From Robots to Rockets: Five FIRST Robotics Students Join the Fifth MUOS Launch
On Friday, June 24, at 10:30 a.m. the fifth Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to eventually reach Geosynchronous Earth Orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth. Among the crowd watching the launch from the Banana Creek viewing site were five high school students who are Dean’s List winners from each of the three Florida FIRST® Robotics Competition and the FIRST® Tech Challenge championship events. Lockheed Martin invited these students and a family member to join the friends and family of the MUOS team watch the launch as part of the Launch and Learn program.
The students and their family members witness the successful MUOS launch at the top of the launch window.

“The launch was exciting, amazing and beautiful,” said Varun Singh, a 16-year-old student from Middleton High School and Dean’s List winner from Team 4997, Masquerade. “Going to space is truly the greatest feat of engineering, and I am honored to be given the opportunity to experience it close up.”

The students came to join the launch experience from all over the state of Florida, with the closest student travelling about 30 minutes, and the furthest coming from over four hours away. Pre-launch activities began on Wednesday evening with a welcome reception for the Military Space team that helped build the MUOS satellite. Students were invited to bring their robots to the reception to show their designs and meet the engineers and team leadership.  

“This was a great experience,” said Jesse Nasgovitz, a 16-year-old student from Eustis High School and Dean’s List winner from Team 5937, Renaissance Robotics. “Talking to Lockheed Martin engineers was awesome because someday I might be doing the same thing as them.”

Will LaFreniere gave demonstrations of the RoboRays team bot, Jesse Nasgovitz described the Renaissance Robotics’ design of their robot and Stephanie Dawson showed off the Pink Team's robot’s skills picking up and throwing sport balls.
The robots were great ice breakers at the welcome reception, and the students had the chance to talk about their design process and challenges with about 30 members of the Military Space team, including program vice presidents, as pictured here.
Stephanie, Allysa, Jesse and Will in front of the MUOS-5 satellite encapsulated atop a ULA Atlas 5 rocket.

The next day, four of the five students attended a program briefing to learn more about the MUOS program and its capabilities from the contractors who built it and the Navy customer, followed by a photo opportunity up close to the rocket.

Through the launch activities, the students were able to see how principles of design, integration and testing come together for a team to accomplish a mission. Robots are any electromechanical device that assists humans in accomplishing various tasks and missions, from the crane that lifts a satellite into launch position to the students’ robots that expertly scoop and launch a ball into the air.

“From showing off my robot to future co-workers to seeing a launch up close, this whole experience has been amazing!” said Stephanie Dawson, an 18-year-old student from Rockledge High School and Dean’s List winner from Team 233, The Pink Team.

FIRST Robotics is a national Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) partner of Lockheed Martin, and company leaders hold positions on local FIRST Robotics boards. FIRST activities empower students to be creative, to think outside the box and thrive in team environments; all skills that are instrumental when working for an engineering technology company like Lockheed Martin. Through its Launch and Learn program, Lockheed Martin Space Systems works with schools, educators and nonprofits to expose students to the space industry and foster interest in careers in STEM fields. Since 2005, Lockheed Martin has invested more than $4.5 million in grant funding for robotics programs, and employees volunteer hundreds of hours supporting FIRST teams as formal team mentors, team advisors, parent volunteers and competition volunteers across the United States.

Did You Know?

How are robotics teams similar to those that build satellites and rockets? They are more similar than you may think.

  • Weight limits: All robots in FIRST Robotics Competitions need to be under 120 pounds plus batteries and bumpers. Adding more capabilities also adds more weight, so the team needs to decide what is essential to stay within their given limit. Rockets also have weight limits to ensure the rocket can achieve lift off.
  • Schedules: Rockets have specific launch windows to reach the desired position in orbit. Robotics teams have six weeks to build their robot and compete.
  • New scope, new requirements: The goals for the robotics competitions change every year, and satellite builds and launches also change based on customer requirements.
  • Budget constraints: Launch programs require congressional or customer approval. For robotics, the budget is based on whatever the students can fundraise, although no one part can cost more than $500. Both have the option to subcontract portions if needed.
  • Engineering process: Both use CAD, machining and have mentors to help with the build and design process.