OrbitalHub

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12-19-14

Atlas V To Carry Cygnus To ISS

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Credits: NASA

 

Orbital Sciences Corporation has announced that Atlas V will be the launch vehicle that will help the company fulfill its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) commitment to NASA. Orbital’s Antares will undergo an upgrade of the main propulsion system.

 

From the December 9, 2014 press release:

 

“Orbital Sciences Corporation […] today announced new details in its plans to resume cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) and to accelerate the introduction of an upgraded Antares launch vehicle. In formulating its go-forward plans, the company’s primary objective is to fulfill its commitment to NASA for ISS cargo deliveries with high levels of safety and reliability and minimum disruption to schedules. As previously announced, these plans are expected to allow Orbital to accomplish all remaining cargo deliveries under its current Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA by the end of 2016 and with no cost increase to the space agency.

 

The company’s go-forward plans for the CRS program and Antares launch vehicle include these major elements:

Atlas V Launch: Orbital has contracted with United Launch Alliance for an Atlas V launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the fourth quarter of 2015, with an option for a second Atlas V launch in 2016 if needed. The Atlas rocket’s greater lift capacity will allow Cygnus to carry nearly 35% more cargo to the ISS than previously planned for CRS missions in 2015.

Antares Propulsion Upgrade: The company has confirmed its ability to accelerate the introduction of a new main propulsion system for the Antares rocket and has scheduled three additional CRS launches in the first, second and fourth quarters of 2016 using the upgraded vehicle. The greater payload performance of the upgraded Antares will permit Cygnus spacecraft on each of these missions to deliver over 20% more cargo than in prior plans. With necessary supplier contracts now in place, the first new propulsion systems are expected to arrive at the Antares final assembly facility at Wallops Island, Virginia in mid-2015 to begin vehicle integration and testing.

Wallops Launch Site Repairs: The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) has assessed the clean-up, repair and reconstruction work necessary to return the Wallops launch complex to operational status. Current plans call for repairs to be substantially completed by the fall of 2015, with recertification taking place before year end.

 

The flexibility of Orbital’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft to accommodate heavier cargo loads, together with the greater lift capacity of the Atlas V and upgraded Antares vehicles, will allow the company to complete all currently contracted ISS deliveries in four missions instead of the five previously planned flights over the next two years. In addition, the company’s revised approach is not expected to create any material adverse financial impacts in 2015 or future years as Orbital carries out the CRS cargo delivery and Antares propulsion upgrade programs.”

 

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11-4-14

Antares Explosion Updates

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Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

 

Orbital’s statement regarding the ORB-3 launch mishap:

(Dulles, VA 28 October 2014) – Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB), one of the world’s leading space technology companies, confirms that today’s Antares rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility was not successful. Shortly after lift-off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at 6:22 p.m. (EDT), the vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure. According to NASA’s emergency operations officials, there were no casualties and property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island. Orbital has formed an anomaly investigation board, which will work in close coordination with all appropriate government agencies, to determine the cause of today’s mishap.

 

“It is far too early to know the details of what happened,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group. “As we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation’s space program.”

 

Orbital will provide more information as it becomes available and is verified.

 

Orbital’s update on October 29:

Early this morning, range officials performed an aerial survey of the launch facilities and surrounding areas at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility where yesterday’s failure of the Antares rocket occurred after it lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A. Shortly after, a team of representatives from NASA, MARS and Orbital entered the launch site to perform a preliminary assessment of the launch complex and related facilities. The overall findings indicate the major elements of the launch complex infrastructure, such as the pad and fuel tanks, avoided serious damage, although some repairs will be necessary. However, until the facility is inspected in greater detail in the coming days, the full extent of necessary repairs or how long they will take to accomplish will not be known.

 

NASA has posted aerial views of the launch pad taken earlier today here.

