I Give

2000-2001

Aiming for the Stars: WPI Students Work on NASA Projects

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/Dec. 11, 2000
Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - Today's youngsters may fantasize about space exploration through television shows or movies, but for most, "Star Trek" remains a flight of the imagination. But while others dream of contributing to space exploration, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, students not only work on the space program, but also add to its honors.

Fred J. Looft, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of WPI's Goddard Space Flight Center, recently advised seven student teams at the NASA space center in Greenbelt, Md. The professor clearly saw the quality of the university's space connection, quite by accident one day.

"I met Dr. Doug Leviton, of the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate at the space center, as I was leaving Goddard one day," Looft said. "Doug was carrying a framed declaration awarding him the NASA patent of the year award, quite an honor since NASA is awarded thousands of patents every year for cutting-edge technology developments and innovations. What was particularly intriguing about this award-winning patent was that it was originally prototyped by three WPI physics students in the first year of our Goddard Projects Program. Doug was quick to recognize the contributions of these students."

Looft noted one never knows where such work will lead. "All of you are working on similar 'high-tech' projects," he said in his first-day communication with the most recent WPI students at NASA. "I wonder what will become of your work in a few years? Will it be in orbit? Will it be contributing to the support of future missions?"

Here are the most recent WPI-NASA projects, completed Oct. 20 by students aiming for the stars:

  • "Reconfigurable Computing for Image Processing," was undertaken by Kendra Conklin, a senior electrical engineering major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth W. Conklin of Syracuse, N.Y.; Keith Leveille, an electrical engineering major in the class of 2000 and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Laurent R. Leveille of Berlin, N.H.; and Jayanta Bose, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Sudhangshu Bose of Manchester, Conn.

    The project goal aimed to help NASA engineers reduce the amount of time it takes to download satellite images.

    "Goddard engineers will also use our results and experiences to further their understanding of reconfigurable computing technology and continue towards their goal of achieving real-time image processing on board satellite spacecraft," they wrote in their final report. For more information, go to http://www.wpi.edu/~jayanta/mqp.

  • "Global Precipitation Mission," was carried out by Jonathan Graham, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Graham of Portsmouth, R.I., Elias Koutikas, an electrical engineering major in the class of 2000 and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Dimitros Koutikas of Bridgeport, Conn.; Edwin Mercado, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Rafael Mercado of Lawrence, Mass.; and Channarith Vanthin, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Thit Vanthin of Lowell, Mass.

    The project involved the analysis of weather satellite systems.

    "The Global Precipitation Mission is designed to enable scientists to collect rainfall data over a larger area of the Earth," the students explained in their final report. To further the understanding of clouds and rainfall, the Goddard Space Flight Center plans to launch its Global Precipitation Mission (GPM) in 2006. To help in that effort, the students compared weather data collection systems, providing a template for future use.

    "This system will be a resource for NASA engineers in missions that require a real-time command and data handling system," the students noted. For more information on this project, go to http://www.wpi.edu/~akalion/MQP/.

  • "MAMA Detector Interface for Design" was completed by Frances Leung, a senior electrical engineering major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. King-Bor Leung of Bradford, Mass.; Jarod L. Oatley, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Oatley of Wrentham, Mass.; and Vishnu Pandey, a senior electrical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Shiv Shankar Pandey of Malden, Mass.

    The project goal was to design and implement a new computer interface for use in an art optics laboratory at the Goddard Space Flight Center. The new interface would conform to other technologies in use at the center. The students were aiming for a fast, efficient, yet functional system.

    "It is our belief that the final product achieved these objectives," they wrote in their report. "In all, we were able to provide the scientists with a stable and flexible interface." For more information, go to http://www.wpi.edu/~jspace/mqp.

  • "Restructuring of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Algorithms," was completed by Karin Blank, a senior computer science major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Werner J. Blank of Wilton, Conn.; John Hammond, a senior computer science major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Hammond of Durham, Conn.; and Mark Hodos, a senior computer science major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hodos of Carson City, Nev.

    "Currently NASA has two Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) in orbit over the United States," the student noted. "These satellites gather weather data and relay it to NASA at a rate of one data set every 15 minutes. However, 20 minutes is required to process into an image, thereby resulting in a loss of half the data. The purpose of our project is to improve the rate at which images can be processed to match the rate at which they are received from the GOES satellites."

    The team used a mechanism to optimize the system using software and a digital signal processor. They then incorporated the rewritten routines into the image processing system. For more information, go to http://www.wpi.edu/~johnhamm/mqp.

  • "Next Generation Space Telescope Design" was pursued by Matthew Hanson, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Hanson of LaCrosse, Wis.; Matthew Lewis, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lewis of Gloucester, Mass.; and Jimmy Cook, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Brian Cook of Dallas, Texas.

    "The goal of this project is to create a dynamic model of a mirror deployment system for a space-based telescope that utilizes hexagonal mirror segments," the students wrote. "Due to its limited launch vehicle size, innovative ways must be found to place large space telescopes into orbit."

    The team worked on reducing the diameter of the payload, in this case the large telescopes, by dividing its primary reflector into hexagonal segments. To do so, they had to study mathematical models of the proposed deployment systems.

    "Based on the results from our research, we believe that the deployment methods we described are viable options for space application, and that the methods studied are feasible with current technologies," the students noted. For more information, go to http://www.wpi.edu/~matlewis/mqp/.

  • "Continuous Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator for Use in Long-Term Space Flight" was completed by William Shaw, a senior chemical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Shaw of Ashby, Mass.; Shana Figueroa, a senior mechanical engineering major and the daughter of Sandra O'Brien of Payallup, Wash.; and Matthew Dahmer, a senior mechanical engineering major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Dahmer of Tiverton, R.I.

    "Detectors being used for earth observation and deep space research need to be cooled to very low temperatures to function properly and to operate at their highest efficiency," the students noted. "To achieve these low temperatures, NASA has been working on the development of a new, non-mechanical, high-efficiency continuous cooling system known as a Continuous Adiabatic Demagnetization Refrigerator (CADR)."

    The students' goal was to construct, operate and characterize a three-stage cooling system, to improve its efficiency. "Our project addressed specific issues related to the design and testing (of various parts of the ADR)," the students wrote in their report.

  • "Agents Software" was undertaken by Eric T. Botteron, a senior computer science major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. David Botteron of Portland, Ore.; Kevin Flanagan, a senior computer science major and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Flanagan of Spencerport, N.Y.; and Debra Li, a senior computer science major and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kurt H. Li of Bellerose, N.Y.

    "This project concerned the development of software for spacecraft that results in the spacecraft exhibiting intelligence by operating and controlling itself," the students wrote in their report. "Autonomous operation can be accomplished through the use of artificial intelligence software called an agent."

    The students focused on a component of the agent under development by engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "We analyzed three modeling techniques and decided which technique was best for different uses," they wrote. For more information, go to http://www.wpi.edu/~happy712/MQP.

Founded in 1865, WPI enrolls 2,700 undergraduate and 1,100 graduate students in science, engineering, management, social science and humanities. Under the WPI Plan, students complete projects on major course of study; humanities; and science and society.