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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Aggies team up with NASA for groundbreaking research

 
 

When Texas A&M electronic technology and industrial distribution professors Joe Morgan and Jay Porter were contacted by NASA in 2012 with an academic innovation challenge, they gladly accepted.
Five teams from universities across the country were selected to participate in the challenge to design a system that could wirelessly control and monitor power consumption for NASA’s Deep Space Habitat (DSH) Program. At Texas A&M, the initial design and development of the project was taken up by electronic systems engineering technology seniors – Akeem Whitehead, Jeffrey Jordan, Derek Garsee and Christian Carmichael -for their senior design capstone project.
Once they graduated, the project was passed on to students from the Mobile Integrated Solution Laboratory (MISL). Senior Mickie Byrd and junior Colton Schimank picked up where the group had left off. The power monitoring and control system will undergo its final endurance testing – running continuously for a week without interruption – in the coming weeks.
Porter said the project had important implications, as astronauts in space must always be careful about how much power they use since they have a precise amount of power at any time. When they run out, there’s no way to get more until the solar panels recharge.
“[The Smart Plug power-monitoring and control system] controls the amount of power so that they only use what is needed and don’t run out of power,” Porter said. “It monitors how much power is used for a given task and learns from it in order to reserve power and prevent overuse as well as detect problems that can lead to too much power being drawn or even a disaster.”
Kristina Rojdev, aerospace engineer in the Systems Architecture and Integration office at NASA Space Center said in a statement that the Texas A&M students had provided a valuable component to assist in the creation of wireless hardware.
“The DC Smart Plugs created by Texas A&M will fulfill this need by providing data on the power consumption of a DC component, as well as providing the capability of controlling the power to the DC component, all through a wireless network,” Rojdev said. “This project was very challenging and the students and faculty at Texas A&M produced hardware that was very impressive. The development and demonstration of this technology is an exciting first step toward future flight hardware in wireless instrumentation.”
Morgan said Texas A&M’s partnership with NASA began with the return of Matthew Leonard, Class of 1986 and project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The partnership for this wireless system project was also aided by Leonard’s return to campus.
“Matt Leonard came back to A&M last year to enhance the relationship between NASA and A&M by connecting our researchers with NASA,” Morgan said. “A&M has now become better understood and appreciated with NASA. Our partnership focuses on developing technology, educating students in courses with what we learn, NASA engineers mentoring students and creating and maintaining an open community.”
Alan Scott Howe, senior systems engineer with the Mission Systems Concept Group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the student’s work would be instrumental for future spaceflight.
“The Texas A&M University team has a very high skill level and were quite impressive with their work,” he said. “It must be noted that the work they have done is right in our NASA critical path, and not just a side project performed for academic value. The students that had a hand in the Smart Plug design and implementation can be proud that they have ownership of future human spaceflight endeavors, and that their design will become heritage for future actual flight hardware that will be implemented for generations to come.”
Morgan said a long-term contract with the NASA space intelligence program was set and that the project and relationship with NASA was only “beginning to blossom” as they will continue to work with different projects, such as robotics.
Byrd said, as an undergraduate, the capstone project was a unique opportunity.
“We get to do real-world work that is usually only done by graduate students and we were, in fact, mistaken as graduate students multiple times,” he said. “We get to solve real problems and receive a great learning experience that normally doesn’t happen as an undergraduate.”

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