 

Also today, Orbital made progress forming a permanent Accident Investigation Board (AIB) comprised of company officials, along with representatives from NASA and the NTSB, with the FAA providing overall oversight of the process. Initially, Mr. Rich Straka, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group, served as the interim chairman to begin the investigation process immediately after the launch mishap. Today, Orbital appointed Mr. Dave Steffy, Senior Vice President and Chief Engineer of the company’s Advanced Programs Group, a highly experienced engineer well-versed in launch vehicle engineering and operations, to serve as the permanent chairman of the AIB.

 

No follow-on press conferences are planned at this time. Further updates on the situation and the progress of the ongoing investigation will be provided as they are available.

 

Orbital’s update on October 30:

Launch Site Status:

Based on initial sweeps conducted by an Orbital safety team, it appears a significant amount of debris remains on the site and it is likely substantial hardware evidence will be available to aid in determining root cause of the Antares launch failure. Some of the Cygnus cargo has also been found and will be retrieved as soon as we have clearance to do so to see if any survived intact. After up close visual inspections by the safety team, it still appears the launch site itself avoided major damage. There is some evidence of damage to piping that runs between the fuel and commodity storage vessels and the launch mount, but no evidence of significant damage to either the storage vessels or launch mount. Detailed evaluations by MARS and their engineering team will occur in the next couple of days. An Orbital-led team has begun cataloging and documenting the location of all pieces of debris over the next several days after which the debris will be relocated to storage bays on the island for further evaluation.

 

Antares Data Review:

Telemetry data has been released to Orbital and our engineers presented a very quick look assessment to the Accident Investigation Board at the end of the day. It appears the Antares vehicle had a nominal pre-launch and launch sequence with no issues noted. All systems appeared to be performing nominally until approximately T+15 seconds at which point the failure occurred. Evidence suggests the failure initiated in the first stage after which the vehicle lost its propulsive capability and fell back to the ground impacting near, but not on, the launch pad. Prior to impacting the ground, the rocket’s Flight Termination System was engaged by the designated official in the Wallops Range Control Center.

 

Orbital’s update on November 3:

Over the weekend, Orbital confirmed the participation of the following individuals who will serve on the Antares launch failure Accident Investigation Board (AIB), which is being led by Orbital under the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The composition of the AIB is as follows:

Chairman: David Steffy, Chief Engineer of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group.

Members: David Swanson, Senior Director of Safety and Mission Assurance for Orbital’s Technical Operations organization; Wayne Hale, Independent Consultant and Former NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager; David Cooper, Member of Orbital’s Independent Readiness Review Team for the company’s Launch Systems Group; Eric Wood, Director of Propulsion Engineering for Orbital’s Launch Systems Group; Tom Costello, Launch Vehicle Assessment Manager in the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center; Matt Lacey, Senior Vehicle Systems Engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program.

FAA Oversight Team: Michael S. Kelly, Chief Engineer, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation; Marcus Ward, Mishap Response Coordinator, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

 

Antares Data Review:

The AIB is initially focused on developing a “fault tree” and a timeline of the important events during the launch sequence. Due to the large amount of data available, the AIB is able to work with a rich source of information about the launch. One of the initial tasks for the AIB is to reconcile the data from multiple sources, a process that is now underway, to help create the launch sequence timeline.

 

Launch Site Status:

Over the weekend, Orbital’s Wallops-based Antares personnel continued to identify, catalogue, secure and geolocate debris found at the launch site in order to preserve physical evidence and provide a record of the launch site following the mishap that will be useful for the AIB’s analysis and determination of what caused the Antares launch failure. The debris is being taken to a NASA facility on Wallops Island for secure and weather resistant storage.

