University of the Philippines Los Baños
Sunday, 13 November 2016 00:00

Asian students launch water rockets, analyze can sat data at space science event

They may have come from nation-states of different levels of power, wealth, influence and sizes, but on a cloudy Nov. 13 afternoon at the UPLB grounds, top high school students from fourteen countries in Asia were given equal chances to prove their craftsmanship and strategy in launching their water rockets.

The Water Rocket Competition is one of the contests being vied for in the side events of the 23rd Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF). It gained participants from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.

The other contest, the Can Satellite Competition, garnered contestants from five of these countries, and had a simultaneous presentation of data analysis at the Sol y Viento Resort in Calamba City. The data gathered from this activity, including the temperature, air pressure and longitude-latitudinal position, were generated from an earlier can satellite launch held at UPLB’s Center for Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship grounds.

These activities highlighted the second day of the international APRSAF event, which is being hosted by the Philippines through the collaborative efforts of the country’s Department of Science and Technology (DOST), DOST-Science Education Institute, DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technologies Research and Development and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. UPLB serves as the event venue of the said competitions.

From water to air

Prior to launching the water rockets, the contestants were given two hours to create their improvised rockets using materials supplied by the organizers. Students took the liberty of coming up with funky designs for their rockets’ fins and nose cone, provided that these would not compromise the flight of the rocket. Nam Nguyen, a delegate from Vietnam, said that he was especially careful in making the nose cone since it was vital to the rocket’s balance during flight. These miniature rockets were all made from plastic water bottles, and were filled with the preferred volume of water prior during the contest proper.

At the launching proper, the 60 participants were allowed to test their improvised rockets before proceeding to two rounds of water rocket launching. The contestants’ ultimate goal was to launch the rocket to the bull’s eye 80 meters away from the launch pad. The bull’s eye lies at the center of a circular target with a seven-meter radius.

The launching activity saw a hit-and-miss of the water rockets - a number of them flew to a high altitude only to land away from the bull’s eye; others were launched to an exciting speed but would travel to a distance exceeding the target; a few made it within the radius of the main circle; and exceptional contestants surprised the audience with a very close landing within the point of impact. The average distance closest to the bull’s eye from the two launches would determine the winning contestant.

They will and ‘can’ because of a ‘can’

Meanwhile, the 10 competing teams of the Can Satellite Competition from the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal and Pakistan presented the data to a panel of judges within the same time. Aside from the variables mentioned earlier, they were given the prerogative to measure other factors that their miniature satellites gathered, such as imaging, light intensity, carbon dioxide concentration and humidity.

These can satellites were literally built on a soda can. Their hardware is composed of a micro-controller unit, radio frequency transceiver with ground station, battery, structural frame, instrumentation and parachute. With the latter attached to it, these can satellites were launched a day before using the DOST drone as the gondola. Prior to the presentation proper, the teams were given a couple of hours to analyze the data that their respective systems have received during the satellite launch.

The presented data were judged based on mission complexity, systems performance, launch performance and data analysis.

Teachers’ sharing

The second day of the event also saw the participants’ mentors and coaches gathering together for a seminar and sharing session. They discussed and shared ideas and initiatives in promoting space science education in their respective home countries and schools.

A participating teacher from China related their economic growth to the increased space science education in their country; while the delegate from Malaysia said that their government is serious about improving space education in the Southeast Asian nation. An Indian educator briefly shared a template for making water rocket using ordinarily available materials; while a teacher from Thailand expressed his country’s competitive attitude in water rocket competition.

The teachers reiterated the importance of exposing students to space science conventions and contests and meeting scholars and experts in developing the students’ knowledge and skills in the said field.

Despite the competition among the participants, a friendship dinner will culminate the event, showing that despite their varied strengths, culture and stature in the international community, they are gathered together at the event on an equal footing. Only after the announcement of winners shall be determined which countries are the best, not necessarily in terms of its global stature and influence, but at least in making water rockets and can satellite for space science education’s sake. (Jessa Jael S. Arana and Mark Jayson E. Gloria)