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Last Thursday, February 16, a few members of SSI loaded a rocket, an optical communications transmitter, and the world-record breaking SSI-47 ValBal into a ZipCar to head to Dartmouth Middle School for their annual STEM science fair.

The Education and Outreach team had a great time discussing our current progress and goals for SSI as an organization and for the individual teams with students, parents, and teachers alike. While SSI is an organization that is constantly looking up, opportunities like these allow us to bring others along for the ride as kids in NASA shirts and former industry representatives alike join us for a brief time in exploring our shared passions.

While Dartmouth's STEM fair was a great chance for SSI to be involved with the community beyond Stanford, it also served as great practice for the booth we plan to have at the 2017 Bay Area Maker Faire from May 19-21. We hope to continue to reach out and inspire as we push further up and away from the world on the ground!

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SSI Tours Bay Area Circuits

Last Thursday, on November 17th, a group of us made a trip out to Fremont to tour the manufacturing facility of one of our valued sponsors: Bay Area Circuits. It was really awesome to see the physical process that happens behind the scenes to allow us to send out PCB designs one day, and then receive them in the mail a few days later.


We toured pretty much the entire facility. From the solder mask LDI machine to the CNC via drill presses with 4 mil drill bits, the process that goes into these circuit boards is very interesting. My personal favorite was the PCB verification machine, which checks literally every connection on a PCB using eight moving probes.


All of us in SSI, and especially the electrical engineering students, owe BAC a huge thank you. We make a lot of PCB’s for a variety of applications, and we can always count on BAC. We gain more than just the monetary value of the sponsorship, our partnership with BAC allows us to learn more about the manufacturing process, and being in close contact with our manufacturer allows us to meet tighter deadlines. We love having our boards manufactured locally, and there’s no doubt that the relationships that some of our members form with BAC will carry on as our members graduate and enter industry. Special thanks to Ron for giving us the tour, and Brian for setting it up.


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SSI 47 Breaks World Record

On November 5th, 2016 Stanford Student Space Initiative's Balloons Team launched a High Altitude Balloon named ValBal, short for "Valve-Ballast" - a novel platform that utilizes a gas venting valve and a ballast dispenser to zero its ascent rate and maintain a nearly constant altitude.  Conceived in the winter of 2014, ValBal has been in development and testing for over a year and a half.  This November, ValBal broke the world record for the longest duration flight of a latex balloon, flying from Modesto, CA to the outskirts of Quebec City, Canada.
This flight of more than 79 hours adds almost 10 hours to the previous world record, also set by SSI with an earlier version of ValBal in June of 2016. The ValBal platform is capable of autonomous and dynamic altitude control, a significant improvement over the passive control employed by the previous record holders. This capability allows ValBal to carry kilogram-scale research payloads for extended periods in the upper atmosphere, which SSI hopes to begin flying next year. The team will be presenting their work at the 2017 IEEE Aerospace Conference in March, 2017.
A video detailing this launch can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf831G0dWKU.

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First Rocket Launch of the Year

On Saturday, October 15th, the SSI rockets team set out on it’s 7th group rocket launch, located at the Tripoli Central California launch site. This was also the first time SSI did a night launch. While no primary projects were launching this weekend, we got a new member certified, flew an experiment camera setup, and had a lot of fun.

During the day, we had three new L1 certification attempters, Andrew Nguyen, Eldrick Millares, and Jake Hillard. Due to some complications involving a lost rocket and grease mixed in with the black powder ejection charge on one of the rockets, only Jake Hillard successfully got the certification.
Also, John Dean launched a 360 fly camera on a fiberglass 4” rocket with a clear polycarbonate notecone. The flight went well, however there were some issues with the camera before launch and it didn’t record the flight. The camera is still fully intact though, and we plan to get some cool videos next launch.
While at the launch site, we heard that they needed an “expendable” rocket with a 54mm motor mount. Some of the gentlemen running the launch had a brand new, semi-experimental Aerotech K2050 motor that they wanted to try out on a rocket that may not make it back in one piece. John bravely offered up his old Firestorm 54, the rocket that he got his L1 and L2 certifications on. It was the third ever flight of this motor, and the result was very entertaining. The motor suffered a Catastrophic failure At Lift Off (CATO), and the nozzle of the motor was blown out. Hopefully we will get pictures of the event from some of the folks at TCC in the near future.
Lastly, we had some great night flights from Marie Johnson and Logan Herrera, and thanks to Andrew we got some awesome long exposure pics.

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Satellites Team Talks Over Ten Kilometers!

After nearly two years of effort and a summer of hard work, the SSI satellites team has achieved our goal of a 10km optical communications link! On the night of August 20th, 2016 we successfully established a two-way optical communications link between the Stanford Amateur Radio Facility and the Skyline Boulevard Overlook. This was the first time our custom built transmitter and receiver boxes have both sent and received data over such a large distance!

After aligning the sensors using a motorized telescope mount, the laser (a standard low power laser pointer) was visible to the naked eye as a gentle flickering red light in the distance. The terrestrial link sent text messages through the atmosphere. The hazy conditions periodically occluded the laser, but we were able to transmit through periodic “windows” of clear air. Under the best of conditions our current communications rig is capable of transmitting and receiving at 10kb/sec, which is primarily limited by the sampling rate of the team’s Teensy Microcontroller. This 10km test is an exciting distance because at sea level the laser will pass through the same number of molecules of atmosphere as it would from a ground station to one in low earth orbit.

The success of this long distance test is an important step towards our goal of building an optical communications system in space. Over the next year the team will be working hard to realize a bi-directional optical communications satellite. We are looking forward to the year to come!

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