Space-Based Capstone: Public-Private-Academic Partnership in the Making
The Electronic Systems Engineering Technology (ESET) Program at Texas A&M University provides a recognized undergraduate program with an emphasis in electronics, communication, embedded systems, testing, instrumentation and control systems. The program combines engineering and industrial knowledge and methods to develop, design, and implement new innovative products through a two-semester long Senior Capstone Project. Capstone is designed to prepare future engineers by bridging the gap between the classroom and industry. Students are required to form teams of two to six members which allows them to develop the skills necessary to succeed in a diverse industry setting. Each team is required to use their knowledge and skills to design, develop, document, and deliver a real-world project equivalent to the assignments they will soon receive as professional engineers. Following NASA’s approval for funding the development of a research facility named Hermes, a Capstone team, named Microgravity Automated Research Systems (MARS), was sponsored by T STAR, a local space commercialization company, to develop the electronics portion of the facility. Hermes will reside on the International Space Station for five years in the hopes of streamlining the development of experiments that require extended periods of time in microgravity environments. The Hermes facility will host and manage up to four experiments at a time while allowing for the downlink of experiment data to an Earth station, and the uplink of commands to change experiment parameters. Experiments will adhere to a power budget and communication standard established by MARS so that experiments can be swapped out during the facility’s lifetime. MARS will work with the Mobile Integrated Solutions Laboratory (MISL), an undergraduate applied research lab, in order to prepare them to maintain support for Hermes in the future.