 

 

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04-13-14

Krypt0

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Credits: DesktopNexus.com

 

Satoshi Nakamoto is a member of a crypto-anarchist organization (Krypt0) that does not exist yet. Far in the future, he is the citizen of a totalitarian Martian federation which eventually tracks down and takes down one by one all of Krypt0’s members; all but one, Satoshi. He has to leave Mars and return to Earth. Once back on Earth, he contacts local underground resistance groups. But the local resistance is more interested in preserving the status quo, and he realizes that a very effective way of fighting the established power is to travel back in time, create Bitcoin, and destroy centralized currencies. An energy smuggler helps him do the jump into the past. He is unaware that members of the Martian opposing factions followed him. More careful about messing with the timeline, they have infiltrated the FBI and other US government agencies in order to erase Bitcoin from existence.

 

© 2014 OrbitalHub.

 

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Credits: Space Concordia Team

 

The Canadian Satellite Design Competition (CSDC) is a Canada-wide competition for teams of university students (undergraduate and graduate) to design and build low-cost satellite. The CSDC plans to subject the satellites in competition to full space qualification testing, and to launch the winning satellite into orbit to conduct science research. The CSDC is modeled after existing university engineering competitions, such as those sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE).

 

The winning teammates are members of Space Concordia, a student-run astronautical engineering association based in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at the Concordia University in Montreal. The selection process was conducted by industry experts at the David Florida Laboratory of the Canadian Space Agency in Ottawa, a highly secured facility where commercial and research satellites from the United States and Europe are routinely tested. From twelve teams that initially entered the competition, Space Concordia Team was among only three to go for final testing. Alex Potapov, Mechanical Team Lead, answered a few questions about the Space Concordia cubesat mission.

 

Q: What is the scientific payload for the mission you are designing?
A: Our mission is to study the south Atlantic anomaly, more on that here. We plan on doing this by detecting high energy particles present in the region. Our spacecraft is equipped with a Geiger Counter operating in its proportional mode. This will allow us to determine not only the amount of radiation but also the type of particle present.

 

Q: What hardware do you intend to use? Off-the-shelf boards and software or are you developing your own?
A: Most of our components are of the shelf with the exception of several printed circuit boards. One of the more impressive and less accessible pieces of hardware is the Xiphos Q6, which is a sophisticated FPGA that will be used as the central computer of our satellite. The software is developed internally, and it is based on the Linux operating system.

 

Q: How do you intend to communicate with your satellite from the ground? UHF, Iridium modem, etc.?
A: The spacecraft will communicate with a ground station located near Montreal by means of an antenna that is capable of transmitting and receiving at UHF and VHF armature frequency bands. At this orbit we will have a communication window of about 10-11 min per pass. The communication system was entirely developed by Tiago Leao, PhD Candidate at Concordia University.

 

Credit: Space Concordia Team

 

Q: How do you generate and store power onboard the satellite? Batteries, solar panels? Do you intend to use deployable solar panels?
A: The satellite is equipped with four solar arrays made of 6 ultra high efficiency solar cells each, these cells charge 4 lithium ion batteries. The solar cells are mounted to the body panels of the spacecraft and are not deployable. The entire power system was designed and developed by Ty Boer, an electrical engineering student at Concordia University.

 

Q: Does the attitude determination and control system rely solely on reaction wheels? How do you intend to unload them? Magnetorquers, cold gas thrusters, or have you developed a novel technique?
A: Our approach to ACS does not require any of the above, the philosophy behind the cubesat was to keep it as simple as possible and still perform its mission, therefore a passive ACS system was selected. The system contains of permanent magnets and hysteresis rods, this will allow us to remain stable through communication window. We also have sun sensors for telemetry data.

 

Q: Do you plan to have any orbit control systems onboard? What is the orbital profile of the mission?
A: No, there is no active orbit control on-board. The flight software has a look up table that it uses to determine the spacecraft position, this table is updated through TLE data. We then use this position to execute certain commands such as power on the transmitter to establish communication.

 

Credit: Space Concordia Team / Concordia University

 

Q: How do you plan to control the temperature onboard the satellite?
A: The satellite has a passive cooling system, and active heaters that keep critical components such as the batteries within operating range. Cooling is controlled by careful design of conductive elements and optical surfaces.

