HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — How many college students can say they designed and built a piece of equipment that has been to space and back? Not many. However, a group of students in the Space Hardware Club at the University of Alabama in Huntsville can say they can.

The students built a payload that was sent into space on a Terrier-Orion rocket out of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia, on June 24th, 2022.

The feat is something the students are proud of.

“Knowing that I put components onto a little board using solder and then it went up into space, and is coming back down and then we’re actually getting it back as well is cool,” said Tristan Carter, a senior Mechanical Engineering student. “I’ll actually be able to touch something that I put into space.”

“It was a tremendous feeling, it’s an addictive feeling, once you do something like this you feel like you can never stop,” said Tyler Ardrey, a senior studying Aerospace Engineering.

His comments were echoed by Matthew Bray, another senior studying Aerospace Engineering.

“It’s an awesome experience and I love being a part of it,” Bray said.

Ben Campbell holds the payload the members of Space Hardware Club developed. Matthew Bray, Tyler Ardrey, Tristan Carter, and David Tutunzhiu stand behind him. Image Credit: the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

So what is a payload?

“A payload is basically anything you send into space,” said Ben Campbell, a master’s student in Aerospace Systems Engineering and the project lead. “Throughout the history of space flight, a payload would typically be a satellite, or a probe, or a mars lander, or people event.”

“Payload is basically whatever’s at the top of the rocket that you’re trying to send into space,” Campbell continued.

The payload created by the Space Hardware Club is small but collects immeasurable amounts of data.

“It’s a dinner-plate-sized deck of electronics, that has stuff like accelerometers, gyroscopes, a Geiger counter, temperature sensors, humidity air pressure, a bunch of stuff,” Campbell said. “Basically, giving us the eyes and ears of what all is going on during this whole flight.”

The payload created by the Space Hardware Club. Image Credit: The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The data collection starts at takeoff and collects information every step of the way. That data gives the project members information about what may need to be changed for future missions/flights.

The students are already analyzing the data.

“We need to make sure our payload can handle this section of flight where it’s like we might be getting blasted with radiation here we have this acceleration event here,” Campbell said as an example. “We need to make sure we can survive all that” he continued.

The payload the club created isn’t for a class and the students aren’t graded on it. So, it is purely a learning experience.

“It really gives you tangible experience that I think really opens the door, that a lot of people don’t have,” said Tyler Ardrey.

“Actually getting some of these components into space and seeing the data come through and come back and dig down and analyze some of that data seen in space is an awesome feeling,” said Matthew Bray.

Many of the students have dreams of becoming astronauts or working in the space field.

Sending hardware he helped build into space was kind of a full-circle moment for Bray.

He told News 19 that his father was an Aerospace Engineering student and that he [Matthew] was born in Cape Canaveral, Fla., so he grew up watching shuttle launches.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of the aerospace engineering industry and to finally be a part of it, and show my knowledge, and kind of apply some of my knowledge I’m learning throughout my academics… it’s an exciting feeling,” Bray said.