ORLANDO, Fla. — An army of knights is among the seekers heading to the final frontier with innovative projects that are shaping the future of space travel.
This is perhaps unsurprising due to the University of Central Florida’s history tied to the US space program. As the need for more aerospace engineers grew, the ‘space university’ opened its doors for education in 1968 – the same year the Apollo 8 mission took humans into Earth’s orbit. the moon.
Since then, students and faculty have taken full advantage of being just 35 miles from Kennedy Space Center by collaborating with NASA, developing new technologies and techniques straight out of science fiction. Over the past 18 months, UCF has had 71 space-related research projects approved and awarded with grants exceeding $10 million, according to UCF spokeswoman Zenaida Kotala.
Some of the research projects include:
—3D printed sensors allowing astronauts to monitor the integrity of the ship
—A device that would create a landing strip for a rocket upon landing
—Develop a cost-effective and logistically feasible way to extract lunar ice
The projects vary widely, but almost half of them, 31, are related to lunar research.
Most recently, UCF’s Kawai Kwok was one of eight UCF recipients to receive the NSF Career Award for his research proposal to examine a flexible yet strong material capable of functioning as a satellite solar sail, then to be able to roll up from the base of the satellite as easily. as a measuring tape.
It’s called “breaking down the structures of instability,” Kwok said, and his idea started with a walk in his garden.
Kwok admired a passing ladybug. The friendly insect landed on a flower, compacted its wings and navigated nimbly through its environment. Apart from flight, the wings of insects conform to the body as the organism intends. If it should fly away, the wings unfold. If it has to crawl under a window, the wings will contract and allow the insect to take on a slimmer form.
“This is exactly the kind of behavior that we have sought for many years in the engineering community. How can we have a structure that can radically change forms? said Kwok, a 38-year-old assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
For the past six years, Kwok has been researching composite lightweight structures for aerospace applications.
His most recent idea to explore “instantaneous instability” is what won him a $500,486 NSF CAREER grant, which will allow Kwok and some of his selected students to explore different applications of fiberglass composites. carbon – or other lightweight materials – that could mimic the behavior of insect wings.
However, creating a material that is both thin and very strong is not easy.
Currently, Kwok and his students are working on a 0.5 meter long carbon fiber composite propeller. So far, the lightweight and foldable propeller can maintain the integrity of rotation at 3000 rpm. Next, Kwok wants to upgrade to a meter-long propeller, the results of which could benefit drone technology. The US Navy has already expressed interest in Kwok’s work.
“I guess (the) dream would be (to) design propellers or wings that deploy from a drone. The Navy (would like) to be able to launch a swarm of compact drones in small tubes,” Kwok said.
At the moment, the research is in its early stages and may not end up using carbon fiber, which is prepared in a small lab in the UCF engineering building.
“We are not only interested in carbon fiber composites. We’re trying to see if we can mix a wider variety of materials with different functions and properties,” he said.
Ideally, Kwok’s instantaneous instability structures would take on tape-measure-like characteristics, being able to expand significantly while maintaining the structural integrity of technologies such as solar sails for solar-powered space travel. It’s an idea that didn’t really go beyond science fiction. One of the reasons solar sails are difficult to create is that they need to be large enough to capture an area of around 20 to 40 meters, to capture photons from the sun, but also to maintain an extremely light weight.
“How do we fold them so that they can be structurally sound in space? I hope we find that answer,” Kwok said.
When it comes to the moon, UCF shines with its lunar geology expert and planetary scientist Kerri Donaldson Hanna, who has her hands full with numerous moon-related research projects. First, there’s the Lunar Trailblazer project, which is a satellite capable of scanning and producing high-resolution water maps on the moon. Donaldson Hanna and his team of students create spectral instruments for NASA’s satellite.
Water has long been suspected on the moon since the Lunar Prospector spacecraft first detected high levels of hydrogen at the north and south poles in 1999. Water ice is believed to exist in the permanent shadow of lunar craters, but there are few true detections of frozen water. Trailblazer seeks to change that by scanning as low as crater floors and as high as mountain peaks using powerful instruments – capable of measuring down to 3.6 microns – and creating a large database of water sites for future colonization.
Donaldson Hanna’s work in Trailblazer builds on two other critical projects she has worked on that have furthered scientific understanding of lunar geology: Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment and Lunar Mineralogy Cartographer. The latter flew aboard the Indian Chandrayaan-1 and discovered water.
Pursuing the goal of finding water, Donaldson Hanna is also working as a co-investigator on the Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System project. She and an undergraduate student, Adam Bedel, select filters for a thermal camera aboard the XELENE lunar lander, designed by aerospace manufacturer Masten Space Systems. Their work will be used to build heat maps of the moon’s south polar region. The images provided by XELENE should allow scientists to better understand which regions are cold enough to retain water.
Additionally, NASA announced earlier in June that Donaldson Hanna and another UCF planetary scientist, Adrienne Dove, will explore an unknown and mysterious region of the moon – Gruithuisen Domes. The area is on the western part of the moon and appears to be the result of a rare form of volcanic eruption. But that leaves NASA scientists confused, because such geological structures on Earth require the formation of liquid water oceans and plate tectonics.
Enter Donaldson Hanna and Dove who will lead a $35 million mission that will land a spacecraft above the domes of Gruithuisen and provide answers.
“There is potentially a treasure trove of knowledge waiting to be uncovered that will not only help inform future robotic and human exploration of the moon, but may also help us better understand the history of our own planet as well. than other planets in the solar system,” Donaldson Hanna told the Orlando Sentinel in June.
The UCF Medical Campus is the closest medical school to the Kennedy Space Center, placing it in a unique location of scientific opportunity. As a result, UCF Health has partnered with Axiom Space to support human research studies on future flights, including the Axiom 2 mission scheduled for next year.
UCF professors teamed up with Israeli researchers to study four private astronauts to better understand the effect of microgravity on the human body, specifically studying changes in astronauts’ eyes and brains.
Currently, researchers are analyzing data from the April launch which saw a SpaceX Crew Dragon contracted by Axiom Space blast off for a stay aboard the International Space Station.
UCF’s Dr. Ali Rizvi and Dr. Joyce Paulson are analyzing the effect of the microgravity environment on the “blood-brain barrier,” or the coating coated around a brain that filters out harmful toxins. Scientists have looked for ways to circumvent this barrier because it acts as an obstacle to the delivery of certain drugs that must reach the central nervous system. The ultimate goal is to treat degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Previous research has shown that the blood barrier can be altered in microgravity or weightless environments, creating larger pores in the barrier and possibly allowing drugs to reach the nervous system.
UCF Health professors are collaborating with Israeli researchers to better understand the human body in a microgravity environment by studying the four space participants.
Additionally, another group of UCF scientists are examining the eyes of astronauts and how microgravity can affect fluid in an ocular structure in a phenomenon known as “spaceflight-associated neuroocular syndrome” or SANS. Previous studies have focused on SANS, but UCF research has a new tool.
UCF professor Dr. Mehul Patel, along with researchers from Israel’s Rabin Medical Center, are using a new imaging device that will shed light on eye structure, blood flow and how flights space could modify them.
After the 17-day trip to space, the astronauts were assessed within 48 hours of their return. Currently, scientists are reviewing the data for any possible changes.
“That’s one of the exciting parts of doing the study,” Patel said. “We are going to be able to see microscopic changes, perhaps for the first time, in someone who has left Earth.”