 

Q: Who are the members registered with your team? What areas of expertise do they represent?
A: The Space Concordia core team members are: Nick Sweet (Project Manager), Alex Potapov (Mechanical team lead), Tiago Leao (Communication systems lead), Ty Boer (Power system lead), Shawn Stoute (Command and data handling lead), Alex Teodor (Software system lead), Gregory Gibson (ACS and Payload lead), Ivan Ivanov (Manufacturing Lead and Mechanical Design), Mehdi Sabzalian (Procurement lead, Structural analysis, Administration), Robert Jakubowicz (Senior Software Developer), Stefanos Dermenakis (Mechanical design, Thermal analysis), Andrei Jones (Mechanical Harness Design). You can find more about the contributors to the project on our about page.

 

To find out more about the Space Concordia Team, you can visit the Space Concordia web page. More information about the Canadian Satellite Design Competition can be found on the CSDC web page.

 

 

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Credits: SpaceX

 

 

 

Disruptive technology is a very bizarre (and scary) concept, but it is not a bizarre or scary idea. The concept was introduced by Clayton Christensen. In one of his books, The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, Christensen proves that, under certain circumstances, companies that do things right can lose their market share or even get out of business. He also presents a set of rules that can help companies capitalizing on disruptive innovation.

 

While I am not trying to give a lecture on economics, I would like to understand how to apply (if possible) the principles of disruptive technologies to the space industry. A very good example is quite at hand… SpaceX.

 

 

We can start by defining the key concepts: sustaining technology and disruptive technology. These are the textbook definitions: A sustaining technology is a new technology that improves the performance of established products, the performance being perceived along the dimensions that mainstream customers value. A disruptive technology is a new technology that brings to market a radical value proposition. They underperform products in mainstream markets, but they have features that are valued by some customers.

 

What is not obvious is that even though disruptive technologies may result in worse product performance in the short term, they can be fully competitive in the same market in the long run because technologies tend to progress faster than market demand.

 

Now let us see what are the 5 principles of disruptive technologies (as defined by Clayton Christensen):

Principle #1: Companies depend on customers and investors for resources (at the end of the day, the customers and the investors dictate how a company spends its money).

Principle #2: Small markets do not solve the growth needs of large companies (large companies wait until small markets become interesting and to enter a small market at the moment when it becomes interesting is often too late).

Principle #3: Markets that do not exist cannot be analyzed (there are no established methods to study or to make predictions for emerging markets, as there is no data to infer from).

Principle #4: An organization’s capabilities define its disabilities (we all have our blind spots).

Principle #5: Technology supply may not equal market demand (as established companies move towards higher-margin markets, the vacuum created at lower price points is filled by companies employing disruptive technologies).

 

Why do you think established companies fail to adopt disruptive technologies? Established companies listen to their customers, invest aggressively only in new technologies that provide customers more and better products that they want, and they study their markets and allocate investment capital only to innovations that promise best return. Good management is sometimes the best reason why established companies fail to stay atop their industries.

 

And this is why technology startups can fill in the niche… Many of the good management principles widely accepted are only situationally appropriate. Sometimes it is right not to listen to your customers, right to invest in technology that promise lower margins, and right to pursue small markets. This can happen in a small company, a technology startup where big outside stakeholders are not vested, and where new technology development is the big drive.

 

Now that the lecture has been delivered, it is time to ask the questions. Why is SpaceX perceived as disruptive? Is SpaceX really disruptive? In what way?

 

The declared goal of SpaceX is to make space more accessible, that is to bring the kg-to-LEO prices down. If you have a basic knowledge of launch systems, you know that the propulsion technology employed today is pretty much the same used by Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs: liquid fuel rocket engines. The Russian Soyuz, for which the basic rocket engine design has not changed much since the Semyorka days, is a living proof that rocket engineers do not want to fix things that work well. While aerospike engines and nuclear rocket engines make the front page from time to time, the good old liquid fuel expansion nozzle rocket engines will be here to stay for a long time.

