitude balloon. Ultimately, the final decision to go with the high-altitude balloon proposal was made after the students responsible for the two plans campaigned to the class.

“After we settled on an idea, we brainstormed different ways for us to conduct our atmospheric measurements. The proposal itself was limited to only three pages so we were forced to be clear and concise with our writing. I think that what made our proposal stand out to the judges was that we included a high-level system diagram for the instrumentation package that we were planning to build,” said Mr. Chen.

The project’s primary goal was to address and provide more insight into a pressing environmental issue.

“The base idea for the NASA tech-rise project had to do with climate change. After seeing the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, I looked into new tech that was being used, from ocean clean-up robots to the DAC (direct air capture) systems that really caught my interest, and thus became the base idea for our experiment,” junior Nicholas Washington said, who was the advocate of the winning idea.

“I think that what made our proposal stand out to the judges was that we included a high-level system diagram for the instrumentation package that we were planning to build...”

The team collectively decided to name the project A.M.O.N.G.U.S (Atmospheric Measurement of Noxious Gases Using Sensors), inspired by the famous multiplayer game Among Us.

To initialize the preparation process, the proposed design will be reviewed. The class will make a comprehensive list of the necessary materials, formulate a 3-D rendition of the instrumentation package that will travel in the balloon and conduct a Failure Modes Effects Analysis. After the review, students will learn engineering techniques such as soldering different metal parts together, using Geographic Information Systems to map their findings and designing a custom circuit board.

Until the experiment’s submission in May, the Pre-Engineering II students will effectively incorporate what they’ve learned from a curriculum of programming microcontrollers into an experiment of their own.