Emma Roesner learns about and removes supporting material from the 3D printed cubesat chassis at the University of Southern Maine’s Maker Innovation Studio in Portland on June 18. Photo courtesy of Jean Roesner

READFIELD — Students at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield had their shot recently at being NASA scientists.

Five students from Regional School Unit 38 collaborated with the University of Southern Maine in the college’s Cubesat Design Competition and ranked among the top three middle schools in the state.

On Saturday, they put their cubesat — a 10-by-10-by-10-centimeter cube that poses as a satellite — to the test, as the middle schoolers sent their creation more than 100,000 feet into the air.

Marancook Community Middle School worked closely with Scott Eaton, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Southern Maine, and with USM students to design the cubesat over a couple of weeks.

The Maranacook middle schoolers chose to test Maine algae, to see if it could sustain a stable environment up in space. Jean Roesner said the idea of the experiment is to see if the plant can reproduce as a viable food source for astronauts.

“The students chose the idea of algae,” Roesner said. “Dr. Eaton helped us and said, ‘We want to design something to solve a problem, and one of the problems in long-term space missions is how to feed oneself.’ We thought working with algae might be cool.”

Ahead of Saturday, the team did not know how the algae would fair in space, so the whole experiment was authentic. It took about two hours for the water plant to reach 103,199 feet, or 19.5 miles, above the Earth’s surface.

The design competition was made possible through a grant from the Maine Space Grant Consortium, which is funded through the Space Grant from NASA. Every state across the country, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., has its own network.

The Maranacook Middle School Cubesat team —Natalie Stroot, Emma Roesner, Myles Roesner and Cooper Tarbuck — pose surrounded by tools at the Maker Innovation Studio at USM on June 18. Photo courtesy of Jean Roesner

Along with the other schools, Maranacook was given the opportunity to “create their own mission” using a cubesat, according to Eaton.

For the project, there were two types of missions: One demonstrated technology, the other a science mission for which students measured something.

Along with the middle schools, four high schools made it to the final round of the competition, including Winslow High School, another central Maine team that decided to test a solar sail.

Eaton said the competition follows with USM’s becoming a “core expert” in this area of science, and Maine’s becoming a hub for space technology.

The three middle schools and four high schools all set their cubesats to go early Saturday at USM’s Lewison-Auburn campus. The cubesats, which were made of 3D printed materials, had a GPS inside to track where they landed. They also had radio and audio transmitters.

The cubesats went into the air like a weather balloon, using hydrogen, all the teams had their cubesat attached to the same balloon.

“Up there you can see the blackness of space, curvature of the Earth, it looks like a blue ball, it has very low pressure and low temperature,” Eaton said. “All the functionality of the satellite can be validated. There are sensors and a computer board recording the data. From that information, we can see how the algae fared. And once it comes back to Earth, we look at it under a microscope and see how it was impacted.”

The cubesat went up at a speed of 5 meters per second, Roesner said, and the University of Maine’s High Altitude Ballooning Team retrieved it once it landed.

The winners will be announced Wednesday and are being judged on build quality, completeness and the functionality of the design. The teams will also be judged on the ability to meet mission objectives.

Roesner, whose two children Emma and Myles were on the team, said the whole experience was “so cool.”

Other students on the team were Cooper Tarbuck, Natalie Stroot and Johnathin Beane. Emma Roesner and Tarbuck are rising high school freshmen, while Myles Roesner, Stroot and Beane will be seventh-graders.

The students nicknamed the cubesat their “Snot Rocket” for its green color. They are already planning a visit with Ike Levine, professor of natural and applied sciences at USM, to see how the algae fared.

“It’s been pretty neat to see,” Roesner said. “Hopefully, someday my kids will understand how cool this is.”

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