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.

Steel Driving Women

SUN_6066Spring Break means little to the women of S&T’s Steel Bridge Design Team. They’d sooner be cutting and forming I-beams.

April Fool’s day is ignored because there’s serious work at hand. Sarah Jemison, Miranda (Randi) Cory, and the men who work for them must design, build and test a new weight-bearing bridge in less than a month.

Need more pressure? Randi is helping organize the ASCE Midcontinent Student Conference hosted by Missouri S&T. Better known as the Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe competition, it’s coming to Rolla April 21st-23rd for the first time in nearly twenty years. The Miner bridge and canoe crews have risen to the challenge of juggling jobs, classes, building their projects and managing the entire event. They’re determined to set a hospitality standard that will never be eclipsed, even by those “big” schools.DSC_6578 (1)
Back to emergency bridge design, S&T’s initial structure failed load testing during St Pat’s week, mimicking one school’s designs famous for collapsing under the weight of their own self-importance (according to a K-State wag). For the host school to withdraw from the event would be, uh, embarrassing in the extreme. Miners would never let that happen. DSC_6568They’re taking inspiration from Jermy Jamison’s 2014 winning team by switching to a modified I-beam design. That meant finding the steel FAST, while hammering out design details in late-night meetings and cutting steel with the Design Center’s new five-axis water jet machine.
DSC_5255Both civil engineering-based teams have strong contingents of women. Miranda is the president of the Steel Bridge Team. Concrete Canoe is led by a guy (Justin Turley) but with 53% of the team women, he’s outnumbered. Who, by the way, dominated last year womens’ sprint race.

Celebrating St. Pat’s

DSC_5210 - Version 2 (3)Yeah, there’s a parade, green-painted streets, couches on lawns complete with loud music and miscellaneous empty glass and aluminum containers scattered about, and two days of “independent study” in lieu of classes.
DSC_5289 (1)

So what? On St Patrick’s day, in a corner of the Kummer Student Center life went on, work went on, even if the workers were “greened up.”
In a madhouse of motion the Mars Rover Team was firing up Zenith’s new carbon fiber and Plexiglas “tires” before heading to a local quarry that stands in for the Red Planet’s surface. Four hours of playing in the dirt revealed some communication errors, but their new “tires” did well.
DSC_5143Solar Car burned through a lot of 400 grit sandpaper trying to perfect the molds for their first-ever monocoque race car. They’ve abandoned 17+ years of building tubular frames in favor of a structural exoskeleton, and that means a stiff learning curve as they head into a new direction. Speaking of new directions the 2016 American Solar Challenge will leapfrog it’s way through national parks from Ohio to the Badlands of South Dakota this summer to help mark the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
DSC_5107 (1)The steel bridge crew held a pizza-fueled strategy session in the Innovation Suite while the concrete canoe team used St. Paddy’s day to add a green stripe to this year’s watercraft and inlaid a line of shamrocks in the boat’s floor. They’re going the extra mile because S&T is hosting the concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions this year. Design team members are going all-out to make the 2016 Mid Continent Student Conference the standard against which all future host schools will be judged. And fall short they will. When over 300 guests from other schools see S&T’s Student Design and Experiential Learning Center, its fleet of support vehicles, massive manufacturing facilities, and crack(ed) professional support staff, look for the Miner admissions office to see a flood of transfer applications from the surrounding states.

SAE Aero Wrap Up.

Thanks to the change to Daylight Savings Time the Miners could do a little star gazing when they got to the airfield early this morning. The few exhausted students on hand staggered zombie-like through the dark, lit only by the headlights of what few vehicles were approaching.

Though the skies were clear predictions of 30+ mph winds by mid-day prompted event officials to announce only one flight round; no second round to help bring up your flight score average. Bad news for S&T which only completed one of yesterday’s three rounds.

With only one flight left most teams went for broke by adding more payload; a lot more payload in hopes of moving up in the rankings. That strategy meant that many planes couldn’t even escape the pull of gravity. Several planes charged down the concrete and rolled right out into the grass. A few managed to get airborne only to “porpoise” through the air, unable to respond to the pilot’s input before finally cartwheeling into the ground. Two pilots became heroes to their clients by nursing the aircraft to stay just above the weeds and out of the trees. DSC_4930
One pilot decided the only way to keep the bird in the air was to drop its payload when the machine was about two feet above the clover, roughly 98 feet below the required “drop” altitude. His skills saved the plane and earned him strong applause from the crowd.
The Miners? They ran out of time (3 minute limit) when they had to reboot their electronics, and in the resulting rush they couldn’t get the engine started. Flooded apparently.

