SERC, students go suborbital with Citizens in Space

April 12, 2013
| By: Aubrey Bloom

The TEES Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) and students from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University have partnered with Citizens in Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, to build a payload integrator to be flown on the XCOR Lynx space plane.

The Lynx Cub Payload Carrier, as it is known, will enable XCOR to efficiently fly scientific payloads for suborbital experimentation. The carriers' addition to the Lynx payload will help reduce the cost of suborbital experimentation and increase experimenter's accessibility to test in Zero G (Gravity).

SERC is no stranger to Zero G testing, having logged thousands of weightless parabolas on NASA's reduced-gravity aircraft. In contrast to the 30 second intervals of weightlessness offered through NASA, the XCOR Lynx space plane will provide more than minutes of Zero G on its suborbital flight plan. These added minutes make a world of difference in the small materials-processing, fluid-physics, life-sciences and engineering experiments that will inhabit the Lynx Cub Payload Carrier. The capability offered by the Lynx Cub Payload Carrier will be of direct benefit to university teaching and research, K-12 education, industry, government and interested citizens, all of whom are potential fabricators of these small-scale Zero G experiments.

Tasked with creating the Lynx Cub Payload Carrier are four industrial and systems engineering undergraduates under the supervision of Assistant Professor Justin Yates. The student's responsibilities include everything from conceptualization to delivery, with XCOR test flights on the Lynx (in development) scheduled for late summer 2013.

The team has a wealth of experience to support them in Charles Hill, SERC director; Dr. Frank Little, SERC principal investigator; Edward Wright, chairman of the United States Rocket Academy; and the XCOR Lynx contact Khaki Rodway.

"Designing the Lynx Cub Carrier presents a challenging and unique problem. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to apply our studies to a real world application," said team member Cress Netherland, a senior industrial and systems engineering major.

Development of the carrier will require the students to integrate fundamental concepts in project management, engineering economic analysis, optimization and experimental design from their curriculum, in addition to building/expanding essential knowledge and skills in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

In addition to expanding their academic experiences, the students are learning valuable lessons in team building, product integration, time management and communication. Regular conference calls are held with all involved stakeholders to assess project progress and reaffirm project assumptions.

Yates said, "This is a great experience for our students because they are learning how to operate in a dynamic and uncertain environment. The initial milestone will be the delivery of a Lynx Cub Payload Carrier mockup to the XCOR exhibit at the Next Generation Suborbital Researcher Conference in Colorado this June. A paper on the project will also be presented."

SERC is part of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), an engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.

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