About the team

Princeton High School (Princeton, New Jersey) collaborated with Montgomery High School (Skillman, New Jersey). The team wanted to optimize space missions by examining topics such as atmospheric pressure density and habitable planetary environments.

Princeton and Montgomery emphasized mission formulation, and considered a variety of research questions. As the team was mostly composed of biology enthusiasts, students were interested in proof-of-concept missions for using CubeSats to characterize habitable planetary environments for extremophile bacteria. Their mission aimed to achieve this by proving a simple, semi-customized XinaBox XK90 CubeSat kit could map and characterize planetary latitudes and altitude bands. Evidence from this mission could reveal extremophile-habitable UV and temperature conditions. The team also considered how to advance the simple technology readiness level of missions that demonstrate survivability and on-orbit performance of the students’ subsystems components, including xChip, Adafruit, and SparkFun sensors. Finally, the team aimed to use an onboard microphone to characterize the detection thresholds of sound emitted by an onboard speaker, which could function as a proxy for atmospheric pressure.

The team comprised a group of six sophomore girls from Montgomery High School’s ThinSat club, in collaboration with the Princeton High School 3D Printing Club. Both clubs worked on separate parts of the satellite creation: Montgomery primarily managed software, while Princeton tackled hardware and fabrication. The Montgomery team gained similar experience from its previous collaboration on a ThinSat project. The students were excited to move beyond their Python skills by developing familiarity with Arduino coding.

CTE Team Lead

Joseph Gargione, Industrial Arts & Technology Teacher

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Look back at the team’s progress

Montgomery tackling script-editing while Princeton handles 3D printing

March update

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

Some questions we hope to answer from testing pertain to the stability of the Cubesat, such as whether it should be flying on drones or balloons. Since the balloon cannot be controlled, the lack of stability may hinder our testing. Our Arduino mentors have created videos explaining balloon flight materials and techniques, in order to keep members safe and track the balloon. Another concern from testing is whether the data received itself may be accurate, which requires the use of outside resources, such as weather channels and tracking software. Additional questions include whether the distance from the ground station to the flight station and back will allow for proper communication of data, the positioning of chips (specifically the UV chips), and the positioning of the sound and buzzer. These questions have been answered by senior members of the ThinSat club.

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

We’ve learned the importance of patience. Often, we would run into errors after testing prototypes, scripts, and libraries. Rather than considering these as delays to our project, we decided to consider this part of the process to further the expansion of the project. Additionally, testing allows for proper identification of conflicts that we may have been unable to predict otherwise, such as the direction in which the balloon may fly or the stability of the CubeSat with the screws. The importance of communication has been continuously highlighted — using apps such as Discord, Gmail, and Hangouts is not always as effective as relaying information over Zoom. Constant announcements, along with setting deadlines for everyone involved, became vital to further the project. These communications included sending information via GitHub accounts and YouTube tutorials for everyone’s ease of access.

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

While testing our prototype, we were surprised by the difficulty of compiling Arduino libraries to transfer to a BIN (or binary format) file. By contrast, creating the XK90 involved following a video and then replacing chips such as the SL19 with the MD01. But, after compiling the libraries from GitHub for our custom chips and for the Arduino chips, we encountered difficulties editing the scripts to make them compatible with compiling for a BIN file. Since this is an essential aspect of our CubeSat prototype, we will be investing more time into devising the script, rather than revising the research.

Additionally, accounting for the custom chips (a multiplexer for translation and an audio amplification chip) raised other questions. We constantly had to consider whether these chips were necessary and how to adjust their specifications for the Princeton 3D-printing team to start the casing process.

Delays lead to creative opportunities for both hardware and software

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?

We began this phase by establishing communication between Montgomery High School and Princeton High School and then proceeding with the project. In addition, we realized that instead of just learning to reference existing libraries, we needed to research the I2C protocol in more depth. This was difficult since we had to use online courses to find different coding methods to allocate for the non-XinaBox chips. We also had to contact previous members of the Montgomery ThinSat Club to learn more about I2C, since they had experience with SN01, SL01, breadboarding, and PCB design. This collaboration has helped us use coding and GitHub resources to create libraries. The Princeton team printed a few test designs on their Ender-3 printer (a temporary substitute until they receive their Prusa printer) to test the machine’s accuracy and precision.

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 two parts: The Montgomery ThinSat Club and the Princeton High School 3D Design and Printing Club. The Princeton club’s supervisor is Joseph Gargione, and the club presidents are Moriah and Shira. The other members of the Princeton team are the club’s officers: Anlin, Jennifer, and Jessica. The club’s role in this project is to design and print the chassis of the CubeSat using 3D software. The Montgomery team’s supervisor is Daniel Lee, and the club presidents are Suhani and Saachi. The other members of the Montgomery team consist of Dina, Jiaying, Varrsha, Gopika. This club’s role in this project is to work with sensors: coding them and, in some cases, creating them. The Montgomery team also worked with other senior members of the Thinsat Club: Mary and Matthieu.

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

Due to our difficulties working with libraries and code in general, we had to reach out to upperclassmen and take online courses to gain more knowledge about I2C. Additionally, when we ordered supplies, we realized that there were quite a few errors. From this, we learned to be more careful and take our time rather than rush through things. Additionally, the Princeton club’s 3D printer broke just before Phase 2 began, so we had to compensate for lost time from new printers being delivered. Despite the Princeton team’s printing difficulties, they were able to have successful test printing runs. Another major success we had was having access to senior members of the ThinSat club. This not only helped to improve the overall design, but was also a great opportunity for members to learn from those who had more experience and knowledge on CubeSats.