CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston High School is headed to the edge of outer space.
Sometime next month, the students at the school will make a high-altitude balloon launch to about 125,000 feet, testing components of a future satellite. They will send up another balloon before school lets out, probably in May, for further testing.
Then, if all goes according to plan, a CubeSat mini-satellite designed and programmed by South Charleston High students will ride a NASA rocket into orbit in Fall 2014, where it will be launched and circle in low-earth orbit for up to five years or more.
Joe Oliver, computer teacher, is leading the charge on what is really a school-wide effort.
"We have the science department -- they're doing our trajectory and trying to figure out what we can do in space. We have the engineering department help us design what components can go where in the CubeSat -- it's only a 10-centimer cube, so everything's real compact," he said.
The math department is helping with the math, computer science is doing the programming. Even the art department -- a project logo -- and English department -- press releases -- are lending a hand.
The idea for the satellite launch was first broached to Oliver by engineer and local businessman Jeff Imel, founder of Air Robotics, which designs and sells small, unmanned drones. Imel wanted to encourage a project that would inspire interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
"Let's do something that is spectacular but doable," Imel said. "So the process is, we're going to launch a near-earth satellite that goes up to about 125,000 feet and it parachutes down. That's the first part. The second part is to then put the same sensors on a low-earth orbit satellite."
Last week, Oliver's "A-team" of student satellite designers was gathered to work on various components of the project. Satellite launches of this type in conjunction with NASA are often done at the college level, Oliver said.
"There was another high school that beat us to the punch, but we want to be the first one in West Virginia," he said.