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Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics
New Horizons: Student Dust Counter

Team History

SDC students

The SDC student team has changed over the length of the New Horizons mission. Here, the second generation of SDC students, responsible for the design, development, and calibration of SDC, are pictured in the LASP lobby.
(Courtesy LASP)

The SDC project has an unusual history.

A similar professional dust instrument was part of a competing proposal submitted to NASA at the same time as New Horizons. After the selection of New Horizons, motivated by the potential scientific contribution of a dust instrument, the idea emerged to redirect some of the funds from traditional education and public outreach activities so that a group of students could gain experience building space hardware. However, the advanced state of the rest of the New Horizons payload and the risk of involving inexperienced students made this request challenging. With the strong support of the mission PI, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, the NASA education and public outreach board agreed to try the “SDC experiment.”

SDC Instrument PI M. Horányi guides the student team, initially growing quickly to more than 20 engineering and physics undergraduate and graduate students. The SDC team today is much smaller and it continues to evolve to accommodate new students because of the lengthy duration of the mission. Students have been responsible for the work done in all phases of this project, including presentations at all NASA milestone reviews; SDC was built and tested to the same NASA engineering standards as every other flight instrument. However, to minimize the risk that the SDC might pose to the mission, NASA-certified personnel completed all quality-assurance inspections, as well as the final flight assembly; professionals also supervise student activities.