Ardusat: Taking Students to Outer Space

“We’re excited to inspire the next generation that will go on and pursue careers in space.”

Here are the things I dreamt about as a child: dropping jays, dishing dimes, and using my superior athleticism to become the white, red-headed Michael Jordan; pretty much every girl within a 350-mile radius; and exploring the infinite, mystical intricacies of outer space.

Here are the ways all my dreams were brutally destroyed as a child: I was a short, chubby, redhead with no athleticism, closer to a hooping garden gnome than a white MJ; again, I was a short, chubby, redhead with no athleticism, which as it turns out isn’t high on the female fantasy chart; and learning about space is hard when you’re a short, chubby, redhead that has no learning tools at his disposal allowing ventures into the star-filled sky.

So here’s what we’ve learned: I can’t tell you how to become a NBA player, I can kind of tell you how to attract members of the opposite sex, and I can definitely tell you what’s available for students interested in outer space.

“The one big thing that really attracts a lot of attention is the connection to space,” Ardusat President Sunny Washington said in a recent interview with Beehive Startups. “I think at one time or another, everybody wanted to be an astronaut — we all wondered what it was like outside earth. Looking at pictures, seeing videos, getting excited about rocket launches…we’re excited to inspire the next generation that will go on and pursue careers in space.”

Ardusat — a Boom Startup graduate and recent recipient of $1 million in seed funding — seeks to inspire students by providing the necessary tools to conduct space-based experiments from within the friendly confines of the classroom. If you want to explore space, you don’t have to jump on the nearest rocketship heading out of orbit — Ardusat makes it easy for any student to play space scientist.

So how do you make space experimentation easily accessible to the masses? Picture a small cube satellite, covered in sensors and measuring 10cc, being launched in space. These things exist and they’re called CubeSats. Now picture Ardusat placing those exact same sensors in the hands of America’s youth and turning them loose.

“We sell something called a Classroom Launch Pack — most likely your teacher or your school would buy this — it contains Space Kits that have these sensors, the same sensors that are on the satellites,” Washington said. “And then you use them in the classroom to run your experiments. It’s really an opportunity for you to get hands-on and experiment with different ways you can track and leverage data.”

Normally, placing anything in the hands of students is a terrible idea — they never know what to do and that cluelessness almost always leads to disaster. Ardusat allows users access to learning resources that teach students all about their sensors, ensuring full understanding when it comes time to experiment.

“What we want students to do is be able to develop a scientific experiment, using the scientific method, collect data using the sensors on the satellite — they can do earth-based experiments or space-based experiments — present their findings, and then share that,” Washington said. “What we’re excited about is the opportunity for students to share a research portfolio that they’ve created…and really create a social environment out of it.”

Once students have honed their experiments in the classroom, the sky’s the limit — literally. Students send their test codes to Ardusat, who in turn run those codes through CubeSats orbiting Earth. Thus, classroom experimentation is turned into space experimentation. And students that previously didn’t have ways to explore outer space can now explore different, much more exciting avenues.

“The biggest thing for us is the hands-on component,” Washington said. “We think that really makes a big difference in the way students absorb information and the way they get excited about learning new information. Right now, we’re focused on K-12 but our goal is to bring that down to grades 3–8. The reason we’re doing that, we really feel like that’s going to make a bigger impact on influencing students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees. And then we also have quite a bit of interest in the higher education level, where you can do more complex experiments.”

But where does all this fantastic experimental data go? Previously, it was the scientific equivalent of Karl Malone’s WCW wrestling career — lost, gone, and immediately forgotten. Realizing things like this should never be lost, Ardusat has introduced the Experiment Platform, where test results are shared, exchanged, and most importantly, never forgotten.

“We would hear from other teachers saying, ‘My student created this awesome experiment,’” Washington said. “But when we’d say, ‘Did you save it, can we see it?’, they’d say, ‘We didn’t save it anywhere.’ So we just thought this was a huge, missed opportunity for that data and information to be saved and shared with other people, so that’s why we created the Experiment Platform.”

If only Ardusat had existed when I was a child, things would have turned out differently. I’m fairly confident I would be a world-renowned scientist, or at least a semi-respected astronaut, instead of a simple nerd writing articles for Beehive Startups. Alas, it was not to be.

With Ardusat simplifying the process of space-based experimentation, students and teachers alike can take advantage of the opportunities that didn’t exist 15 years ago: exploring earth, exploring space, and an extraordinary launch towards a STEM-filled life.

“We have some superstar teachers who are really hands-on and comfortable with using new technology, but we know that’s not going to be the case with most teachers,” Washington said. “Our goal is to make it really easy and simple, so that the average teacher can feel comfortable using our stuff.”

Published 3/5/3015

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