Pigs can run, pigs can jump, but this weekend has proven beyond doubt that that pigs can’t fly.

We’ll wrap up with a quick look at our favorite crash.

Engineering Idol

A panel of Lockheed Martin judges. A stage. And you. Now please explain in 10 minutes the intricacies of your design and answer pointed questions about your design approach. That’s your introduction to SAE Aero East Design. And how it will be in the uh, adult word.
Once out of that sweatbox it’s back to the chaos of tech inspection. A cadre of senior aerospace industry veterans pokes, prods, measures and tests everything on your aircraft except starting the engines.
Check lists, questions, payload tests, package drop mechanism operation, flaps, rudder, all of it, while the same scenario is played out all across the convention hall for teams from Poland, Egypt, China, Canada, India, the U.S. and Brazil.
Some teams arrive ready while others have a little work to do. No matter, these are one-off experimental devices that seldom work as expected.

The aircraft range in appearance from works of industrial art to a determined attempt to prove that yes, pigs CAN fly.A rookie team showed off their, uh, their rather robust airframe that looked
DSC_3621 (1) like it was built overnight in an Ace Hardware store; no small coincidence that one of their members actually worked in one of those “helpful hardware places.” One micro-class entry even had transparent inflatable wings, the inspiration for which may have come from a child’s “floaties.”

No matter. This is a design competition, not a beauty contest. Few people remember what these birds look like, but no one forgets how your design impacts the ground.

One wag was overheard to say “it’s not a question of if your plane will crash, just a question of when.”

Flight ops start early tomorrow, weather permitting, and that’s when the “when” comes into play.

You Know You’re at a Student Design Competition When..

After an 11-hour drive you arrive exhausted at your Ft. Worth-area hotel, flop down on the bed to recover, and from out of the parking lot darkness comes the subtle but familiar sound of a handsaw being pushed deliberately through who-knows-WHAT type of material.

And so it begins…

Update: It’s 10:00 p.m. local time. Now someone is testing their model airplane engines just outside the window.


Where Are They Now?

Each year some 250 students “graduate” from S&T’s student design teams, and for their hard work they also get a bachelor’s degree almost as important to employers as their design team experience.

These grads seem to disappear into the bowels of industry perhaps to redesign Corvettes, return to campus with a pre-production Chevy Volt, and rise to an investment manager at GM Ventures about ten years down the line.

But some Miner grads carve their own path into the world, and so begins the story of Doug Hoang, his friends, and their new start-up company, Enflux.
Doug (BS ME ’10), seen above testing engine sound levels at the Michigan International Speedway, was the 2010 engine group lead on S&T’s Formula SAE team. “Through the design team program I developed friendships with many like-minded students some of whom I took engineering classes with. Eventually some of us became roommates and that’s where we began to realize that we wanted to start a company together,” says Doug.

“Matt Brown (ME ’09) whose chief engineer’s role on the Human Powered Vehicle Team culminated in S&T being the first team ever to capture a National Championship (2007), and Elijah Schuldt (AE, EE, ’10) Advanced Aero team president (2009) and micro-class chief engineer (2010), and I stayed in touch after graduation to work on our entrepreneurial dreams.”

“Enflux began to take shape after Eli and I developed sensor technology to analyze motion in racecars. At the time I was also training to run triathlon but wasn’t getting the results I wanted and kept getting injured. I realized we could put the same racecar sensors on the body to collect data on movement during exercise, and the idea was born. why not develop a line of athletic clothing with embedded motion sensors that capture your body’s 3D movement during exercise?”
“The clothing measures the quality of your form, intensity of your workout, other advanced exercise metrics, and reports back on a smartphone app in real-time. After your workout is complete, you can review results, get coaching on your form, and view a 3D avatar performing the exercises exactly as you just did.”

“We’ve sunk a lot of our own money into this project and already lined up major investors, and our next step is a kickstarter campaign at that starts today.”

“All this is happening because, some ten years ago, each of us decided to join a Missouri S&T design team. Best decision we ever made.”

They’re BACK!

15+ student-led design teams, doing who-knows-what, have come back from winter break all fired up to build things.
Concrete Canoe poured their new boat and filled it with water so it cures slowly. No one has slipped any goldfish or frogs into it. So far.

Several teams have been making a mess cutting high-density machining foam. The dust makes the shop floors awfully slippery.
Everyone pitched in to make the place sparkling clean for the UM System President’s visit, which didn’t actually happen. Good news is that teams found all kinds of missing stuff.

