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Senior Design Projects To Be Funded By NASA

May 12, 2016
Crook and Block's rendering of their aerodynamic payload design for a CubeSat.
Crook and Block's rendering of their aerodynamic payload design for a CubeSat.

An idea from a University of Wyoming student helped the Department of Mechanical Engineering secure a major grant award from NASA.

Alexandra Crook, a senior in mechanical engineering, wanted to come up with an alternative to typical modes of producing microgravity. The Brigham City, Utah, native was interested in producing microgravity to qualify space experiments, particularly those designed for CubeSats. They are standardized packages for small satellites and space experiments.

All of the current options are extremely expensive and have long waiting periods. Crook’s idea of building an alternative platform in which a CubeSat can ride in a balloon to high altitude and then dropped represents a more efficient, cost-effective option.

Crook and another UW student, Adam Block, worked on the details and helped write a proposal to NASA to fund the project. After a competitive process, UW has nearly $200,000 to fund the project over a two-year period.

“It’s quite a nice pot of money to support us while we perfect the platform,” says Kevin Kilty, an associate lecturer in mechanical engineering. “It’s going to take all of it. There’s a whole range of things for mechanical engineers to get involved in. The outcome has really good potential for commercial and space applications.”

Microgravity is useful for many applications, including blending materials for manufacturing or medical uses. Materials on Earth’s surface have a tendency to segregate by density and particle shape and size. In microgravity, it’s much easier to blend.

“There are lots and lots of applications for testing using this platform,” Kilty says. “We won’t have to take things all the way up to space on a satellite and will to be able to do it over a very short period of time, close to the earth’s surface, which will make it inexpensive.”

Kilty adds the research has connections to projects being undertaken by the Atmospheric Science Department. The group has until 2018 to deliver a final report to NASA.

Along with Kilty, the project will have advisers including John Wickman of Wickman Spacecraft & Propulsion Company in Casper, Wyo., and Shawna McBride, Senior Research Scientist in UW Physics and Astronomy, and of the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.

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