 

Given the circumstances, how to bring the manufacturing and launch costs down? As a software engineer who spent a number of years in a software startup, I can recognize a number of patterns… First, Musk knows how to motivate his engineers. Doing something cool is a big driver. I know that. And working on a space launch system than one day may put the first human colonists on Mars must be a hell of a motivator.

 

Modular design… software engineering principles are at work. Build reliable components and gradually increase the complexity of your design. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, are built on a modular design that has at the core the Merlin 1D engine. And an important detail to mention here, SpaceX builds the hardware in-house. Obviously, outsourcing would increase the manufacturing costs.

 

If you are familiar with the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle, you will acknowledge that Musk has borrowed proven (and cheaper) technology for Falcon launch vehicles: LOX/RP-1 as fuel, vernier thrusters, and horizontal integration for the first stage, second stage, and the Dragon spacecraft. These choices simplify the overall design and bring the costs down substantially.

 

To put it the way SpaceX many times did: “simplicity, reliability, and low cost can go hand-in-hand.”

 

One thing to notice is that the most important innovation introduced by SpaceX is in the design and manufacturing process, which is in-house and as flat as possible. Rearranging the pieces of the puzzle can often give the competitive advantage. Lean and mean is the new way.

 

SpaceX is not just trying to bring down the launch prices, it is actually trying to disrupt the status quo… and this makes the battle harder. SpaceX dixit: “SpaceX’s goal is to renew a sense of excellence in the space industry by disrupting the current paradigm of complacency and replacing it with innovation and commercialized price points; laying the foundation for a truly space-faring human civilization.”

 

When developing the theory around disruptive technologies, Clayton Christensen has studied the hard disk drive and the mechanical excavator industries. The US space industry is a different ecosystem. Do the 5 principles presented above need adjustment?

 

Not really. Principle #1 is valid and applies in this case as well. Self-funded SpaceX followed a market strategy not dictated by customers or investors. The small payload launcher market, targeted by SpaceX with Falcon 1 and Falcon 1e, was an area neglected by established space companies as Principle #2 states. Principle #3 explains why established companies have neglected the small payload market.

 

Does mastering the small payload launcher technology qualifies one to enter the heavy launcher market? SpaceX managed to overcome Principle #4. Will SpaceX retire its Falcon 1 launch vehicles and leave the small launcher market for good? In this case, I would see Principle #5 as a warning. While the heavy launchers offer better profit margins, would it be a smart move to leave an emerging market (currently) offering low profit margins? This remains to be seen.

 

 

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Credits: Clyde Space

 

 

 

The second Canadian Satellite Design Competition (CSDC) team that answered our invitation to a Q&A is the team from Dalhousie University. Colin O’Flynn, graduate student at Dalhousie University and CTO of the CSDC team, answered our questions.

 

 

 

Q: What hardware do you intend to use? Off-the-shelf boards and software or are you developing your own?
A: We are aiming to use COTS boards and software as much as possible, especially during development. Eventually we will be forced to design and build custom hardware, since there is a very specific form-factor which many COTS boards won’t fit inside. Weight is also a huge issue for us – since many COTS boards contain lots of features we might not need (e.g.: LCD display, Ethernet connector), we can shave some weight by spinning our own board and not wasting space or weight with those features.

Ideally though we’ll just adapt the COTS board design to our satellite, meaning we can use a tested design with minimal work. Not Invented Here (NIH) syndrome is dangerous to engineering projects, so while our current research does show we can’t find the correct form factor, we’ll always be checking the market for new products that might let us avoid needless designs and builds.

 

Q: How do you intend to communicate with your satellite from the ground? UHF, Iridium modem, etc.?
A: Again our satellite has slightly different objectives from a normal commercial satellite, which are primarily concerned with issues such as maximizing bandwidth or minimizing lag, since that gives the best return on investments.

