Milwaukee School of Engineering
B.S. Mechanical Engineering, May 2010
West Lafayette, IN
M.S. Aeronautics and Astronautics, May 2012
NASA Academy Research Project:
Cryogenic Propellant Feed System Analysis Tool Development
Dr David Plachta
My aspirations to work with the United States space program have been strong since I was very young, watching in awe as the space shuttle lifted off, attending Space Camp, and visiting Kennedy Space Center. Now, years later as a mechanical engineering student poised to begin graduate studies, these aspirations have wavered none. Instead, my broad desire to participate in this country’s greatest endeavor, space flight, has been focused by my technical education and professional maturity. Of the multitude of reasons that exist for attending NASA Academy, it is my desire to continue focusing, defining, and clarifying how I might best contribute to the space-faring goals of the United States that I offer as my prime driving motive for applying. In particular, NASA Academy is ideal because it focuses not only on the technical, but also the social, professional, and political aspects of the Agency. Indeed, fully defining my professional goals is significantly more difficult without understanding where NASA is, where it is going, and how it is going to get there. Academy offers me a peak at this while allowing me to pursue a short-duration technical project and significant networking prospects. I want to attend NASA Academy because it is the next logical rung in the ladder that leads to my contributions to United States space exploration.
Professionally, my interests include astrodynamics, space mission design, and trajectory optimization. I will be attending graduate school in the autumn of 2010 to pursue a Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering with a particular focus on those fields. My reasons for selecting astrodynamics as a field of study stem primarily from a course in numerical methods and simulation I completed my junior year. The course project, the development of a numerical model describing the flight path of a rocket, was key to sparking my interest in astrodynamics. I was truly enthralled by my ability to predict accurately the flight path of the vehicle. Developing higher and higher fidelity models ceased to be work and instead became an exciting challenge. The completion of the course found me applying the same numerical techniques to an interplanetary spacecraft and it did not take long to realize I had perhaps found my professional calling.
I have additionally enjoyed studying fluid mechanics and aerodynamics. My senior capstone project is the design and development of a ducted radiator for a high performance aircraft, a task which I have enjoyed applying aerodynamic and thermodynamic principles to. In particular, the optimization of diffuser geometry to mitigate pressure losses through the duct is a fascinating problem I have enjoyed thus far.
I see in my future working as a spacecraft dynamics professional developing the mission plans and trajectories that will carry science equipment and humanity beyond low earth orbit. My prior experience at JPL lends itself well to returning in the future as a member of the Lab’s guidance and navigation groups. I am also interested in other NASA Centers, particularly as the United States begins its return to the moon. Ultimately, after completing graduate school I desire to work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or a major contractor thereof. I would like more than anything else to be part of making spaceflight beyond Earth orbit not only a reality again, but hopefully a permanent, common occurrence for humanity.
This year I am serving as a team leader competing in the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium’s Collegiate Rocketry Design Competition. My team and I are responsible for developing a high-powered rocket capable of carrying the greatest mass to a specified altitude. As a year-long project, I have the opportunity to demonstrate leadership over a technical effort from conception to fabrication.
As the project is currently in the early stages, one avenue through which I have exhibited leadership is promoting the collaborative development of the team’s budget. Such a document is critical in a less formal design environment such as this, as the preliminary design tends to be reflected by those components called out on the budget. I have helped steer the team through this initial phase by encouraging frank discussion regarding basic technical decisions such as material selection and the geometry of specific components. The team effort is currently under budget and on schedule.
I expect to shortly be leading the team through a more complete design phase that includes solid modeling and dynamics simulation. Besides contributing to the technical tasks, my role as team leader will be to ensure budget margins are not exceeded, competition milestones are met, and a simplicity principle is adhered to throughout the design and fabrication efforts. These are not single event manifestations of leadership but instead overarching principles which I have thus far met and will continue to strive for in the future.
Astrodynamics and Fluid Mechanics.