Engineering students help build instrument for NASA asteroid mission

May 3, 2013

Four engineering students at Arizona State University, three of them undergraduates, are gaining practical experience by helping to build a mineral-scouting instrument that will fly on a NASA mission to an asteroid. They are drafting the detailed plans for each of the instrument's components and helping analyze its structural and thermal behavior.

The instrument is called OTES, short for OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer. It is being built on ASU's Tempe campus in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 (ISTB4) of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. OTES is scheduled for launch in 2016 as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. ASU's Philip Christensen is the principal investigator and designer for OTES, which is a descendant of a similar instrument that went to Mars on NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004. Engineering students OTES Download Full Image

Three students – Ian Kubik, Tyler Lemonds and Justin Pourkaveh – are senior undergraduates in mechanical or aerospace engineering, while the fourth, Austin Pezzella, is working toward his master's degree in mechanical engineering.

They were recruited because OTES project managers and engineers were becoming overloaded with detailing work. What the project needed most was knowledgeable but entry-level help to create accurate drawings so the parts could be manufactured.

"We made a request to professor Jami Shah of the engineering school, and he spread the word among the students," says Dan Pelham, lead optical and mechanical engineer on the project. They were recruited starting in early 2013.

The design tool the OTES project uses is called NX, from Siemens PLM software. It integrates design, analysis, production and manufacturing. Siemens also provided Teamcenter, software that lets several people work on OTES components at the same time.

"We were just starting to put our computer models together, and we recruited Zoltan Farkas as lead mechanical engineer," says Pelham. "He had extensive experience with NX in his former job."

NX has proven highly useful, Pelham notes. "In particular, it includes an analysis component called NX NASTRAN, which we needed. It's an industry standard item for structural analysis."

Getting real

For the students, working on OTES represents an important step beyond the classroom. As Lemonds explains, "Most of my engineering experience has been with class work and lab exercises, and tutoring students – all very theoretical. This is real."

The nature of the job was also appealing.

"I had applied for the job because it sounded like an amazing project – and something I can look back on, and be proud of having worked on a NASA mission that took samples from an asteroid," Pezzella says. He originally expected to work on drafting with the undergraduate students. "However, I have mainly been assisting with the thermal and structural analysis."

For their part, the undergraduates begin with a 3-D computer model of each part in the instrument.

"Most of the digital design and analysis work falls on me, and I double-check it with Dan Pelham," Farkas explains. "We then turn the models over to the students for detailing."

To manufacture the parts requires precision drawings with dimensions, allowable error tolerances, and specifications for things such as materials, surface finishn and paint. The students' job is to use NX to create the manufacturing drawings from the computer models. They also work from drawings from the earlier Mars-going version of OTES.

"The drawing reflects how a part is going to be made," says Kubik. "If you don't have any drafting experience, its difficult to know what needs to be incorporated into the drawing, and you can easily overlook the guy who's going to have to make it."

All the students hope that working on the OTES project will be a boost when they graduate and look for jobs.

"Industry uses drafting a lot, and employers like to see it in your resumé," Pourkaveh says. "You have all these kids graduating and they sit down at a computer – and they don't know how to draw anything. It's good if you can get that kind of experience in college. It gives you a leg up."

As always, real-world experience is critical.

"You can be the best engineer in the world and design the most awesome 3-D model," says Lemonds. "But if you can't communicate with the machinist who'll fabricate it – it's just a digital model."

After the students have finished with the drawings, they go through another round of checks with Farkas and Pelham. Then the drawings are sent out for manufacturing.

"It's unbelieveable how user-friendly this is. It has all the tools you need in a single package," says Kubik.

Into deep space

After OSIRIS-REx launches in 2016, NASA's flight plan calls for the spacecraft to rendezvous with asteroid Bennu (1999 RQ36) in 2018 and spend about a year orbiting and surveying its surface.

After mission scientists decide the best place to go to, OSIRIS-REx will collect the sample from the asteroid's surface and send it back to Earth, with the sample arriving in 2023. OTES plays a key role in choosing the right place to sample.

"OTES is the first complex piece of electro-optical space hardware to be built at ASU," says Christensen. He is a Regents' Professor of geological sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This is a great step forward for ASU and for students involved in engineering for science."

For the students, there's another plus to working on the OTES project. Unlike a typical aerospace company, it's not a gigantic organization.

"The team here is really small," says Pourkaveh. "You get to see the whole picture and participate in every part of the process."

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Dutch delegation visits ASU to strengthen partnerships for a more sustainable world

May 3, 2013

Community and business leaders from Haarlemmermeer, a municipality bordering Amsterdam in the Netherlands, recently visited Arizona State University as part of the municipality’s partnership with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS).

