Frostburg State University Engineering Students Gaining Experience With NASA

June 6, 2016
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Frostburg State University Engineering Students Gaining Experience With NASA

Frostburg State University Engineering Students Gaining Experience With NASA
Frostburg State University engineering student Vernon Lipscomb of Pasadena stands beside a data acquisition subsystem built with students Stephen Linnenkamp of Annapolis (not pictured) and Felix Bruno of Severn (not pictured) that will send photos taken at FSU to a NASA satellite next spring.

Frostburg State University engineering students are working alongside NASA experts to beam photos from FSU into space.

FSU at Arundel Mills engineering students Vernon Lipscomb of Pasadena, Stephen Linnenkamp of Annapolis and Felix Bruno of Severn built a data acquisition subsystem using off-the-shelf hardware to take photos and capture environmental data that will be beamed into space through NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, or TDRS, when it's used as part of a satellite name.

The students are enrolled in FSU's Bachelor of Science in Engineering program, which is an electrical engineering concentration, at the Arundel Mills Regional Higher Education Center. They visited Frostburg during the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium to take photos of people visiting the device at their booth and scanning QR codes to start the process.

The experiment is part of NASA's Shot Heard Around the World project, designed to automatically capture data in remote areas. The end use could be developed for NASA studies, other government agencies or the private sector. The project is part of a continuing partnership between FSU's Arundel Mills-based engineering program and NASA.

Linnenkamp enjoyed getting to be able to work with NASA experts from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, who shared straightforward advice.

"It was a really good experience to be able to work with not just one, but five or six NASA engineers and computer science workers," he said. "They really demand a lot out of you, and they'll tell you if you're not performing up to their standards."

Part of the challenge is to send all of that information from sensors and the photo under 10 KB. For perspective, an 8-inch floppy disk from the early 1970s could still hold eight of these packets. Additional bytes of information were placed in the data packet to help the picture and sensor data travel properly, Lipscomb explained. The sensor captured GPS coordinates, humidity and temperature pressure.

"It was a lot of pressure, but I think we performed pretty well under the circumstances," Linnenkamp said.

The students also used programming language Raspberry-Pi to take the picture and gather the information from the text file to combine into one file, Lipscomb said.

The project helped students understand the basics of working with a NASA satellite system and how a transmitter works, how Arduino sensors work with Raspberry Pi, cycling redundancy methods, data randomization for transmission, programming a router and switch and more, Lipscomb explained.

All that preparation meant playing a waiting game to finally transmit. Students in a capstone course in spring 2017 will complete the project by correcting the antenna, aiming the station at the satellite and training on what to do with the data received back to FSU.

The data will be sent from the students' subsystem ground station to NASA's TDRS-6 satellite, down to NASA's ground station in White Sands, N.M., and through the Internet back to the ground station at the Arundel Mills campus. A secure path is needed before the data can be transmitted.

"It's a six-week up-time," Lipscomb said. "You have to know six weeks in advance, so you have to schedule it in advance to have a time slot available to transmit to their satellites."

However, Lipscomb and Linnenkamp couldn't wait for the transmission date. Both of them graduated in May and were readying for new jobs.

Linnenkamp said his time at FSU at Arundel Mills helped him prepare for his new job as a systems engineer at a defense contractor.

"These last two years have been great. I've learned a lot," said Linnenkamp, who enrolled in the program as a transfer from Anne Arundel Community College. "You really get to know your professors, and they're all adjunct and work in the industry. They know of what's required of the engineers."

Lipscomb will be working as a signal systems engineer for the Department of Defense.

Dr. Marjorie Rawhouser, a joint faculty member in the Department of Physics and Engineering at Arundel Mills, said this is the third project with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, giving students real-world experience.

"This is another way to get actual experience to work in an organization with a project that has real deadlines and real issues to it," Rawhouser said. "We're really excited to continue this relationship with NASA Goddard and hope more students will take advantage of it."

To learn more about FSU's B.S. in Engineering, Electrical Concentration, at the Arundel Mills Regional Higher Education Center, call 410-777-1363 or visit


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