STEM Students Engaged in NASA ASCEND Launch

Tuesday, May 2, 2023
Phoenix College students designing scientific and engineering packages for the NASA ASCEND launch
Members of the Phoenix College NASA ASCEND team presenting their launch findings at a symposium
Phoenix College students participated in the NASA ASCEND launch
Data showing twin peak of radiation
Phoenix College alumna Jacqueline Do presenting on her new ballooning project, AZ Eclipse Ballooning Project

En Español. The Phoenix College (PC) NASA ASCEND program is a capstone aerospace internship program that invites students to work on a relevant, real-world NASA–related science and engineering project. The high-altitude ballooning project funded by the Arizona/NASA Space Grant provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate engineering students to apply their skills and prepare for success in their future careers.

Eddie Ong, a NASA ASCEND faculty mentor and science advisor, oversees the program’s weekly progress. “We construct launch vehicles, design real scientific and engineering packages, and then launch them on a helium balloon, along with nine other colleges, to study Earth’s atmosphere,” he explained. This kind of experience is typically not introduced until a student’s senior year of college or graduate school, so its availability for community college students builds a pipeline of competent transfer students who continue their education at university, often as a cohort to support each other.

Preparing Students for STEM-related workspaces

The ASCEND program trains and prepares students to work in STEM-related workspaces, a strategy to keep the United States a competitor in STEM fields. Ernest Villicaña serves as the engineering faculty mentor and career advisor. He noted, “With the recent news of Chinese balloons, more people are aware of the tech complexity that goes into high altitude flights.” PC has launched 14 flights and “the missions themselves offer interns very unique and advanced internship opportunities,” Ernest said, “but the annual symposium in Spring semester provides the team an opportunity to present the flight findings to the general technical community.” 

Both mentors, who foster the development of the team’s leadership skills, note the program opens the students’ eyes to all the possibilities of a STEM education.

The following  students are members of PC's NASA ASCEND team: Ivan Gonzalez, Andrew Sherant, Orion Martin, Jacob Brannon, Collin Montgomery, Javier Herrera, Javier Chacon, Jasmin Lopez, Lorynn Garcia, Michael Bittner, and Rayan Alasow. They worked together collaboratively within four sub-teams: 1) mechanical/vehicle fabrication, 2) atmosphere profiling, 3) video stabilization, and 4) website/archive. 

Fall 2022 Launch Video

The ASCEND Fall 2022 launch objective was to gather data on Earth’s atmosphere and the vehicle launch parameters. One of the accomplishments of the successful launch was acquiring two-plus hours of stable and steady video images of the Earth’s atmosphere and ground, even as the vehicle was spinning at about 75 rpm. The videos, in 360 and VR formats, are available on YouTube, with the option to upload the videos to a VR goggle for a more immersive experience.  

Here is a one-minute higlight reel of the launch:

Spring 2023 Launch Data 

During the Spring 2023 launch, the Pfotzer-Regener radiation maximum was encountered at an altitude of 69,000 feet.  Data on view at left.



PC Transfer Student Leads New NASA project

PC alumna Jacqueline Do, who was a member of the PC ASCEND team and is a transfer student at Arizona State University (ASU), now heads the AZ Eclipse Ballooning Project, part of the NASA-sponsored Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP), which is comprised of 70 independent student teams for the October 14, 2023 Annular Eclipse and the April 8, 2024 Total Eclipse. Jacqueline teamed up with Dr. Thomas Sharp, ASU NASA Space Grant Director, and Dr. Jnaneshwar Das, Alberto Enrique Behar Research Professor, to write a proposal and was awarded two sets of equipment and supplies from NASA Science Mission Directorate, NASA Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, and Montana State University. Jacqueline also presented at the recent symposium.

Students interested in STEM are encouraged to apply for the NASA ASCEND program