Haarlemmermeer, home to Amsterdam’s Schipol International Airport, is the first Global Sustainability Solutions Center (GSSC) to be established under GIOS’ Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. Download Full Image

The partnership was launched Jan. 22 to serve as a platform for ASU to research, implement and collaborate on sustainability solutions throughout the region and across Europe using the expertise of its faculty and students.

The long-term goal is to support the municipality’s ambition to become one of the most sustainable sites for businesses, community organizations, individuals and visitors in the Netherlands.

"The GIOS-Haarlemmermeer partnership represents the future of sustainability – a future that is based on integrating thorough, outcome-based research with sound policy decisions,” said ASU President Michael Crow. "As we move forward and make progress, we want to leave behind a legacy of personal, political and business decisions that took into consideration their impact on the environment. The collaboration supports Haarlemmermeer’s efforts to become a sustainability leader in the Netherlands and provides ASU students and faculty opportunities to address real sustainability challenges from a global perspective.”

Rob Melnick, executive director and CEO of GIOS, said the partnership enables Haarlemmermeer and ASU experts to build a solutions-oriented urban environment from the ground up.

“The municipality of Haarlemmermeer is new and still growing,” Melnick said. “They are planning for a future that places high priority on sustainability. We’re excited to be a part of that process.”

The Dutch delegation was comprised of aldermen Arthur van Dijk and John Nederstigt, sustainability programs manager Debby de Rijk, and higher education programs manager Wendy van Vliet from the municipality of Haarlemmermeer, Delta Development Group CEO Coert Zachariasse, Schiphol Area Development Company Project Director Dick van der Harst, Monique Hallegraeff and Guus Daanen from the Catholic Comprehensive School in Hoofddorp, and Fonz Dekkers, site coordinator for the Walton Initiatives’ Global Sustainability Solutions Center.

During the visit, Dekkers presented a case study in monitoring sustainable urban development, while aldermen Nederstigt and van Dijk discussed how the region is becoming the Dutch pioneer in sustainable innovation and economic development.

The delegates also met with ASU’s sustainability scientists and learned about their research on sustainable biofuels, energy and environmental assessment of transportation and land use, sustainable consumption, and institutional dynamics in the context of urbanization. Additionally, the guests received information regarding ASU programs and collaborative projects such as Energize Phoenix, Reinvent Phoenix, LightWorks, Sustainable Cities Network and other university sustainability initiatives.

“The visit helped them better understand the ways in which ASU can contribute to Haarlemmermeer’s vision of becoming a regional model for sustainability,” GSSC program manager Marta Hulley Friedman said. “We’ve also identified opportunities that will help ASU students and researchers learn from the programs and initiatives that are already underway.”

Dick van der Harst, a member of the delegation and project director of Schiphol Area Development Company in the Netherlands, said the potential for forming academic, business and community partnerships at GIOS is unparalleled.

“We have world-renowned universities in the Netherlands that combine knowledge with application; what we don’t have is an umbrella organization that brings together researchers from different disciplines to find solutions to a problem using different approaches,” van der Harst said. “GIOS is home to 260 scientists with backgrounds in the natural and social sciences, medicine, engineering, mathematics, humanities and the arts who are doing just that. That is remarkable.”

In addition to touring various ASU facilities such as the Decision Theatre, Wrigley Hall and SkySong, a few members of the delegation visited the Bioscience High School in Phoenix. GIOS’ Sustainability Science for Sustainable Schools program is working with the school to engage their students and teachers in sustainability projects.

Guus Daanen, a geography teacher at the Catholic Comprehensive School in Hoofddorp, said his school hopes to replicate the innovative program.

“The program lets high school students get involved in research projects that will have a real impact on their communities,” Daanen said. “Adopting a similar approach would help raise awareness regarding sustainability issues from a very young age and train future scientists.”

Members of the Dutch delegation also participated in a working session with ASU representatives to develop a collaborative project based on the Netherlands’ first cradle-to-cradle business park that requires all building materials to be designed for continuous recovery and reuse. They also met with representatives from the City of Phoenix to learn about Phoenix 40 by 20, a project that aims to increase the city’s solid waste diversion rate to 40 percent by 2020.

Haarlemmermeer alderman Nederstigt said integrating sustainability into everyday decisions is a major challenge but one that can be overcome by working together.

“The range and depth of sustainability research and knowledge resources available at ASU go much further than just mounting solar panels on a roof; they lead to sustainable development,” Nederstigt said. Haarlemmermeer hopes to use this knowledge to become an example and inspiration to the rest of the Netherlands and Western Europe.”

“We hope the future will bring diverse projects that will help position Haarlemmermeer as the regional leader in sustainable practices,” Melnick said. “This partnership also brings ASU one step closer to establishing Global Sustainability Solutions Centers in Asia and Latin America, and finding practical solutions to the world’s environmental, economic and social challenges.”

Iti Agnihotri

Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, Learning Enterprise