ION+ Student Academy 2024

  • Authors:
    Amber Agee-DeHart & Frank Peri
  • Level:
    Basic to Advanced
    Ages 14-18 
  • Time to Complete:
    at least 6 weeks 
    with onsite meeting
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 Individual Onboard Nanocomputer (ION+) Student Academy  

6 week self-guided online course  for students to learn and apply engineering principles to prepare and test atmospheric sensing hardware to fly  on a NASA's Salter Test Flight (CiS RB-9) mission this summer in New Mexico!

Apply your critical thinking and problem-solving skills
to fly hardware on a real NASA mission

    Keep On Scrollin' to Learn More!

Eligibility:  Any student 14 - 18 years of age - not attending university.  

Exclusions:  Residents of NASA Designated Countries (columns I, II and/or III) are not eligible. 

Prior Experience: 
Students do not need to have prior knowledge of electronics and coding to participate. This program is appropriate for inexperienced to well experienced students! 

Schedule:  Online Course 06 May - 10 June, 2024.   Onsite or virtual attendance for meeting on 19 June 2024 at 10 AM ET (-4 GMT) 

Spaces Available: 15

Enrollment Deadline:  01 May 2024
Course contents

What's included?

  • 1 ION+ Flight Hardware Kit
  • 7 Chapters of Content.
  • Case studies
  • Videos
  • Face-to-face sessions
  • Knowledge checks
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About the program...

Students will gain technology development knowledge and skills using new content modules developed by Frank Peri (Director of Engineering, Astrobotic. NASA, Retired) and Amber Agee-DeHart (Founder and Director, Cubes in Space) and the next-gen ION+ Kits.

Science and Engineering principles at work...

Engineering principles include how to take measurements, to perform simple data analyses, to understand coding algorithms and techniques, to use prototypes to test concepts, how to develop test procedures, and to turn prototypes into flight certified systems. Students will learn how to identify potential problems before they arise, and how to mitigate those problems.
The ION+ program sets out to demystify engineering and is not designed to directly teach the fundamentals of physical science, electricity and electronics. ION+ is not an Intro to Engineering course either.  There are a bounty of courses out there that teach the fundamentals incredibly well! 

Will students learn about atmospheric science, physical science, and engineering principles? Absolutely. But students will actually see how these concepts and principles are applied in a real-world, authentic-learning context.  We indeed mean that this program engages students' minds with a learn by doing approach.  

Students will apply these principles using hands-on projects involving electronic assemblies that can be reconfigured and reused.  ION+ hardware units that pass inspection during the Flight Readiness Review on 19 June 2024 will be flown as part of the CiS Research Balloon-9 (RB-9) payload aboard NASA’s Balloon Program Office - Test Flight Mission in August 2024.

Students will receive their ION+ unit kits via UPS by 20 May 2024.
For non-US participants, we will contact you to provide international DHL shipping quotes. Plan $100-225 USD for shipping depending on your distance from the US. (For Canadian participants, the units may be hand-carried in checked baggage during Amber Agee-DeHart’s trip to Ottawa on 05 May eliminating need for international shipping.)



Content and instruction developed and delivered to guide students to understand the specific aspects of space mission design and engineering concepts and skills in order for students to develop and test flight hardware.

Activities and Case Studies

No "busy work" here - everything we curated has a purpose in the demonstration of development and application of newly acquired knowledge and critical thinking skills. Reflecting on your progress is a critical part of learning.

Face-to-face Meetings

Online learning is more effective with face-to-face meetings with the instructor!  This will be especially important when working with the flight hardware.  Meetings are optional and will be recorded and posted for all to access.

