Texas A&M University-Kingsville

NASA-funded space engineering student research team premieres on campus

KINGSVILLE - October 09, 2006

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

Nine students interested in working outside of the area—and outside of the atmosphere—have become the first members of the Space Engineering Institute (SEI) student research team at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Dr. Larry Peel, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and interim department chair, directs the program “Motivating Texas A&M University-Kingsville Students through Space Engineering Research.” It is funded through an intrasystem agreement with the Texas Engineering Experiment Station/Space Engineering Institute in College Station, which has an exclusive partnership with NASA. The overall goal of the project is to encourage students to consider space-related careers.

For the next 30 weeks, student team members will design and build a space engineering-related project—in this case, a mechanical battery—that can function in a space station.

“Many chemical batteries contain highly corrosive components, due to the nature of the electro-chemical reactions,” said Peel. “A mechanical battery would be able to efficiently store energy, but would not have the corrosive components, thus making the International Space Station a safer and hopefully, a more efficient place.”

Peel will serve as a faculty mentor to the team. In addition, team members will receive guidance from researchers at the Space Engineering Institute; travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston; tour aerospace facilities such as Lockheed-Martin; participate in design competitions; and attend conferences, including the Texas Space Grant Consortium.

“There’s not a lot of aerospace activity down here (in South Texas),” said Peel. “I want to see it grow.”

Peel brings with him years of experience in the aerospace industry. Some of that experience includes serving as a liaison on the fabrication of NASA’s X-34 Reusable Launch Vehicle for Orbital Science Corp.; studying the Soviet Space program during a year’s exchange in Moscow; and working for Thiokol on the redesigned Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motors and the Small ICBM program. Peel has also been involved with the South Texas Spaceport Consortium. He noted that the student research team project will be designed, built and demonstrated just as it would be in the industry—following a regimented time table. “ We have started out with background research, brainstorming and then we will come up with a conceptual design,” said Peel. “By the end of the year, we should have a preliminary design developed.  By February 2007, we want to start fabricating components and have a prototype built and tested by April.  At that time, we will have a critical design review, where we discuss the design, the prototype and suggested design changes for future versions of the battery.  We also will have a preliminary design review and a critical design review with engineers from NASA's Johnson Space Center. ”

Dustin Grant of Clemson, S.C., a concurrent senior/graduate student majoring in mechanical engineering, serves as graduate mentor to the team. The SEI team is made up of:

Victor Castillo, a junior from Brownsville, Texas, majoring in mechanical engineering; Corpus Christi freshman Robert Cox, majoring in mechanical engineering; Christopher Gonzales, a freshman mechanical engineering major from Kingsville; sophomore electrical engineering major Krystal Gunter of Robstown; Gerardo Palermo, a senior electrical engineering major from Brownsville; Corpus Christi senior Carmen Thomas, majoring in mechanical engineering; Raymond Adorno of Allentown, Pa. , a senior majoring in mechanical engineering; Hector Hernandez, a junior electrical engineering major from San Benito, Texas; and Javier Lozano, a junior mechanical engineering major from Odessa, Texas.

When asked what drew him to the SEI, team member Lozano notes imaginary inspiration at the start of it all. “I have always loved sci-fi stuff, and have been a Trekkie (Star Trek fan) since I was young, so I had wanted to get into the aerospace field with my education,” he said. “I felt this would be a stepping stone for me, and would open many doors.

“From the experience of working in the SEI program, I hope to gain more ‘real world’ experience in the engineering field. Also, I hope to gain some contacts with companies and personnel in the areas I would like to work.”

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