My Cube in Space that will fly on NASA High Altitude Balloon

Artash Nath, Grade 6

I am excited that my project proposal to study the impact of Space Radiation on electronic components for the CubeSats has been accepted to fly into NASA zero-pressure, high altitude, scientific balloon via the “Cubes in Space” programme.

I will be sending my payload 40 km up in space to study the impacts of radiation on common “Commerical off-the-Shelf Technologies (COTS)” that I use in my space projects such as resistors, capacitors, and integrated circuits. Fully inflated these 40 million cubic feet (MCF) high altitude balloons are 121 meters tall (around a 40 storey building) and 140 meters in diameter (can fit a football stadium inside it).

The Reason behind the Project

I love making. I have been making electronic projects using Arduino, motors, lights since I was 6 years old. I also love space, rockets and am fascinated with space exploration.  The projects that excite me the most are those that combine making with space.

Preparing my payload for NASA High Altitude Balloon

I would like to make and launch my own CubeSats. But launching satellites into space is a high-risk activity. And one of the reasons for failure or shorter mission life is that electronic components are not able to handle high levels of radiation. Many important space missions have failed because of it, including the 2011 Phobos-Grunt Mission to Phobos, one of Mars’s moons where non-space hardened electronics was used. ( The ongoing NASA Juno mission has a Juno Radiation Vault – a 1 cm thick titanium compartment inside which most of the electronics and computers are enclosed to offer increased protection against radiation.

My publication on COTS for Environmental Monitoring in Springer Journal

My project intends to understand space radiation tolerance of some of the Commerical off-the-Shelf Technologies (COTS), and how we can lower the risks of electronic components failure due to radiation. I have been making space and electronics projects for last 5 year. I use many commercial off-the-shelf technologies (COTS) such as Arduino, LEDs, and capacitors and have made many environmental and space projects using COTS. (See my paper: Environment Monitoring Using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) Technologies, Springer Publication 2015)

Payload Purpose and Description

A component I use the most is a Resistor (to provide voltage difference in the circuits). To build low-cost projects, I want to understand the performance of COTS in high-altitude, space projects. In particular, I wish to analyze if the ohms value of the “Resistor” will change when it goes in space and is exposed to radiation, low temperature and pressure, and how it can be protected against extreme conditions.

My project will determine the percentage change and standard deviation in resistance values for 15 Resistors of the same value (the popular 1 Kilo-ohm). 5 of the Resistors will be wrapped in reflective almunium foil, the other 5 in a black plastic sheet to absorb radiation, and the remaining 5 will be sent unwrapped in the Cube. A similar set of 15 Resistors would stay on the ground to provide comparative data.

How is the study going to be helpful?

My experiment could help bring down the costs of making CubeSats by kids

 If I want to launch my CubeSat, it is important that I fully understand the radiation risks so that the CubeSat electronics and the payload are protected. But procuring and using space grade electronics only is not easy and drives up the costs. If we could find ways to make some of the existing Commercial Off-The-Shelf Technologies (COTS) more tolerant to space radiation – we could bring down the costs of space projects and make them more accessible to everyone.

Experiment Description
The Resistors are very small, lightweight and take up very little space. The project findings will inform us about the performance of COTS in space and which protections work the best. The results of our study could help lower down the cost of student space projects.

I will purchase thirty off-the-shelf Resistors of 1 kilo-ohm value. I will carefully label them and measure the resistance value of each of them to 2 decimal places using a digital ohms meter and input them into Excel. 15 Resistors will be sent in a High Altitude Balloon and exposed to low temperatures and high radiation. We will have 15 similar resistors kept on the ground to provide comparative data. Among the 15 Resistors, five of them will be covered with aluminum foil to reflect radiation, five of them will be covered with a black plastic sheet to absorb radiation, and five of them will be without any protection. The Resistors kept on the Earth will provide comparison data to eliminate changes in resistance values that may occur because of other factors.

Payload Analysis Plan

After I get back my payload I use the same digital Ohms meter to measure the resistance values of these Resistors to 2 decimal places. I will then record before and after resistance values of each of the Resistors. I will use Excel to plot the percentage change in the values of the Resistors under different protections. I know Python (Programming language) and will use the NumPy and Matplotlib library to further analyze the data by calculating mean values, standard deviations, and uncertainty in our measurements.

Same analysis will be carried out for the set of Resistors kept on the ground.
Comparing these two data sets will help us understand how well the Resistors performed in space, and the likelihood they would have fulfilled their function of generating potential difference if they were a part of an electric circuit. And in case of protective material, the less the deviation in resistance values, the more effective the protective material.

Communication Plan

I do many science outreach events each year to bring my projects and findings on space and science to other kids and their parents.

I will post findings of my experiment in English and in French on my website, twitter and give demonstrations at my school and other outreach events.

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