University of Saskatchewan

September 19, 2014   

U of S Students Launch Experimental Rockets in Norway

November 25, 2009

By Lisa Johnson

If it weren’t for the rocky, Mars-like arctic landscape in the background, you might mistake video of an experimental rocket being launched at the Andøya Rocket Range in Norway for footage of a spacecraft blasting out of Cape Canaveral.

For the two University of Saskatchewan engineering and physics students who earlier this month travelled to a northern island in Norway to help launch the rocket, it was just as exciting.

“Watching that rocket disappear into the sky made all of our efforts, travelling, and lack of sleep really pay off,” recalls Ashton Reimer.

Reimer and Robyn Reist were selected as two of only four Canadian students (out of about 50 applicants) selected to go to Norway for an intensive week-long course that culminated in the building and launching of a special sounding rocket. Sounding rockets are launched to take measurements and perform scientific experiments during the sub-orbital flight.

The rocket launched this month, the CaNoRock 1, was assembled from the propulsion system of an old missile donated by a military company. It was outfitted with sensors to measure magnetic fields, temperature, pressure, and acceleration.

Climbing 9.4 kilometres into the air, the rocket sped up to a supersonic Mach 4—four times faster than the speed of sound—before it fell into the Norwegian Sea.

“To keep it from blowing up when it came back down, we had to give it a parachute,” says Reimer.

Reist says the launch happened so fast that she felt a delayed sense of accomplishment. “Now that I think of it, knowing that a circuit that I put together was a part of that rocket—it feels pretty awesome,” she said.

The two U of S students were registered in a class offered by the University of Oslo and their registration, travel and accommodation was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, the Canadian Space Agency, and the U of S President’s office.

Reist and Reimer could not have launched a sounding rocket in Canada since there are no longer any rocket ranges. The main focus of CaNoRock, an exchange program between Norway and Canada, is to give students exposure to space research and the space industry. Cheaper than launching an orbital satellite, sounding rockets are ideal for training students.

“Everything they’ve been learning about physics and engineering came into play—they needed to know their stuff to be a part of this project,” says the students’ supervisor Kathryn McWilliams.

“There is an astonishing amount of physics that goes into these things,” adds Reimer.

The two not only learned about how sounding rockets work, but also the uses to which they are put. The Andøya Rocket Range is actually part of a hub of facilities specializing in space and atmospheric studies such as the ALOMAR Observatory, a lab that looks at atmospheric phenomena such as the aurora borealis (the northern lights).

As the polar region undergoes ever-increasing economic expansion, projects like these help meet the huge demand for research on climate, weather, and environment of the north. The aurora borealis, for example, interfere with GPS navigation in the arctic.

The trip gave Reimer and Reist the opportunity to meet like-minded people and share ideas. They spent the week attending physics lectures, learning about instrument assembly, and taking tours together with students from all over the world.

They were also able to appreciate Norwegian culture first hand.

“I didn’t feel a huge culture shock,” Reist recalls, “until it came to breakfast. We ate sardines with tomato spreads.”

Reimer took the opportunity to take a quick dip in the frigid arctic water off the Norwegian Coast.

Watch the video of the launch at the U of S physics website:


Lisa Johnson is a graduate student in English interning with U of S Research Communications.

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