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McDade high-schoolers send satellite into space

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  • Article Image Alt Text
    The students and the administrators accompanying them enjoy their view of the rocket launch. From left to right: McDade ISD Superintendent Barbara Marchbanks, Luz Ramirez, Juan Rodriguez, Evan Allan, McDade ISD public information officer Grant Hennig.
  • Article Image Alt Text
    From left to right: Luz Ramirez, Juan Rodriguez and Evan Allan visited the Kennedy Space Center while in Cape Canaveral. Photos courtesy of Grant Hennig
  • Article Image Alt Text
    The satellite (left) sits in this box prior to its launch into space.

Despite launch delays, McDade’s second team of satellite-building students traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida to watch their creation take flight.

A group of three incoming seniors—Luz Ramirez, Juan Rodriguez and Evan Allan—built the satellite during the spring semester.

In December, a group of younger McDade students—grades 6, 7 and 8—launched their own satellite that they had built during the fall semester with the help of Quad-M, a McDade-based aerospace engineering and manufacturing company. Victor Dube, Quad-M founder, approached McDade ISD superintendent Barbara Marchbanks about forming another team of students to build another satellite. Marchbanks thought it was a perfect opportunity to let high school students get involved, since many of them had been too busy with fall sports to work on the first satellite.

“We wanted something for the high school kids to be a part of, too,” Marchbanks said.

Like the previous NASA team’s satellite, this satellite was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This satellite is also similar in function to the previous team’s creation, but built with a different structure that made it easier to assemble.

SEOPS, a Bastrop-based satellite deployment company and a customer of Quad-M, had an extra space on last week’s mission for the McDade students’ satellite. SEOPS also helped fund the satellite’s approval by NASA, Dube said.

Tyler Holden from Quad-M helped the students make the satellite. David March-banks, Barbara Marchbanks’ son who has worked for NASA and worked on computers for the U.S. Army, also volunteered to work with the students on the project each week.

The students were taught the the specifications of the satellite they would be making and learned how to use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create the satellite. Rodriguez, the artist of the group, designed the satellite’s structure using CAD. After fabricating the pieces, they got to put the satellite together and inspected it.

At first, Ramirez wasn’t sure about the project since the skills involved was completely new territory for her, but she thought it might be fun to learn something new. At first, she admitted, it was difficult, but she got better and better at working on the satellite.

“I never really was a big computer person, but after I actually started understanding it, I started really liking it,” she said.

Rodriguez said one of the more difficult parts of the project was learning how to make the necessary shapes with the CAD software. Additionally, the students faced deadlines for finishing their designs on top of keeping up with their schoolwork.

However, the project gave the students a chance to work together and grow closer as friends.

“I was able to work with other people and have other people learning with me,” Ramirez said. “We have good communication, and we were relying on each other. Spending that time each Friday with my other friends and working on something, we actually bonded closer.”

The project culminated in a trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida last week to watch their satellite take off into space.

“The trip was a once in a lifetime for the kids, something that they will remember the rest of their lives,” Marchbanks said. “The kids

Photo by Julianne Hodges had never flown on an airplane, and they had never seen the Atlantic Ocean.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 spacecraft was originally scheduled to take off last Wednesday, but with only 29 seconds left in the countdown, the launch was called off due to poor weather and rescheduled for Thursday.

“That was really disappointing,” Marchbanks said. “There was about an 80 percent chance of rain the next day, so we were concerned they might cancel it the next day.”

Fortunately, the weather held up the next day, and the students got to see all their hard work pay off.

“(The students) had never seen any type of rocket,” Marchbanks said, “so to see the launch of a rocket, and then on top of that, it’s holding their satellite, was a unique experience that they’re never going to forget. Tt was wonderful to see the look of awe on their faces as the rocket went up.”

While in Florida, the students visited the Kennedy Space Center, where they learned about the Apollo missions that landed astronauts on the moon 50 years ago, saw the Atlantis space shuttle on display and practiced docking with the International Space Station in flight simulators. They also got the chance to take an island boat tour, where they observed the wildlife of the mangroves.

Marchbanks hopes the students were challenged by the project and learned that anything is possible.

“If you send a satellite into space, that pretty much tells you anything is possible,” she said.

Dube said the objective of the project was to get them familiar with the whole process of manufacturing a satellite, from learning CAD to inspecting the final product.

“It’s very unusual to have an opportunity like this, especially having a company that’s right next door,” Holden said. “Being able to go through the whole process front to back, most schools can’t support that kind of experience. That’s really, really good for them in the long run.”

Before heading to Cape Canaveral, Ramirez was a little nervous—partially due to her first experience flying in an airplane—but overwhelmed and excited by the thought of sending something into space that she helped design and build.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about,” she said.