Pursuing sustainability in space

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In a school that excels in science and mathematics, six Diamond Bar High School juniors took their engineering prowess to the next level in the NASA TechRise Student Challenge.

The engineering competition challenged groups of students from grades 6-12 to design spaceflight-related experiments for either a suborbital rocket or a high-altitude balloon. On Jan. 21, 57 winning teams will be given $1,500 to execute their ideas and launch them on a NASA-sponsored suborbital flight for testing in early 2023. 

DBHS students Jeffrey Gong, Jason Kim, William Li, Duncan Seshiki, Jessica Wang and Allison Yuh decided to apply to this competition when the annual JPL Invention Challenge was canceled due to COVID-19. Also contributing to their decision was the opportunity to  branch out into a sub-field of engineering. .

“I am happy with our achievements regardless of the result as this was a very rewarding and eye-opening experience,” Yuh said. “I am proud of what we have accomplished and truly enjoyed the competition process.”

To prepare for the competition, the juniors had to research and draft a project proposal that detailed their experiment design, and submitted it between Aug. 18 and Nov. 3 for judging. Although teams are given creative freedom in drafting their designs, there is one rule that all teams must abide by: their experiment design must fit into a 4x8x8 inch box—a space only slightly larger than a small milk carton.

“Our team brainstormed and designed an experiment that tested the feasibility of biodegradable and edible pods to hold liquid in space,” Yuh said. “We are aiming to improve the sustainability of space exploration as life on the space station often uses nonrenewable and wasteful resources.”

Though the team worked together to brainstorm and engineer their final product, each member had a unique role that contributed to the end result. Many credited their expertise in their respective roles to their experience in the DBHS robotics team, Team Sprocket, since it taught them a lot about practical computer-aided design. 

“Although I did have to branch out on my own in learning new features and advanced functions, Sprocket gave me a solid foundation in 3D modeling that I will also be able to go off of in the future,” Wang said.

After participating in this challenge, the team is hopeful that their hard work will yield success. Nonetheless, they are grateful for the teamwork skills they developed and for the opportunity to learn more about NASA and life in space. 

“I was able to learn a lot of new information regarding space and different kinds of materials,” Gong said. “More importantly, I was able to learn how to work with people who had different skills than me to be able to design an end product.”