In the College of Engineering’s Materials Performance Lab, undergraduate and graduate students, together with mechanical engineering professor and department chair Brendan O’Toole, gather to conduct their latest task for Lockheed Martin, prime contractor to NASA for the Orion deep space capsule.
For this task they’re testing the flatwise tensile strength of materials being used for the Crew Module Adaptor of the Artemis 2 mission, the first crewed mission planned for beyond low Earth orbit since 1972.
“Being able to work on projects like these gives us real-world application of what we have learned in the classroom,” said Cooper Madrazo , a mechanical engineering graduate student. “Having this experience shows future employers that we are qualified to work on projects of great importance.”
• Emma Chao
• Nicholas Chai
• Louis Demola
• Adam Gentil
• Sophia Leon
• Cooper Madrazo
• Victor Carbajal Nunez
Faculty and staff:
• Brendan O’Toole
• Zhiyong Wang
• Tony Filipiak
• Terrance Kell
• Jeffrey Markle
It was two-and-a-half years ago that UNLV received its first work order from Lockheed Martin. UNLV was one of only four universities selected by the company in 2016 to provide services for Orion, as well as other space exploration projects. The company’s interest in partnering with UNLV stemmed from the university’s successful prior collaborations with defense contractors Arcata Associates. and Teledyne Brown Engineering, in addition to its work with NASA on NASA’s HBCU/MSI Technology Infusion Road Tour.
Fast forward and the work continues, providing unique opportunities for the College’s faculty and students to enhance their knowledge and research capabilities in exciting new areas, while accelerating the efforts and research activities of the nation’s space program.
The Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, including eventually to Mars. It will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain astronauts during their missions and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.
Quality assurance of all materials being created and used on Orion is critical to the safety of the spacecraft and its flight crew, and what the Engineering College and its students are directly involved in. The first project the college worked on for Lockheed Martin involved the testing of composite coupon specimens for materials being used on Orion’s Artemis 1 and 2 missions. In engineering lingo, “coupons” are sample specimens, or pieces, made from the same material but designed to be used for testing. UNLV is one of the test teams for these specific panels. Students had the opportunity to assist with machining and performing the specimen bonding and mechanical testing for the specimens.
“The students appreciate that they’re engaging in meaningful, hands-on work that is directly applicable to such an important project,” O’Toole said. “There’s a large interest among the college’s students in the aerospace industry, and the manufacturing and design process. Both of these are addressed through work on the Orion program, providing real-world experience that will eventually be out of this world.”
In addition to safety and quality assurance, other Orion projects are aimed at reducing costs and production time. With the Drill Plate Project, faculty, staff and students are working to develop an optimized 3D printed alternative to a more traditional machined drill plate. One of the challenges to overcome is that 3D printed plates have the potential to be less accurate than machined plates, but machined plates take more time and resources to produce. After the plates are printed, the students use a laser arm to measure how accurate the dimensions are.
With the success of the Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system this past summer, the next steps of human exploration into deep space is closer than ever. The Artemis 1 mission is expected to launch in 2020 and will test NASA’s integrated deep space exploration systems. Artemis 2 will be the first crewed flight to the moon of the program, with Artemis 3 landing a crew on the lunar surface by 2024.
“Knowing the final goal of the work that we are doing adds a sense of pride and stress to the task,” said Madrazo. “To be able to claim that you had a part in such a momentous project no matter how small, is flattering to say the least.”