Why do we do projects?

RIT Space Exploration (SPEX) has a rich history of projects. Every year SPEX launches a high altitude balloon with an scientific payload. This has included deployable solar panels, computer vision and light in the sky (LIS) missions. SPEX has built cold gas thrusters and arc-jet propulsion systems. One of the earliest SPEX projects was an optical laser communication array as well as radio and visual tracking for out high altitude balloons. Projects are what sets us apart from other groups on campus.

Past and present projects

High Altitude Balloon

A quick-to-develop testbed

The SPEX High Altitude Balloon (HAB) project/group allows for a unique opportunity to conduct experiments in a near space-like environment. HABs typically reach an attitude of approximately 30,000 meters (about 100,000 feet). SPEX HAB has launched four previous balloons, designated as HAB 1, HAB 2, HAB 3, and HAB 4. Now the HAB team is working on PLANTHAB.

Learn more about HAB here.


Image of HAB 2 launch before camera failure at an estimated 18,500m.

HAB5 will build on HAB 4 and the Where U At Plants (WUAP) payload that were flown in Spring of 2018. High Altitude Balloons (HABs) are autonomous balloons sent up to 100,000 feet and serve as research platforms for a variety of purposes. A High Altitude Balloon will fly the Plant Life Automatic NDVI with Telemetry from a High Altitude Balloon (PLANTHAB) payload module. The HAB5 and PLANTHAB payload are to be developed in parallel over one year. The vehicle and payload are both designed to be modular so that the HAB is able to support diverse mission payloads on the same platform. PLANTHAB will use multispectral imaging to measure vegetation density, and will demonstrate on-board image processing and computer vision techniques with low cost, consumer level components.


The astrodynamics team is responsible for developing the expertise and techniques for tracking fast moving Low-Earth Orbit(LEO) objects. We use optical telescopes to record LEO object orbital elements then use that data with Orbital Simulation software to model their orbits over time.

This year, SPEX will be assisting the RIT observatory with some improvements and repairs to the hardware there. The observatory has two domes, yet one is not very widely used because of the system to remove the roof. SPEX will repair and adjust this motor to fix this issue. the secondary dome also requires a latch arm to be repaired for safety reasons. SPEX will do this work as well. Finally, the faculty have requested small modifications to the 12” Meade telescope that would greatly improve the convenience and quality of observing. SPEX will help with this as well.

Learn more about Astrodynamics here.


SPEX members at one of our observation nights.

IREC (Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition)

Every year Spaceport America host the Intercollegiate Rocket and Engineering Competition or IREC. Teams for colleges from across the country meet to compete in these events. The SA Cup takes place in Las Cruces, NM. RIT SPEX will be partners with RIT Launch Initiative to deliver our entry into the competition. SPEX has taken place in one IREC previously, in 2018. Launch Initiative will build the rocket, SPEX will provide the payload. Our goal is to design and build a scientific payload to compete in the intercollegiate rocket engineering competition.


The team searching for Hyperion payload in 2018.

SPEX will be participating in the SDL Payload Challenge at the Spaceport America Cup 2019. A 3U CubeSat-like payload featuring a protein spectroscopy experiment will be launched and recovered. The payload is dubbed Spectroscopy Protein EXperiment Through Reaction Observation (SPEXTRO). The Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) payload challenge 2019 is held at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The SDL payload challenge is a sub competition at IREC designed to encourage participants to create payloads that accomplish a relevant function and provide useful learning opportunities. The goal of the payload experiment is to test how high acceleration and zero net acceleration (free-fall) affects the folding of proteins.


SPEX will begin the design and construction of a mock rover. The project is set to run for two semesters with intention of a follow up rover in the future. Rovers and by extension, robotics are an area of space exploration completely new to RIT SPEX. The rover is set to include a rocker-bogie suspension mechanism alongside the required motors, piloting equipment, power regulation, and communications systems.


Rocker-bogie mechanism

The rover is set to be a platform which can be improved with features like Lidar based CV for autonomous navigation, soil analysis equipment, a robotic arm, solar cells, or more. There are eight active missions on Mars. Four of those include rovers. The Rovers team is excited to get some experience in this area. This is also an opportunity for SPEX to get involved with faculty research as robotics and computer visions are areas of present at RIT.

This will be RIT SPEXs first venture into robotics!

CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI)

The SPEX team will go through the early design stages of the CSLI. Including choosing a payload. This is one of the first steps in putting RIT's first satellite in space.

More on CSLI coming soon!

Environmental Test Chamber

SPEX will be building an environmental test chamber (ETC) that will be able to test temperatures between -20°C to 50°C and will be capable to reduce pressure by 1 Atmosphere. This ETC will be able to help with testing objects in space like environments. This will allow for risk reduction with projects like HAB and IREC, as well as provide opportunities to replicate industry-standard testing on space-like designs.

Rocket Nozzle Analysis and Design (past project)

The Rocket Nozzle Analysis and Design team designs, fabricates and tests various nozzles for the purpose of education and integration with other SPEX projects in the future. The team measures the thrust and perform data analysis to compare experimental results to computational results.


The team prepares to test 3-D printed nozzles for data collection.