About the team

Opelika High School (Opelika, Alabama) is collaborating with Columbus High School and Northside High School (Columbus, Georgia). The team plans to collect performance data for a new type of core material used in NASA-grade fluxgate magnetometers, which are used to study Earth’s changing magnetic field.

The team’s CubeSat prototype — FluxDemonSat — proposes to advance the technology readiness level (TRL) for a new type of core material used in NASA research-class fluxgate magnetometers. This mission will also have an education plan that uses an existing network of schools and teachers at Opelika High School and Columbus High School with a co-curricular organization called the Columbus Space Program. The team plans to address a documented need for advancing an exploration technology while inspiring the next generation of explorers with an education program. Starting with the edge of space launch of its CubeSat prototype, the mission will collect the necessary performance data to advance the TRL of untested magnetometer cores.

The team consists of an experienced group of students and teachers who have completed STEM projects in the past, coupled with whole classes of CTE and STEM students from the three collaborating high schools. At the heart of the technical effort are two school-based FIRST robotics teams from two different cities. Opelika students will lead the building of the satellite structure and supporting subsystems, while Columbus and Northside students will lead the payload and launch efforts. The Columbus Space Program has launched science and engineering platforms to altitudes over 100,000 feet 31 times since 2007.

CTE Team Lead

Brenda Howell, Engineering & Robotics Teacher

Learn more

Opelika

Columbus

Northside

Keep up with the team’s progress

Iterate like crazy

March update

What major questions do you hope to answer from testing your prototype? How have mentors helped you refine these questions?

Our mission continues to investigate whether we can use a glass fluxgate magnetometer to make nanotesla measurements of changes to the Earth’s magnetic field. We are asking the following questions as we conduct testing on our prototypes for the structure, communication, and electronic circuitry:

  • Can we drive our magnetometer core to saturation? 
  • Because we will not be in a zero gravity environment that would allow a boom to successfully be deployed, what other options do we have for mounting our magnetometers (external to the CubeSat structure) for the purpose of obtaining the most reliable readings?
  • How can we incorporate the Arduino and XinaBox products into our CubeSat flight for additional data collection, other than magnetometer readings and flight communication?

CTE Mission: CubeSat mentor Bjarke Gotfredsen of XinaBox, along with FIRST Robotics Competition mentors Keith Warren and David Rush, have been helping us to identify sources of error in our electronics and communication circuits.

What has your team learned about the importance of testing, and what career-ready skills have you applied during this process?

Overall, we are realizing this project is harder than we thought because every part of our design is a source of error. For example, the length of a wire can affect the readings we are getting. Testing and iteration will continue to identify and correct every possible source of failure up until our launch date.

In addition to the career-ready skills of problem-solving and critical thinking, we are also learning the importance of communicating, collaborating, and using IT applications to meet goals. Because we are a collaboration of three schools across two states during a pandemic, we have a Zoom meeting every Monday. We also collaborate on progress and setbacks during the week using the Slack workspace platform. We are immersed in IT applications when using OnShape, Arduino, XinaBox, and PCBs.

While testing your prototype, what has surprised you? How have you revised your research question or mission plans based on unexpected results?

Our mission plan and research question remain the same — can we make nanotesla measurements of Earth’s magnetic field? We have had to order new magnetometer cores because our original had a much lower permeability than expected. We have pleasantly discovered that even when our batteries are dropping in voltage, many parts of the XinaBox flight stations continue to function, even without GPS working. We have driven our flight station around town, and our SD card recorded and mapped positioning accurately. We also modified our original structure idea to incorporate a stiff boom to hold the magnetometer away from the metal CubeSat, since we will not be in a zero gravity environment that will allow a boom to be deployed successfully.

CubeSat collaboration is finalizing solution for early April balloon launch

February update

What aspects of the build and design process did you begin with when starting Phase 2 and how has your mission changed since your original submission?

Phase 2 has included more work for developing our solution, as well as beginning to prototype and test. Students are working remotely through OnShape, Zoom, and Slack to finalize the technical drawings for the CubeSat’s physical structure. Another group of students is working on their second revision of the magnetometer. We are also planning how we will configure the XinaBox chips and the Arduino components to form the electronics of our CubeSat.

As of today, there have been no changes to our mission as compared to our original submission.

Can you tell us about your team, including: who is on it, the roles everyone plays, the connection to CTE, and mentors you have engaged?

Our team consists of approximately 15 actively involved students and teachers from three high schools. Opelika High School CTE Engineering students are working on the computer-aided design (CAD) models for the final exterior structure and the electronic configuration of the Arduino and XinaBox components. Columbus High School and Northside High School students are also collaborating on these components and developing the magnetometer, including the required telescopic arm. A team of CTE students from Opelika’s TV Production class will be helping to document the experience.

The CTE connection for all of the students includes preparation for postsecondary learning and the development of workforce skills, including leadership and critical thinking. These are in addition to the technical aspects of engineering design, programming, electronics, and communication.

We have had the assistance of two local engineering mentors to date and look forward to engaging more directly with the CTE Mission: CubeSat mentors in the near future.

What have you learned so far? What early successes have you encountered while designing and building your prototype? What challenges?

We are learning the capabilities of the Arduino kit and the provided shields. We have successfully collected data using the Arduino MKR WAN 1310 microcontroller board with the MKR ENV data collection shield. However, the GPS library is expecting GPGGA sentences, while the MKR GPS hardware is spitting out GNGGA sentences. The Zoom meeting hosted by XinaBox was extremely helpful. Although we have not had the opportunity to fully explore the XinaBox kit’s xChips, we are excited about the potential we see.

The greatest challenge we continue to face is the requirement by our school systems and communities to maintain social distancing. Additionally, most of the students involved in this project, as well as the teachers, are currently participants in the 2021 virtual FIRST Robotics  Competition. This creates the challenge of allocating time effectively for schoolwork, our CubeSat work, and robotics.