2017 SOAR group photoThis fall, a group of seven aerospace engineering majors completed seven months of research and watched two of their projects fly aboard NASA’s WB-57 research aircraft at Ellington Field/NASA-JSC as part of NASA’s Student Opportunities for Airborne Research (SOAR) program. NASA and UT Austin will use the data collected from their projects in future research.

Longhorn SOAR challenged students to design a payload capable of climbing aboard a WB-57 aircraft used a TISensorTag to measure temperature, pressure, humidity, angular acceleration, and vibration at an altitude over 60,000 feet.

Longhorn DyNAMITE was developed to monitor urban and rural traffic patterns through visual and infrared cameras and was flown across Corpus Christi, Houston and New Orleans.

From May to late November, NASA mentors guided students through several project milestones. With the help of mentors, students were able to design project systems and test their projects in various atmospheric conditions.

The projects ended with the final week of research at Ellington Field, where NASA engineers approved SOAR and DyNAMITE for flight.

While their projects flew through the sky and collected data, students attended a special access tour of Johnson Space Center, including trips to Mission Control Center, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and pressure-suit rooms.

For aerospace engineering senior Brittany Pitcel, SOAR was an unforgettable part of her undergraduate experience.

"It didn't really hit us that we were sending our payload to space until we arrived at the hangar and saw this huge aircraft right next to our workstation. At that moment, we realized how big of a deal this project was and I can honestly say that all of the stress and hard work was well worth it!"