Our HPER rocket scientists are becoming DIY explosives “experts.” In a scenario tailor made for YouTube they’re mixing their own rocket fuel/propellant; in the SDELC conference room it was feared, but that was just practice. “Oh, no! We’ll tell you when we’re mixing REAL explosives!” was the response. Comforting words….
Solar car has been laying up molds for the revamped vehicle. They use a choreographed/chaotic system of applying slow-cure epoxy and heavy fiberglass mats, then repeating the process to produce upper and lower body molds that look terrible on the outside, but on the inside, smooth as a KU football player’s backside.

No offense intended.

The Best Birthday Present EVER!

And the story behind it…

Let us first introduce to you, Richard Dalton, shop and safety operations manager at S&T’s Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.

Richard has a slightly mellow personality, but he shoulders tremendous responsibility at the center. He teaches dozens of technical and safety classes, oversees OrgSync and all the sophisticated software needed to design student projects, buys (or steals) and maintains a barn full of lathes, mills, grinders, welders, and composite layup equipment, machines that well-meaning (but inexperienced) students seem to trash as fast as he can fix it.

Richard also teaches truck/trailer drivers’ education classes after normal(?) duty hours. It’s a wonder he hasn’t burst a blood vessel trying to show students how to back up a 28-foot trailer, or park a big dually pickup truck. Stressful at best…

He’s a master mechanic, superb machinist and even built his own home. A computer/IT wizard, YouTube aficionado, and has been deployed to Afganistan with the Army Reserve.

DSC_7810His office is his inner sanctum, his personal retreat where few are welcome. It’s home to several video monitors, his personal tool set, and the occasional canoe when things get too crowded in the shop. It’s even been known to house a few hundred plastic Easter eggs lovingly placed where it’ll take him months to find them.


DSC_3246Many months ago, Richard’s very expensive and custom-fitted office chair went missing. He was very “close” to that chair and distraught when it disappeared, as similar chairs just wouldn’t “fit.” There were rumors it rolled away DSC_6536 (1) on its own, to go “find itself” and travel the world. Sightings were reported all over the western U.S., often in the vicinity of traveling S&T design teams it was said.
But it never resurfaced.

Fast forward to Irvine, California with the Solar House Design Team and their Nest Home at the Solar Decathlon; high-energy house reassembly under strict time constraints. Richard absolutely WOWED the students with his skills, enthusiasm and experience, and with his birthday on the horizon the students were desperate to show their appreciation to “’Mater,” as he’s known on campus. What to do?

The house has to be furnished, right? What if, just IF, they could find the errant furniture, wouldn’t it be great to bring it “home”? If they COULD recover it, how could they possibly sneak it into the Nest Home as a proper surprise? What on-hand equipment could they use?

Well, there IS that big crane sitting right outside, and since Richard (that’s him on the left) was busy talking……….

And THAT is the story of the best birthday present EVER!

P.S. Too bad the crane operator wouldn’t haul him up about 100 ft. Stupid OSHA rules…..

It’s Springtime In The Ozarks!

The dogwoods are blooming, turtles are crossing the road en masse, thunderstorms are brewing and S&T’s design teams are on the road. SolarCarDSC_6875
A revitalized solar car team took a weekend training run on the Licking race circuit, aka US highway 63. They’re wringing out Solar Miner VIII to make sure the battery management system is doing its critical job. SolCarDSC_6824Cloudy weather, road kill and brittle battery tabs limited the car to a mere 90 miles, but before long they’ll wire in the new, and much more energy dense battery pack.

Tomorrow morning four teams head out to intercollegiate competitions. Steel Bridge and Concrete Canoe head to KU at Lawrence, KS for the ASCE Mid-continent student conference while two other groups head to drought-plagued California; Human Powered Vehicle to San Jose and Advanced Aero Vehicle Group/SAE Aero to Van Nuys. The HPVC team will debut Leviathan, the amazing leaning recumbent trike. We’ve seen other vehicles made up as cattle, but never has a team showed up with a sea monster beautifully painted on their bike, trike, or whatever.

The Miners have built their best boat in years and dubbed it (cue Star Wars theme) Joebi-Wan Canoebe. A concrete cross-section is nestled in R2-D2’s belly and miniature TIE fighters make the cutest little materials containers you ever saw.

Steel Bridge’s over-arch design is a radical departure from last year’s winning entry. It’s much lighter and there’re holding last-minute practice this evening.

Tonight’s a packing frenzy. Loading gear, checking lists for the 10th time, just another evening on a design team.

Stay tuned for more anecdotes and pics. It’s gonna be a busy weekend!