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Filed under: Project-archive — mgrusin at 9:16 am on Wednesday, September 9, 2009

HOMER (the High-Altitude Ozone-Measuring Educational Rocket) was the third sounding rocket flown by COSGC.  It successfully launched out of NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in August 1996.  It carried three photometers and one spectrometer to perform remote measurements of ozone and related gases.  It was designed and built on a 2-year schedule by a dozen undergraduate and graduate engineering students.  The skin, nosecone, and specialized mating sections were donated by NASA and other organizations. Almost everything else was designed and built from scratch by students, with a budget of $20,000.

I started out as a Command and Data Handling (CDH) team member, but soon became CDH lead when the former lead (the talented Wes Brandley) graduated.  HOMER’s onboard computer consisted of an off-the-shelf 68HC16 industrial control board coupled with house-designed PCBs for I/O.  The system was tasked with real-time data collection and transmission (interfacing to a high-speed radio link; there was no onboard data storage), and general spacecraft housekeeping including turning subsystems on and off at specific times during the flight.  A lot of thought went into the build quality and failsafe operations, such as how to recover from an unexpected reset during the flight with maximum safety to the payload and minimum science data loss.  The system performed flawlessly during the flight with no resets even during the 20G launch accelerations.

I also modified a commercial off-the-shelf video camcorder for this flight after the responsible student graduated.  The camcorder operated successfully, and even with the limited field of view through the tiny porthole, the resulting footage became a (locally) famous example of what students could create.

HOMER was my first major space mission, and it completely changed the direction of my life.  I had never before had the experience of working on a small team to build something extraordinary (the rocket reached an altitude of 100km, which is “officially” in space).  The team was also extraordinary, and has gone on to accomplish many great things.

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