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Students Will Test Project in Reduced Gravity

Friday, August 23, 2013

In the opportunity of a lifetime, a research project from UTA’s engineering labs will be tested in a reduced gravity environment when a team of students led by recent graduate Monica Hew hitches a ride on a NASA airplane for a series of parabolic flights.

From September 25-October 4, the team – Hew (AE '13), Erica Castillo (AE '13), Fernando Leal-Arizpe (psychology graduate student), Austin Mears (ME junior) and Jun Yao (EE graduate student) – will report to Ellington Field in Houston and make four flights aboard the "Vomit Comet" to test a Wireless Strain Sensing System in Space Application.

The project uses a tiny piece of metallic fiber that attaches to a structure and can detect stress and strain, then send a wireless signal to a remote location, allowing researchers to identify possible trouble spots.

NASA aircraft in parabolic flight

"On metal structures, like a sheet of metal on the Space Shuttle, vibrations on takeoff might cause unseen damage. This device could help engineers determine if they need to abort a mission or make repairs. We want to test it in a reduced gravity environment before we apply it in space to be sure it will function correctly," Hew explained.

Hew has been working on the project for two years. While attending an AIAA conference in Grapevine last year, she spoke at length with a NASA representative who urged her to apply for this opportunity. She did, even though it was just two weeks before the application deadline. The proposal was accepted June 7, and the team began building the payload.

"This project is really exciting because it follows all the phases from research and development to payload structure design, structure verification, electrical design, risk analysis and flight test procedures. As an undergraduate, I never had to do all of the phases, but this is forcing the whole team to work through all of it. There’s a lot of technical writing and reporting, but it’s exciting to work with actual NASA scientists, not just writing something only a teaching assistant will read," Hew said.

The Principal Investigators for the project are Associate Professor Haiying Huang and Assistant Professor Ben Harris of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department (MAE). The project is sponsored by MAE and the UTA Provost’s Office.