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BU student-built rocket, spectre, launched successfully

Boston University : 16 June, 2000  (Technical Article)
Four years ago, five undergraduate students at Boston University were faced with a choice: take a final exam in an introductory astronomy class or develop a NASA grant proposal for a rocket experiment. On Tuesday, June 13, a large team of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty watched that proposal take flight.
NASA selected SPECTRE, or the Student-run Program for Exoatmospheric Collecting Technologies and Rocket Experiment, as part of its Student Launch Program initiative. NASA provided the project funding and also a Nike-Orion sounding rocket for use in the experiment.

Team SPECTRE with the recovered rocket, clockwise from top left: Jerry Ballas, Valerie Taylor, NASA project manager Frank Lau, Valerie Maher, Mike Ruane, Supriya Chakrabarti, Jay Hancock, David Nghiem, and Tibor Trunk

Selected as one of three out of 30 applicants for the program, SPECTRE included over 66 B.U. students and faculty have contributed to the science, theory, design, instrument development and testing of SPECTRE.

'SPECTRE has provided an outstanding opportunity for students to participate in a real-life space project,' says Professor Supriya Chakrabarti, SPECTRE Principal Investigator and director of the Center for Space Physics. 'By utilizing an innovative combination of undergraduate engineering teams, faculty consultation, and industrial partners, B.U. has developed a high caliber experimental program that is committed to providing practical hands-on science and engineering experience to students.'

The SPECTRE experiment is designed to measure X-ray, ultraviolet and visible radiation and observe how different types of radiation are absorbed by various atmospheric constituents. Because the experiment package is mounted on a rocket and traveled over 100 kilometers above the earthís surface, the data obtained from SPECTRE will demonstrate how the absorption properties of the atmosphere change with altitude.

Due to the rapid depletion of the ozone layer and the rise of skin cancer and global warming, studies that examine radiation levels and the ozone layer have become increasingly important to scientists and the general public.

'I had always dreamed of working in space, but I never thought that I would get the opportunity to learn practical engineering, astronomy and rocket science skills while I was an undergraduate,' says David Nghiem, one of the five original project member and project director of the SPECTRE integration team. 'For the last three years I have been working on SPECTRE and I canít wait to see it launch.'

Amptek Inc., Bedford, MA is the local industrial partner that supported the development of SPECTRE. A major portion of the experiment was developed as Senior Design Projects by students in the Department of Electrical Computer Engineering of the College of Engineering at Boston University. Professors Michael Ruane and Mark Horenstein directed these developments. Students from Wellesley College under the guidance of Professor Glenn Stark developed the observation and data analysis plans.
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