Cassidy Chan ‘15, aerospace and mechanical engineering double major, a team of other Florida Tech students are part of the world’s first privately-funded and student-led interplanetary mission to Mars through one of the largest crowd-funding campaigns in history: Time Capsule to Mars (TC2M). Together with student-led teams from other participating universities, they are working to design, build, launch, navigate and land a CubeSat-based spacecraft on Mars.
The project is being overseen by Explore Mars, Inc., a nonprofit created to advance the goal of sending a human to Mars within the next 20 years. “We’re calling this a new model for student-led innovation and I think it’s something that every participating university can get a lot of value out of,” says Duke University student and business director for TC2M, David Rokeach. Aerospace industry leaders like Draper Laboratory, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne seem to agree—they are providing support to students.
Each student-led university team is tackling a particular aspect of the mission. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is heading up propulsion, guidance navigation and control; Duke University is working on mechanics and structures; University of Colorado Boulder is mapping out the trajectory; University of Connecticut is putting together payload materials; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University is working on avionics; and Georgia Institute of Technology is handling entry ascent and landing. Florida Institute of Technology is putting it all together. As the lead systems engineer for the TC2M, Cassidy and his team, that includes Robert Curtain’16, Juliette Bido ’16, Brianna Tillman ’16 and Isaac Spence ’16, have to connect all these pieces together. “System engineering is taking all the individual sub-systems, all of those pieces, and making sure they fit perfectly. So we don’t have one specific specialty—we have to know a little bit if not most of everything that is going on in this project,” says Cassidy.
Cassidy and his team have a mountain of work ahead of them to get the time capsule in the hands of future Mars explorers. “I joined the project when I worked for Draper Laboratory over the summer and I’ve been able to bring the project to Florida Tech and get other students involved,” says Cassidy. “Since then, we have spent time scaling down the size of the project, saving volume and mass and helping the other university team leaders focus on the specific objectives they want to pursue.”
“I think what distinguishes this project is that it is all student-led,” says Dr. Hefazi, head of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Florida Tech. “They are in charge of making the big decisions and faculty is just playing the role of advisor. This is new way to not only learn technical competencies, but technical management and makes it a very interesting educational tool,” he says. “Everything I’m doing right now relates to what I hope to do after graduation in space systems engineering,” says Cassidy who expects to earn his degree in both mechanical and aerospace engineering.
What exactly will the time capsule hold? With the ability to accept digital content from millions of people from around the globe, it’s anyone’s guess as to what images, photos, videos and audio files the time capsule will store by the time it launches in a few years. “2014 was the year of the selfie, so I imagine that we will get quite a few of those,” says David. “We are really looking at this as a legacy project, as a mechanism through which people can pass along what is most important to them to the next generation and those that will physically explore Mars,” he says.
Instead of burying a time capsule in your backyard, you can send one to another world. If you want to participate, visit www.timecapsuletomars.com/#upload to donate to the project and upload your image, audio or video files.
What will you send?