IIn 1996, Penn State University in collaboration with The State University of New York – Geneseo and Lincoln University, was awarded a sounding rocket flight opportunity supported by NASA through its Student Launch program. This unique award was the outcome of competition based on the educational and scientific merit of the proposal. The scientific goal of SPIRIT I was to measure mesospheric temperature and particle densities. The payload featured a deployed rigid sphere (instrumented with accelerometers, encoder and transmitter), Langmuir probes, 4-pole quadrapole mass spectrometer (Ferran Scientific) and spectro-photometer (SUNY). The students also built the payload transmitter and encoder, as well as the deck and longeron structure. It was successfully launched on May 17th 2000

Following the SPIRIT I launch, a new team of students was assembled and in collaboration with students at Clemson University, began working on the next payload of the SPIRIT program. The scientific goal was to study mesospheric wind. Trimethyl Aluminum gas (TMA) release was used to track upper mesosphere neutral winds. Also on board was an inflated falling sphere (instrumented with GPS receiver, transmitter), an Integrated Electron Count (IEC) Receiver, a chaff experiment, and DC probes. The transmitter and PCM encoder were again designed and built by SPIRIT students. The SPIRIT II team also accomplished an engineering feat by building a fiberglass nosecone and was the first sounding rocket payload to use composite deckplates. The payload launched on October 3rd of 2003 and was successfully recovered.

Work on the SPIRIT III payload was already underway in October 2003, as the SPIRIT II payload was resting on the launch rail. For the third mission, students from three Norwegian Universities (The University of Oslo, The Technical University of Narvik and the University of Bergen) joined in and developed instruments along with Penn State students with the goals to study noctuilucent clouds and Polar Mesospheric Summer Echoes (PMSE). Instruments that the students built to accomplish this goal included: Langmuir Probes, sun sensor, Aerosol Detector, magnetometer, a Solid State Detector (SSD), Accelerometer experiment, NLC imager, photometer, horizon sensor, and Plama Frequency Probe (PFP). To celebrate the international collaboration, the project was renamed to ESPRIT which means to aspire in French. The payload is scheduled to be launched from the Andøya Rocket Range, Norway in June/July of 2006.

As the ESPRIT payload draws closer towards its launch date, plans for a future payload are underway. Five students have been working on a SPIRIT IV proposal as part of their senior design project for aerospace engineering. Their work and proposed payload has created an interest among students, facility and other universities. Although the major scientific objective has not yet been determined, work for the SPIRIT IV payload is expected to begin the Fall of 2006 with a proposed launch date in 2010.

Launch Date May 2000 October 2003 June 2006 2010
Primary Scientific Objective To study atmospheric temperature as a function of altitude To determine mesospheric wind by using a falling sphere To identify Noctuilucent clouds and plasma collision detection  

Langmuir Probe
Mass Spectrometer
Rigid Sphere
Inflatable Sphere
Polarizing Camera

DC Probe
TMA Dye Release
IEC Receiver Inflatable Sphere
Chaff Experiment Video Camera Strain Gauges Temperature Sensors

Langmuir Probe
Plasma Frequency Probe Magnetometer
Sun Sensor Photometer/Camera
Strain Gauges Temperature Sensors Aerosol Detector
Solid State Detector
X-Ray Detector Accelerometers
Pyroless Pin-Puller
Transmitter (not flown)

Collaborating Schools: State University of New York- Geneseo & Lincoln University Clemson University

3 Norwegian Universities: University of Bergen, Technical College of Narvik, University of Oslo

Active Students at the time of the Critical Design Review, 1 year before launch: 40, mostly Electrical Engineering 40, half Electrical, half Aerospace Engineering Approximately 50, half Electrical, half Aerospace Engineering  
Outreach Launched a 10 foot model rocket in conjunction with a local middle school and SUNY-Geneseo Went to an elementary school and had each student build a small personalized model rockets. Participation in Greencastle Middle School and Space Day at Penn State. Payload put in Penn State football commercial.