Local students’ skills ‘lift off’ through NASA project

A group of New Albany students are learning skills that very few students have the opportunity to learn as they are working hand in hand with NASA (National Aeronautical Space Administration) engineers to build a scale model of a liquid hydrogen tank configuration for a next generation launch vehicle.

Last November, a group of 21 School of Career and Technical Education students were approached by NASA to be a part of the HUNCH (High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware) program. The goal is for these students to work with from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, the Stennis Space Flight Center, and other facilities to plan, design, and develop hardware for the Ares upper stage and J-2X engine (Ares launch vehicle).

HUNCH was conceived by a Johnson Space Center engineer in Houston, who identified a chance to tie in a unique educational experience together with a true need in the space program.

The students have the ability to borrow, use and implement NASA equipment and other technical and engineering equipment throughout their project timeframe. One of the equipment tools will be virtual software and a three-dimensional rapid prototype printer.

Three other high schools in Mississippi were also chosen to work on this project and have discussed their project findings periodically with the New Albany students. Computer-Aided-Drafting models will be used for concept studies and hands-on applications.

The students have worked with people from NASA Exploration Systems and Space Operations mission directorates, the Stennis Space Center Education Office, and Marshall Space Flight Center Academic Affairs.

NASA Engineer Bob Zeek introduced this project to the students in November and recently came back to talk to the students about the project. He explained, “There are two HUNCH projects. One is an ISS version, which supports payloads for the International Space Station, but these students are working on the Ares tasking, which is the next generation launch vehicle. They are also working on a Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) tank configuration, which is a CAD model.”

Zeek said, “They develop a CAD model and geometric drawings and we actually print the part out and it becomes a solid model for us to use. We are using a scale version of course, but scale versions play a lot of importantce when determining certain factors that the engineers use. These scale models will be desktop models that they will incorporate into their design analysis. Those parts will be a scale model again, but will be configured throughout those LH2 tank areas and show engineers form, fit, and function.”

Freshman Joseph Male said, “I am in a class using CAD, but all of this is new to me. We work on this project on Wednesdays and Fridays afternoons. We are all working together on this one master project. We have done a whole lot of putting together stuff on the 3-D software and are using AutoCAD 2000. Aside from that, the first two weeks, we were mainly doing math for the dimensions part by part.”

Zeek continued, “The students will assist NASA engineers in real-time applications and design concepts for the J-2X engine and the Ares upper stage core segments. Through the student’s CAD models, the students will build a rapid prototype that will be used by NASA engineers for hands-on, table top discussion and functional fit checks in a full-scale Ares mockup.”

Sophomore Madi Van Zile said, “It has taught me a lot about Auto CAD and has opened my eyes to engineering. If I wasn’t planning on going into journalism, I would think about a career in engineering.”

Zeek said that this class has started with a minimal CAD package and they have expanded it to the next level.

“This is the only school that I know of that has got the ortho grid, which is an important piece we are after that is inside the LH2 tank. This is not just a test or competition – this is hands-on. We are in the same phase as the NASA engineers. They gave us these tasks and we are doing a form, fit, and function scenario with these guys on the rocket itself. There are other components that go inside it that we are doing for scale: design analysis, form placement, design special tools to put this thing together, which is quite important.”

Junior Austin Richey said, “I have gotten more experience in higher level drawings in AutoCAD. This project has given me a chance to be more advanced.” Richey plans to go into engineering.

Earl Richard, director of vocational education at New Albany’s School of Career and Technical Education, said, “I am extremely proud of the hard work and dedication the students have put into this project. He said, “It has opened a lot of their eyes into fields in engineering, it has taught them how to work together as a team, and has shown them how to use their strengths and turn their weaknesses into strengths by learning from each other.”

These students will attend a recognition ceremony at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. on April 22 and 23.