Course Content:

Introduction to Engineering and ION+

  • Elements of Space Mission Design
  • Characteristics of Engineers
  • Engineering and Space Mission Design

Fundamentals of Space Exploration Mission Design

  • Defining Mission Need
  • Elements of Space Mission Architecture
  • Mission Requirements
  • Systems Engineering and Case Study
  • Description of NASA Salter Test Flight Mission
  • Description of Cubes in Space ION+ Mission

Concepts of Hardware Measurement

  • Tools and Instruments
  • Accuracy and Precision
  • Statistical Sampling and Standard Deviation
  • Accuracy of Tools
  • Sensors and Measurement
  • Precision and Resolution
  • ION Measurement Requirements
  • Intro to Calibration 

Calibration of Instruments and Hardware

  • Types of Calibration
  • Calibrating Sensors

The ION+ Flight Unit

  • Hardware Components fo the Flight Unit
  • Components of ION+ Processor Board
  • Systems Integration
  • Block Diagrams

Implementing ION+ through Engineering Development Approach

  • Engineering Mission Constraints
  • ION+ Design Constraints
  • Engineering Development Approach
  • Engineering Design Process
  • Software Concept of Operations
  • Calibrating the ION+ Flight Unit
  • Preparing for Mission Readiness Review
  • Elements of Flight Unit Inspection
Meet the instructor

Amber Agee-DeHart

  • Position: Director

  • Cubes in Space
  • Experience:

  • 10 years with Cubes in Space
Over 25 years of experience in program management, communications, instruction, curriculum development and instructional design. Accomplished in the design and delivery of environmental science,  integrative STEAM, workforce development and aerospace education programs for students and teachers for  organizations such as NASA, the National Institute of Aerospace, Universities Space Research Association (USRA), idoodlesoftware inc, the Rubik Learning Initiative (RLI), and  the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC). 

Recipient of numerous awards including: the NASA LaRC Team Award; the NASA LaRC Director’s Award for Creativity, Teamwork and Innovation; the Virginia Math and Science Coalition’s Programs That Work Award; the NASA Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Team Award, and the NASA Robert H. Goddard Outreach Award.

Elected to serve as Chairperson on the University Space Research Association's Science and Engineering Education Council and serves on the Virginia Aerospace Business Association Outreach and Scholarship Committee. 
Meet the instructor

Frank Peri

  • Position: Subject Matter Expert

  • Astrobotic Technology
  • Experience:

  • 35+ Years NASA - retired
With over 35 years of engineering experience, Frank currently leads a team of engineers and scientists at Science Systems and Applications, Inc (SSAI), a company that provides innovative solutions for aerospace, earth, and space sciences. Frank oversees the design, development, testing, and delivery of complex projects that meet the requirements and expectations of our customers and partners.

Previously, Frank served as the Director for Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA Langley Research Center, where he ensured the quality and safety of NASA's missions and products. He also developed a management approach for high-risk tolerant projects that enabled new science missions with reduced life-cycle costs. Frank is a Senior Member of IEEE and a recipient of the Outstanding Leadership Medal and the Group Achievement Award from NASA. Frank is  passionate about advancing the frontiers of science and technology for the benefit of humanity. Frank holds a MSEE degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and a BSEE degree from The University of Akron.

Soon Frank will be the Director of Engineering for Astrobotics Technology.  

Week 02 Overview

Learning goals

This week we will continue our inquiry activities and start exploring the fundamentals of space mission design. 
  • Asking the Right Questions - Parts 1 & 2

    Pose powerful questions. Categorize the questions. Identify and prioritize the questions for which the answers are critical to your task's or project's success.
  • Engineering Design Process

    Identify the key engineering design element to begin your experiment concept exploration.  The process element will be an activity to be submitted next week. 
  • Mission Team Responsibilities and Skills

    Developing and implementing large and small scale projects involves a series of interrelated tasks and skills to be completed under a given set of parameters.  Your mission design team is no different!  Get ready to many of the tasks and. responsibilities involved in project/mission design work
  • Introduction to Space Mission Design

    Sit back and receive a broad overview of the preliminary aspects of the process of space mission design.  Guess what? You will be going through these same processes with YOUR mission design team.  

Key takeaways from this week's session: