LU electrical engineering students win big in Design Challenge

Lamar University electrical engineering students took top honors this week in the NASA-sponsored Texas Space Grant Consortium’s Design Challenge Showcase, bringing home a total of eight awards.

The Phillip M. Drayer Department of Electrical Engineering fielded two teams: the Remote Image System Acquisition Space Camera 4 team (LURISA) and the Lamar Electric Propulsion (LEP) team.

The RISA team took first places in “Best Attention to Reviewer Comments” and “Best Use of a Hereditary System” categories, as well as third place for its patch design and an honorable mention for its oral presentation. RISA team members are Russell Barker of Winnie, William Gilthorpe of Vidor and Tung Vo of Groves.

The LEP team took first place in the “Sci-Fi to Reality” category, second place for its Facebook presence, third place in oral presentation and honorable mention for its patch design. LEP team members are Christopher Lee of Orange and Austin Price of Groves.

“The Texas Space Grant Consortium Design Challenge is one of the finest programs in the country for engineering students because it gives them the opportunity to work directly with NASA mentors on projects that are not only of interest and significance to the space program, but also challenging and instructive for the student participants,” said Harley Myler, faculty advisor, course instructor and department chair.

“Our students get an opportunity to apply the complex engineering skills that they have learned in the classroom while being required to use teamwork and project management techniques to get the job done in a timely and efficient manner.”

The consortium hosted the competition Monday at the South Shore Harbor Resort in League City. The consortium is a NASA-funded organization with the mission of supporting space education and research in Texas, Myler said. Rice and Texas Tech universities also fielded two teams each, while Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M-Kingsville, University of Texas at Austin and UT-San Antonio each fielded one team.

The Lamar team members are all senior electrical engineering majors enrolled in the senior design course in the department. Competing for cash awards, the Lamar teams won more than $400 in prizes, which will be used to support the projects, Myler said.

The LURISA team is developing a Wi-Fi interface to a high-resolution electronic camera for use on the space station, Myler said. The students are also interfacing with a remote-controlled telescope mounted to the roof of the Cherry Engineering Building on the campus in Beaumont, he said, allowing users to access the telescope and camera system from anywhere in the world. The telescope can be commanded to “GoTo” any celestial object and track it, while returning the images captured by the camera to the operator via the Internet.

The LEP team is working on electric propulsion research for deep-space missions where a spacecraft must sustain thrust for months or years in order to reach near-light-speed velocities, said Myler. The team gave a demonstration of ionic propulsion by levitating a custom-made model using high-voltage power. A streaming video of the demonstration is available at the department Web site, HYPERLINK

The teams will continue to work on their projects during the spring semester, Myler said.
Gleb Tcheslavski, assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Cristian Bahrim, associate professor of physics, serve as consultants to the Lamar teams. Their NASA mentor is Doug Holland of the advanced development office at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Two Lamar alumni who are former participants in the Design Challenge participated in the showcase. Josh Shenkir, a 2008 electrical engineering graduate, returned to judge the poster competition. Justin Coletta, a 2009 mechanical engineering graduate, delivered opening remarks.
“The Design Challenge is one of the higher education programs that the consortium supports and is targeted to students enrolled in engineering at universities and colleges in the state,” Myler said. “NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center propose projects and then mentor the student teams to enter the challenge.”