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BYU students record audio of Artemis 1, world’s most powerful rocket

By Genelle Pugmire - | Jan 12, 2023

Courtesy BYU

BYU researchers at the Kennedy Space Center with the Space Launch System/Orion crew capsule stack in the background. From left to right: Maggie Kuffskie, Makayle Kellison, Dr. Whitney Coyle, Dr. Kent Gee, Michael Bassett, Levi Moats, Dr. Grant Hart, Carson Cunningham and Taggart Durrant.

From a cricket’s chirp to an over-enthusiastic garage band, sound plays an important role in the world. A group a Brigham Young University students seeking information on sound had one question: How loud was the world’s most powerful rocket?

That rocket, NASA’s Artemis 1 blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last November after several delays.

According to BYU professor of Physics and Astronomy Kent Gee, takeoff was recorded at approximately 136-137 decibels, nearly a mile away from the launch site. Gee, along with fellow professor Grant Hart, led a team of undergraduate and graduate students to the Florida launch site to take acoustical measurements of NASA’s Artemis I. For Gee, it was a career-defining experience. For the students, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The hardest part of the trip was the delays. Fuel leaks and hurricanes delayed the launch of the rocket by several weeks but, the BYU team remained prepared.

Their first job was to set up customized field equipment in a number of location surrounding the Kennedy Space Center.

“We had a total of nine stations all surrounding the pad at different angles relative to the rocket,” Carson Cunningham, a BYU senior studying applied physics, said in a press release. “We needed this because we wanted to see how the sound propagated through the atmosphere at these different locations.”

Seeing the rocket blast off during the early morning hours on Nov. 16 brought a sense of relief and jubilation to Gee and the BYU research team.

After watching the rocket liftoff, the group proceeded to inspect their acoustical instruments and verify they’d performed properly during the launch.

“It’s very nerve-wracking to put your microphones out there and have wind and water and everything else that could inhibit them from performing as well,” Gee said. “You only get one shot at this right when the rocket launches, if you’re not prepared, you get nothing.”

The teams raced back to their stations to check their equipment and sync it to their computers. “We pulled up the files and checked to make sure we had the right time and everything and we were all just crowded around and cheering when we saw that we had data,” Cunningham added.

Gee says this data will be used to inform scientists on how to manage the impact of massive sound emissions from a growing number of rocket launches in both the U.S. and around the globe.

“Studying the noise that radiates from rockets is important because the noise can damage the payload, it can damage the vehicle, it can even damage the launch pad. As the noise travels out, it can impact both communities and the environment,” he said. “Everyone wants these launches to be safe, and they want them to not be impactful while still being able to accomplish their purpose. The noise is one of those possible impacts that we need to understand.”

The measurements taken by the BYU team will be published in an upcoming edition of the journal JASA Express Letters.


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