In our project we also want to provide something with a wide scientific and public appeal. To that end we plan on using amateur radio frequencies – this means people around the world can track our satellite. Often amateur radio operators are on the lookout for interesting projects which introduce young students to radio communications. Letting students receiver data from a real satellite overhead does a lot to promote both amateur radio and space, which just maybe will help inspire the next generation of engineers.

Whether this will be in the S-Band or just UHF hasn’t been finalized yet, although there is potential to actually have a beacon running in the more common UHF, and our more bandwidth-intensive comms (e.g.: for downloading payload data) in S-Band. The actual coding technique will use more recent codes (e.g.: turbo or LDPC). Again since this is supposed to be a more ‘innovative’ approach to space, we are working with some of the respected professors and students in our department to get recent advances in both coding and antenna design on our spacecraft.

 

Q: How do you generate and store power onboard the satellite? Batteries, solar panels? Do you intend to use deployable solar panels?
A: The solar panels will not be deployable, but fixed on the outside surface, with batteries storing the charge. This area will use more mature technology. The power system is so critical, and since testing the components such as panels or batteries for the required environmental conditions is beyond our capabilities, we don’t want to rely on experimental designs.

 

Q: Does the attitude determination and control system rely solely on reaction wheels? How do you intend to unload them? Magnetorquers, cold gas thrusters, or have you developed a novel technique?
A: The satellite is very small; many Cubesats only use magnetorquers without reaction wheels. This limits what and where you can correct obviously, so we are still exploring more interesting techniques. We have “penciled in” reaction wheels and magnetorquers, but this could drastically change.

The attitude determination is also planned to be pretty standard. Due to the small size of sensors on the market, we actually plan on outfitting our satellite with a wide range of sensors beyond what is required for attitude determination. We plan on adding a three-axis magnetometer, gyro, and accelerometer, along with GPS receiver. The idea is to provide enough data for postprocessing on Earth for testing new algorithms, experiments, etc.

 

Q: Do you plan to have any orbit control systems onboard? What is the orbital profile of the mission?
A: Nothing planned yet; the orbit we are given is defined as:

The design orbit for the mission has the following parameters (TBC):

• Semi-major Axis: 7078 ± 100 km (600km to 800km altitude)

• Eccentricity: < 0.01

• Inclination: sun-synchronous for the resulting altitude

Launch details won’t be confirmed for some time, so some of this is mostly chance depending what we end up riding along with.

The only possible orbit control system we are investigating would be for deorbiting the satellite at the end of its life. Space is a shared resource, and we want to make sure we aren’t needlessly polluting it with our satellite. If it naturally will deorbit in a reasonable time this won’t be necessary, but it’s something we want to be sure of.

 

Credit: Dalhousie CSDC Team

 

Q: How do you plan to control the temperature onboard the satellite?
A: Currently something we are investigating. Preliminary calculations show we can do this passively to keep things within acceptable limits. Other Cubesats have done this in practice too.

We are trying to use automotive grade parts when possible, which gives us a better temperature range to work with. Understandably this isn’t possible for everything; the solar cells and battery are one obvious example.

 

Q: Who are the members registered with your team? What areas of expertise do they represent?
A: It’s a huge range of skills we have, including over a quarter that aren’t engineers or scientists. Our team is pushing outreach in the community, so for example running programs to introduce kids to space exploration, and the idea that it’s something they could become involved in themselves. Other sections of the team such as marketing, management, and finances are critical to our success, but have nothing to do with the core technical designs.

The technical team has about ten core members. The number of people working on the project though will be higher: we are defining senior year projects, which students will be able to get credit hours for. Time is always a problem in student run projects, so we are trying to make sure people get credit for all this work. Or as I like to point out: once they agree to help, they have to help, because otherwise they will fail the senior year project! It’s one way of retaining “volunteers”.

 

 

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