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WPI and NASA Let Students Take the Reins at Goddard Space Flight Center

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

October 2, 2002, Worcester, MA - Many engineers and scientists would consider working for NASA the career opportunity of a lifetime. Thanks to a long running partnership between NASA and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), many WPI students will get that opportunity before they even receive their bachelors degree. Over the past six years the Goddard Space Flight Center has served as a hands-on training ground for more than 100 WPI students to work on real-world projects at NASA.

The most recent group of Goddard projects are near completion and WPI undergrads will be giving their final oral presentations on Tuesday, October 8 at the Goddard Visitor Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Fred J. Looft, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director and founder of the WPI Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center, recently advised nine student teams at the Center. The program gives students the chance to present solutions to complex problems on topics ranging from spacecraft model development to x-ray telescope design.

"The Goddard Center gives students applied engineering experience that can't be taught in a classroom. All of the students who participate in the program not only learn a great deal, but are much better prepared when they become a part of the workforce," said Looft. "We've had great success in our partnership with NASA and plan on expanding the program in the years to come." The Goddard Space Flight Center isn't just a great opportunity for undergraduates. It exposes the students to the same issues NASA's top engineers face everyday. NASA recognizes the value of WPI's hands-on approach to education and many WPI students end up working at NASA following graduation.

"The work WPI students do at NASA isn't the back-burner kind," says Alda D. Simpson, Associate Director of the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "It's research that's integral for current NASA initiatives, and gives WPI students practical experience only found on the job. That makes them better candidates when they graduate."

Here are the most recent WPI-NASA projects, conducted by students aiming for the stars:

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Falconsat - Spacecraft Model Development
Students will develop a detailed and complete model of the ST-5 Spacecraft using Matlab/Simulink and based on work started at the USAF Academy. One of the main functions of this model will be to ensure that the satellite's power margin will be sufficient at all points in the orbit. The model will be used to verify the operational scenarios and, if beneficial, may become a mission operation center tool.

VHDL Algorithms for Image Processing
This is the third year of a program to convert Landsat 7 image processing algorithms written in the C programming language, into re-configurable code (VHDL Algorithms) that can be downloaded into programmable hardware. The reasons for doing this are, first, the hardware algorithms run about 20x faster than the C code and, second, the costs associated with re-configurable computing platforms are significantly lower than those for full custom systems.

Goddard Radio Interferometry Testbed (GRIT)
GRIT is a tool for studying radio interferometry techniques using a hardware implementation in the lab. The students on this project team will write software to control the positioner, implement and test data acquisition software, test and characterize the X-band receivers, and write signal processing software (in Matlab).

Optical Encoder Design and Implementation
The students on this team will implement a modular integer DSP system that can be used to align and then process data from the Leviton encoder. Tasks include implementing a modular signal processing system), implementing a RS170 TV standard output channel, redesigning the associated analog electronics to improve switching speeds, and testing and calibrating the final system.

Technical Communications

History of Solar Cell Development
The purpose of this project is to write a history of spacecraft solar cells, including key individuals and technical developments. Specific interests include identifying funding sources and programs that resulted in the dramatic increases in solar cell efficiencies. Outcomes of this project will include a paper presented at a Solar Cell conference, and a poster session at a second NASA conference.

Mechanical / Aerospace Engineering

Soft X-Ray Telescope Design
The goal of this student project team is to design and analyze an overall composite structure (OCS) for the Spectroscopy X-ray Telescope (SXT) of the Constellation-X telescopes. The primary task includes performing a trade study on the current proposed SXT to determine its most feasible design.

Electro Hydrodynamic (EHD) Loop Design
The purpose of this project is to generate and analyze the performance curves for two micro-scale electro hydrodynamic (EHD) pumps. This goal will be achieved through detailed laboratory experiments, construction of the necessary systems and experimental equipment, data collection and analysis using LabView, and appropriate background research.

Orbital Modeling for Multi-Spacecraft Formation Missions
The student team will explore orbit designs for multiple spacecraft which meet either a given set of virtual aperture metrics or which give rise to new and interesting metrics for formations that may enable new earth-orbiting distributed spacecraft science mission concepts.

Computer Science

Autonomous Nano Technology Swarm (ANTS): I and II - D.C. Brown, Advisor
The specific goal for these two project teams is to develop a framework into which low level Artificial Intelligence for simulated ANTS satellites can be embedded. The simulation program will model two satellites and an asteroid. It will be the tasks of the two satellites to work together to obtain a high quality X-ray spectrum of the asteroid and transfer that data to a data repository.

About WPI

Founded in 1865, WPI was a pioneer in technological higher education. Early on, it developed an influential curriculum that balanced theory and practice. Since 1970, that philosophy has been embodied in an innovative outcomes-oriented undergraduate program. With a network of project centers that spans the globe, WPI is also the leader in globalizing technological education. WPI awarded its first advanced degree in 1898. Today, most of WPI's academic departments offer master's and doctoral programs and support leading edge research in a broad range of areas. WPI's approach to education has prepared generations of problem solvers whose new ideas and inventions have literally changed the world. They include Robert Goddard '08, father of modern rocketry, Harold Black, inventor of the principle of negative-feedback; Carl Clark, inventor of the first practical airbag safety systems; Richard T. Whitcomb, formulator the Area Rule and developer the supercritical wing, and Dean Kamen, inventor of the first wearable drug infusion pump, and the stair-climbing wheelchair.