New Shepard launch

Watching from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site along with Harrison were student-payload team members Logan Sisca and David Bates. Sisca and Bates are team members of the Remote Acoustic Sensor (RAS) payload, which was designed to capture acoustic data from bees and record their vibrations, pressures and orientation in space. 

"It is always rewarding to see your team's space hardware take flight, and this mission is no exception since our ASU engineering educations have led up to this moment,” said Sisca. “I am most excited to see the data and onboard video and I hope that the compelling in-space footage inspires future engineers and scientists to pursue their passion for exploration." 

When the RAS payload team members arrived at Blue Origin’s launch site, they loaded 24 locally sourced honeybees into the payload's experiment chamber, which is about the size of a softball. The bees remained in the chamber for the duration of the mission and were provided with sugar cubes to maintain their energy levels. Following the successful completion of their space mission, the bees — also known as "Flapstronauts" — were released into the wild to pollinate crops on Earth. 

“For our payload, we wanted to study the behavior of honeybees in space because, as prime pollinators, they are essential in any space colonization effort where crops are needed to be grown for food,” explained Sisca.

"The RAS payload has two goals,” said Bates. “The first is to observe the behavior of honeybees in the varying gravity and acceleration environments of space travel; and the second is to prove the viability of the remote acoustic sensor that measures air pressure variations like a microphone. RAS analyzes variations in light intensity that are produced when vibrating objects pass in front of the sensor and then converts that data into a sound file.”

As Bates explained, the RAS is able to "hear" objects in the vacuum of space and the successful operation of this experiment will verify that the RAS technology can operate aboard a spacecraft and that it can be used to gather information about the bees during flight.

“With good enough optical sensors, we can use ordinary light to hear vibrations even miles away,” added Danny Jacobs of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, who is a faculty mentor for the RAS team. “Given the task of demonstrating this technique on a rocket flight but constrained to a small box, the team conceived the novel application of monitoring insects. With much trial and error, the team recreated a RAS sensor, demonstrated it on bees and built a really nice experiment around it. This was all accomplished working remotely online and mailing hardware to each other. What a tour de force!”

Members of the original team include Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering electrical engineering undergrads Bates, Sisca, Bryan Trinidad and Roland Lizana. This team consisted entirely of online students spread across the country, as well as one student, Trinidad, who was working aboard a naval vessel in the Persian Gulf. While some team communication was done online, the team also shipped the payload around the world so each team member could physically work on it. Their faculty capstone leader is Mike Goryll with the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

“This project raises the technology readiness level of the remote acoustic technology which was invented by Dan Slater and promoted by Rex Ridenoure of Ecliptic Enterprises,” added Jacobs. “They were important mentors for this team and provided lots of help during the early concept development and testing of the sensor.”

Other ASU student-led payloads

The Suborbital Coagulation and Aggregation in Microgravity (SCAM) payload seeks to test the agglomeration of small particles, ranging from millimeter to centimeter in size, as they make collisions in microgravity, helping us to understand how planets form.  

Original members of the team include School of Earth and Space Exploration undergraduates Pat Jackson (exploration systems design), Jason Pickering (astrophysics), Chris Huglin (exploration systems design), Jin Kim (astrophysics), Kevin White (astrobiology), Kanishka Nirmale (astrophysics) and Mitchell Drake (explorations systems design). Their faculty mentor is Chris Groppi with the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The Space Devils “Five Senses” payload measures and collects data on sight, smell, taste, touch and sound in space. It has, as its centerpiece, an ASU Sparky figure attached to a spring. During ascent and descent, Sparky is pushed up and down, creating the illusion that Sparky is doing pushups, which is measured by an accelerometer. A camera recorded the pushups, a microphone captured the sounds of the spaceflight, and air was pulled into the payload and passed through scent paper to capture the smell of space. 

The original members of the team include Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering mechanical engineering undergrads: Cody Bisbing, Gabby Bovaird, Clint Farnsworth, Josh Fixel, Peter Marple and Landon Wiltbank. Their faculty capstone leader is Abdelrahman Shuaib with the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration