Yeah, It’s Been Quiet Here

On this blog, but not for the teams.

Solar car is in Beaver Falls, PA for scrutineering and Formula Sun Grand Prix, prelude to American Solar Challenge (ASC) cross-country race starting July 30th.

ASC 2016 looks to be the first time the resurgent Miners have raced cross-county since 2010, and it’s been a painful drought. Things are going well in Pennsylvania, and barring catastrophic failure, S&T will start the nearly 2,000 mile trip though some of America’s finest national parks and monuments, looping from Cleveland, south through southern Illinois and Missouri, then turning NW to the Badlands of South Dakota.

There’s two (three?) ways to follow S&T’s run to the hills. AmericanSolar, and on Facebook under Missouri S&T Solar Car Team and the S&T Student Design and Experiential Learning Center (SDELC)

Follow us on Facebook. It’s OK, really. Facebook isn’t just for kids anymore. FB is where all the cool older folks hang out these days.

Temperatures Affect More Than The Drivers and Crews

Bored engineers will find something/anything to build, take apart, modify or measure. Yesterday’s favorite device was an IR temp sensor that was reporting concrete surface temps of 142 degrees F, with actual air temps around 103.
Ambient temps affect team strategy, but electric FSAE teams have been sweating more than their petroleum-powered cousins because high-tech batteries don’t like the heat. DC-powered cars have temp sensors all through their systems, monitors designed to shut down the car should battery temps get too high. E-teams LOVE mild days and the Miners have caught some luck from overnight showers. It’s still cloudy at the endurance course green flag so S&T’s Artemis’ power system should operate more efficiently. E-cars will run right after lunch, followed by the faster combustion machines.
DSC_1229 (1)
Formula electric scoring? Eight in design out of some twenty teams and top five* in cost, skidpad, autocross and acceleration!
Their endurance race strategy is conservative. They’ve scoped out the top teams and see potential weaknesses in each, so the Miners’ mantra is ”Don’t overdrive, just finish!”
*Only five electric teams passed all inspections. Some fifteen more trailed S&T in design execution/safety. But make no mistake, this team is thrilled! They met they goal of qualifying and running dynamic events. The icing on the cake would be to finish endurance.

Formula Electric Passed Tech!!!

…and will run the dynamic events tomorrow!

As often stated, E-Racing is new in the U.S., in only three years old. During that time fewer than 10 North American cars out of 30+ teams have qualified to drive, and the Miners managed that in only their sophomore attempt.

It didn’t take long for the Miners to pass their “eTech re-check” today, but you could see the electrical crew ready to jump through their collective skins in anticipation. Nathan Loika DSC_0522especially, since he’s poured over two years of his young life into the Formula Electric project. When it came time to apply the “pass” sticker it was almost as if he couldn’t believe it, didn’t quite know what to do.

Artemis will start dynamic testing tomorrow morning in its brand new livery. Acceleration, braking, noise (NOISE??) and skid pad, with autocross to run in the afternoon.DSC_0262 The electric field will be somewhat bigger than last year’s threesome; S&T will be at least the 4th car approved to fly the airpark tarmac tomorrow.

And it’s still hot. Very hot.

FSAE Glides Through Tech Inspection


You’d think with two other Formula design events (7th in Michigan and 1st in Toronto) under their belts in the past month that passing tech would be a slam dunk. Not so.
One tech inspection judge took a dim view of their safety harness guides, the same ones that served well in two events, and said “change it!” Doing so was not technically challenging but the Miners executed the work in an amazing manner according to outgoing leader Alex Mills. He said “we got back from weigh-in just 30 minutes before the Lincoln Welding facility closed for the day and this amazing group jumped on the job with everything they had! Some pulled off delicate DSC_0655electronic components while others got the generator out and fired up the compressor to grind off the existing guides. Jacqueline Stock and Jarrett Harkless made new steel guides and the crew pushed the car 100+ yards to the Lincoln location and got the job done just at closing time!”

That gave the S&T Formula combustion team an easy day ahead of tomorrow’s dynamic challenges so everything was checked and rechecked. Oil leaks were cleaned off and tracked down. Jacqueline found a tight spot in the accelerator travel and fixed it with a new knuckle, and other team members handled less important tasks.

Heresy warning: It’s not about the car, it’s about teamwork. Observers were impressed by how Jarrett, Alex and Jacqueline went back and forth on what to do about the accelerator return springDSC_0615 before agreeing that other options might be better but that they’d stick with a compromise solution as the best strategy for the two remaining days of the season.

Jarrett and Jacqueline are young, but they already understand the entire design process. Jarrett has been elected team leader for ’16-’17, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jacqueline succeed him in another year.

Alex says “we’ve knick-named her “lil’ Jay Hammer” because she gets things done.”

Formula Electric: “We’re Gonna Run!”

Codemeister Nathan Loika made that all-important decree late this afternoon. S&T’s Artemis sailed through eTech inspection today with but two small changes to make, protecting high-voltage wires and confirming a ground connection. DSC_0150Megan Ratterree took care of the former and the latter will necessitate pulling a few things off the car to assuage the judges in the morning.

Nathan also commented that the daunting eTech inspections seemed much easier this year. We’re sure that’s his perspective but it may also be the result of days of intensive learning during last year’s eTech and a more experienced set of teammates. Either way (or both) the team is on the verge of hitting the competition track for the first time in the team’s 3-year history.
DSC_0002On the mechanical side everything was fine until the Miners weighed the car. When Artemis rolled off the scale it pushed both ramps outward, revealing drastically excessive toe-in that had gone unnoticed. That was corrected well before the sun left the sky.

But there are the variables. Temps are said to top 100 tomorrow, and fall just short of that during dynamic testing (racing) the next two days. Batteries do not do well when they overheat and the combustion engines don’t much like it either, so drivers and crews alike will have to develop a strategy to deal with it. So far the strategy is confined to staying hydrated, seeking shade at every opportunity, and sitting in front of industrial-sized box fans.

The Martians Have Landed

Space travel is fraught with risk. There’s the outbound voyage, long and boring (think Kansas), the terror of the unknown inter-planetary void and finally the touch down on the surface of ________(enter name of your favorite planet/moon).

Imagine if there were an asteroid or a pre-positioned docking station that could serve as a mid-trip “rest stop” to stretch your legs and check the tires on your space vehicle. Or stay awhile while NASA sends out a rescue vehicle.

There is such a place, and it bears a striking resemblance to a Target store. It’s in Dillon, Colorado where the Mars Rover mothership/trailer was towed when it lost its brakes coming out of the Eisenhower Tunnel last week.

En route to the University Rover Challenge in Utah, Alyssa McCarthy’s “Rove” group camped out in the Target parking lot to wait for rescue that came in the form of solar car team members John Schoeberle and Conner Kostelac. Timing was critical because they had to arrive in Hanksville, Utah in just two days.

While the Dodge rescue ship was prepared for launch/stripped of its warp-speed limiters the team used the time to rehearse the same actions they’d take in Utah so the “mission” would stay on schedule. While John and Conner streaked across the barren landscape of Kansas and eastern Colorado* a local garage (cash only) fixed the mothership’s brakes.

Local media caught wind of the impromptu base camp and wrote it up here. Target shoppers stopped by to talk to the Miners and see Zenith while store managers fretted about violating the city’s ban on camping. An S&T alum stopped by to offer encouragement and an old hippie couple showed up to ask for duct tape and coffee. Sorry, no coffee.

Ultimately the wanderers made it to Hanksville in time and did well, winning the new Phobos Division at the University Rover Challenge and were honored with the John Berenka Science Award. Read more a about it on the Rover team’s Facebook page.

*No law enforcement personnel were inconvenienced in the performance of this mission.

High Tension and High Fives

Classes are out but design team work goes on. Steel Bridge is in Provo, Utah, and June has Robotics in Michigan, FSAE to Toronto and Lincoln, Nebraska, Formula Electric also at Lincoln, and AAVG Rocket and Mars Rover events just an hour away from each other in the Eastern Utah desert. Each of those events validate a year of design, build, test, and repeat.
The AAVG HPER rocket team has one of the more interesting challenges; they manufacture their own motor casings and solid propellant, so if things go wrong they really go wrong, just as they did in the early years of NASA’s existence.
Chief rocket scientist Jill Davis’ team has done things right. They learned just how many threads to cut in aluminum so that tube holds together under propellant pressure. They also learned that if your propellant isn’t cured properly the motor casing can vaporize in an instant, spewing aluminum shrapnel in all directions.
Sunday they fired their smaller Helios to nearly 10,000 feet in a complete systems test powered by a commercial ($$) motor. All that was left was to validate the home-built propulsion system. With the IREC competition less than three weeks away yesterday’s rocket motor test was critical.
SUN_8332They’d bolted a heavy test stand to the ground in a distant corner of S&T’s experimental mine, just yards from where they mixed the fast-burning chemical components. Safety is paramount; nothing happens until blasting gurus DeWayne Phelps or Jimmie Taylor give the all clear.
Planning is essential. NASA often refers to a “launch window” when launch parameters are met for a successful launch. In the case of Josh and Terry the test “window” was a gap in a series of thunderstorms sweeping across central Missouri. The ignition wire, along with the steel barriers behind which they hide during the test, could be the perfect place for a lighting strike. And that would skew the test data beyond use. And melt your boots.
DSC_8715 “Fire In The Hole!” x 3, then ”3…2…1…GO!” Terry pushed the launch button and was rewardedwith a tiny puff of smoke from the rocket’s tail. And nuttin’; no fire, noise or anything. Crap, a misfire! Safety protocol says don’t approach the device for 30 minutes, and then with the SUN_8411utmost care. Half an hour of sitting in the rain, listening to thunder before Josh Lewis and Terry McGarvey carefully removed the burnt igniter that failed to start the reaction. They changed their system by doubling the electrical triggers and wrapped them in pieces of leftover fuel (the aerospace equivalent of a bigger hammer) and got the results they wanted.
DSC_8741 (1)A puff, a small flame, then a long hissing roar that seemed to go on for minutes. Burn time was probably just 10-15 seconds but for these rocket scientists it was an eternity, since a fatal (to the motor) aberration might occur in the next ¼ second.
SUN_8459And then silence.

For a moment Josh and Terry looked at each other then started screaming “YES!” and dancing through the mud and rock. That meant they could go ahead and build the actual competition motor for the Utah launch. These S&T rocket scientists could now add “chemist” to their resumes.

Epilogue: Rocket motors burn fast and hot, and remain too hot to touch for some time. During the cool-down wait we noticed Matt Fogle’s name written on the cylinder. Explained Terry “Matt is definitely the “Godfather” of this project. He was the one who first started researching all about making solid rocket fuel, and the motor designs are his designs. So Josh Lewis and I signed the case and did it for Matt, since he is one of our best friends and without him none of this would be possible.”

Now that’s classy.

Racing In A Winter Wonderland

The Michigan Formula SAE Collegiate Design competition is always a weather crapshoot. It’s early spring in the northern tier states and blasts of cold air are not uncommon so event veterans come prepared for anything. Students new to the event? Not so much.
What they got for ’16 was pretty much everything. Wind chills hovering at freezing, round after round of driving, biting sleet and a whopping downpour mixed in to chill the bones of even the hardiest soul.
In short, Saturday’s endurance finale was miserable for sponsors, spectators and pit crews alike but one event judge said “the drivers LOVE to run in the rain!” Should we ever thaw one out we’ll ask if that was the case.
The enduro course is a proving ground, designed to weed out/wear out weaker designs that might not be able to hold up to what the theoretical customers might do to the cars when they enter the market. It’s a grueling event for drivers and machines alike.
Aside from the miserable precipitation many teams may have benefited from the colder temps. The slower run groups usually have higher attrition rates. Could be something as simple as inexperience or smaller budgets that prevent some teams from reaching the performance levels of some schools (ahem!) MINERS! that consistently run in the top 20% of the rankings, but we’re guessing the cold winds took some of the load off of engine cooling systems. With such a high percentage of teams finishing endurance it took a LOT longer to run 100+ cars through the course. By the time the fastest dozen or so cars hit the track it was nearly 6:00 p.m., some three hours later than usual.
Mizzou’s group took the brunt of the weather mess. At the storm’s peak the race was halted when conditions became unsafe; drivers couldn’t see where they were going. Problem was the drivers had to remain in in their open cockpits until the storm passed. No word on whether their fire-proof racing suits were also designed for the cold….
By the time S&T hit the track visibility had improved, but the standing water was still a big factor. Derek Martin opened the Miners’ effort by throwing rooster-geysers into cars foolish enough to get too close. As track conditions gradually improved Caleb Alne set out to scorch-dry the track all by himself, passing several of the other top drivers in an all-out effort to climb in the dynamic points totals.
With just a half lap to go Caleb’s front wing sent a cone flying and peeled a carbon-fiber panel left flapping in the wind, but somehow it stayed attached. Had it torn off Car #16 might have been black-flagged just a few hundred yards from the finish. Every Miner there held their breath to the point of passing out, just hoping Caleb, who probably didn’t realize the damage, could nurse “Holly” to the checkered flag.

