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News

Carthage experiment launches into space aboard Blue Origin rocket

December 10, 2019

Blue Origin New Shepard Launch 2019A promising technology developed at Carthage College in partnership with NASA launched into space on Dec. 11 on board private aerospace firm Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

Carthage’s Modal Propellant Gauging (MPG) technology is on track to be included in NASA’s Artemis program, which promises to put the first woman and the next man on the moon within the next 10 years.

In development at Carthage since 2011, MPG uses acoustic vibrations to gauge the amount of fuel left in a spacecraft tank.

“We are developing a new and powerful approach to solve a problem that has been around since the Apollo era,” says physics professor Kevin Crosby. “It’s a hard problem because liquids in space behave in strange ways that we’re just beginning to understand.” 

“The Artemis program calls for propellants that have never been used in deep space missions,” Prof. Crosby continues. “Getting accurate measurements will be critical to both a mission’s safety and success. Even a 1 percent improvement in our ability to measure propellant translates into hundreds of pounds of additional materials we can bring to the moon, and right now, MPG is one of only a few viable approaches to deep space fuel gauging.”Members of Carthage's Microgravity Team prepare for the launch of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocke...

The Blue Origin mission is carrying research payloads from Carthage, NASA, University of Florida, Johns Hopkins, and a handful of other universities and private companies. Prof. Crosby and three student researchers — Taylor Peterson ’21, from Sturtevant, WI; Cassi Bossong ’21, from Trevor, WI; and Bennett Bartel ’22, from New London, WI — were in Texas for the launch.

“We are proud to be both small and mighty, and I’m thrilled Carthage is going into space once again,” says Carthage College President John Swallow. “Carthage’s long history with NASA is the result of our commitment to something much easier said than done: bringing cutting-edge research questions to undergraduates, and facilitating their design and execution of innovative solutions.”

NASA partner logoCarthage’s long partnership with NASA began in 2008, when Carthage was one of 10 colleges and universities selected for NASA’s Systems Engineering and Educational Discovery program. Carthage went on to become one of just two colleges in the country to participate in the SEED Program for all six years of the program’s existence. While many student teams designed one-off experiments, each of Carthage’s experiments has been adopted by NASA researchers for continued development.

In August 2014, Carthage was named the lead institution for NASA’s Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium. WSGC is part of a national network of 52 university-based Space Grant consortia funded by NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program.

“Dr. Kevin Crosby and his students’ contributions have greatly benefited NASA and our plans to return humans to deep space,” says Rudy Werlink, the NASA research engineer who first developed the idea behind the MPG project. “This has been a collaboration for over nine years, and I am looking forward to additional space flight demonstrations of the technology in the years to come.” 

Says Prof. Crosby: “This is a great learning experience for our students and a chance for them to contribute directly to the success of the American space program.”