And Caleb nailed it, capping a surge from 13th in the pre-enduro standings to a 7th place finish out of some 117 formula design teams. That earned them a small trophy and a big dinner invitation from SpaceX recruiters! It’s pretty much guaranteed Alex Mills’ team asked SpaceX folks to raise a glass in memory of Joe Boze.

Rain? Cold? They don’t remember anything like that.

To The People Who Got Us Here

S&T’s Formula SAE team is at the Michigan International Raceway for the annual SAE contest. There’s lots of stories to tell and pictures to show, but first, please join Miner Racing to thank
Joe Boze, who passed away last year. For years Joe was the Formula SAE Team’s go-to guy for machining support, but that was the least of Joe’s contributions to the mechanical engineering department. Joe was the penultimate gentleman. A gracious, soft-spoken guy who was a wonderful teacher, advisor, friend and colleague. For decades Joe would remain calm in the face of students’ automotive parts crises, always ready to calm the situation by explaining that things were not that bad, always ready to apply a little machine-shop ‘magic’ to help ease the panic.

His manufacturing peers across campus didn’t often hear from Joe until he stumbled on some machinery or materials that he thought valuable to other departments. He’d call to say “hey, I just came across this stuff and thought you might like some for your shop.”

There were no departmental boundaries for Joe, as in his heart all S&T faculty and staff were here for the students. Everyone knew, respected and loved Joe Boze for his many skills. Certainly thousands of S&T students, staff, and faculty will count themselves richer for having met, worked with, and been friends of Joe’s. FSAE alumni will raise a glass to his name so long as they count themselves engineers. And for years to come incoming S&T students will hear “ahhh, you should have known Joe!”

You’ll always be in our hearts, Joe. We were lucky beyond words to count you as our friend.

Down to the Sea in Ships. And Rovers, Cars And Bridges.

Even Spring tornadoes don’t create the level of chaos that student design teams can spread across campus and beyond.
This week had Mars Rover introducing Zenith to an appreciative campus crowd while Baja SAE was mudding their way through the Tennessee design competition. Early reports indicate the Miners were still running at the end of the four-hour endurance race. First time in the team’s 10-year off-road history they’ve been waved through under the checkered flag!
DSC_7790Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe are practicing like crazy, while finalizing plans for hosting this week’s 16-school engineering conference at the same. The same one in which they compete.
Steel bridge is under particular strain because their original design failed just four weeks before the competition. They’ve rebuilt from scratch and are in full-bore construction practice mode.
Canoe has resurrected “Alice,” the well-remembered highlight of St Pat’s celebrations of decades passed. The “Legend of Alice” is seldom mentioned in polite (mixed) company, so it’s reservedDSC_8148betterfor knowing smiles among older engineers. They’ve been practicing paddle team-work under some cold and windy conditions, and so far it seems the womens’ sprint team might even beat DSC_8100their male counterparts. The team also has the monumental task of dropping 25 weighted buoys all over Little Prairie Lake for Saturday’s proof-of-concept races. Wind and rain won’t make it easy.