NASA Langley Research Center
January 13, 2020 to August 7, 2020
Goals of your project/s:
The Mechanical Systems Branch team tasked me with three primary goals throughout my experience. First, I needed to deliver a completely verified and reliable fastener library which design engineers could incorporate into upcoming spaceflight missions. This meant learning advanced Creo and Excel tools to carry this out time-effectively. My next goal was to convert all part files of the CLARREO Pathfinder satellite to STL files so they could be 3D printed. I also aimed to ensure the parts were modified effectively to maximize the 3D printing efficiency. My final overarching project goal was to develop a fully designed and analyzed footpad for the Artemis Human Landing System. Some underlying goals included developing a comprehensive understanding of past lunar landing missions’ concept of operations, gathering a wide array of plausible materials’ attributes, and becoming proficient using software to design and analyze the footpad.
Describe what you did during the internship.
This past spring and summer, I had the privilege to expand my own knowledge, while providing much-needed services to the Mechanical Systems Branch at NASA Langley Research Center. There I worked on three primary projects: the 3D parts verification project, CLARREO Pathfinder, and the footpad design of the Human Landing System (HLS). The 3D parts verification project presented my first task. For this job, I verified and created over 50,000 standard fastener parts in the agency’s CAD software, Creo, which the branch design engineers will soon implement in upcoming spaceflight designs. Doing so, I leveraged advanced software capabilities, such as family tables, to maximize process efficiency. Furthermore, I created clear, step-by-step instructions which the agency’s Creo administrator will utilize to accurately upload my verified parts from local storage to the official release in the CAD database. Concurrently, with my prior Solidworks experience, my mentor requested my assistance on the redesign of the CLARREO Pathfinder satellite for optimal 3D printing readiness; in particular, a contamination door mechanical assembly. The goal was to create two full-scale 3D printed models: one for Langley; one for our university partner. This opportunity allowed me to analyze an existing design, add my changes, and formally articulate the rationale in front of the project leads at a design review. The project leads had nothing but positive feedback, approving my design for fabrication. All the parts were successfully 3D printed and awaiting assembly upon the center’s reopening in the wake of COVID-19.
Beginning this summer term, my mentor assigned me to another project: Human Landing System (HLS). This spacecraft is responsible for descending astronauts safely from low lunar orbit to the lunar surface, housing them while there, until finally ascending them back into orbit for rendezvous with the Gateway in the upcoming Artemis missions. The Artemis goal is to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and allow a sustainable human presence on the surface by 2028. This HLS team comprises lunar landing vehicle subject matter experts which will guide our industry partners to design and manufacture these spacecrafts. My mentor tasked me and two other interns with the comprehensive design of the footpads for HLS. We named the project SuRF (SUmmer Redesign of Footpads). The footpads must serve the critical role of landing HLS safely on the treacherous lunar south pole surface. We also aimed to leverage alternate materials, such as composites, to foster mass savings, and devise potentially reusable designs. This feat proved to pose a significant design challenge. To achieve our goal, we underwent a full-scale design effort, ranging from preliminary research to develop baseline landing parameters and design constraints, followed by brainstorming over 50 design solutions, refining them to only the most propitious, and modeling our initial designs in Creo. After receiving feedback from our Supervisors on our initial ideas, we began optimizing and analyzing the designs using the FEA software Creo Simulate. At the same time, we researched cutting-edge composite materials. Some examples included carbon fiber epoxy laminate, or Kevlar-49 laminate-aluminum 5052 flexible honeycomb sandwich composites. After devising worst-case load conditions and iterating across design dimensional variances to optimize dimension values, we arrived at three final designs based on three different materials. We ended by conducting risk assessments where we determined potential hazards that could hinder our design and created test procedures which other NASA engineers could follow to test the robustness of our solutions. Our effort concluded with a final design showcase in front of HLS project leads, all of whom were extremely impressed by the magnitude and quality of our work. The whole project had a very rapid turnaround – only one month. Due to the large amount of work to complete in this short amount of time, the project required extreme focus and rapid daily learning of new software and technical skills. While challenging, this was an incredibly rewarding experience, especially once our Supervisor informed us our final presentation would be sent to our commercial partners, SpaceX, Dynetics, and Blue Origin, as a working demonstration of what their lander footpads should resemble.
Did you achieve your goals? What were the results and conclusions?
With content, I am excited to say I accomplished all my goals despite the extra hurtles posed by working in a virtual environment. I successfully verified over 50,000 unique parts to deliver a fully reliable fastener library for the Mechanical Systems Branch. I created STL files or redesigned all the applicable parts for the two CLARREO Pathfinder full-scale satellite models, allowing them to be 3D printed. While we originally hoped all of the parts would be printed and the models would be finished in the summer, as soon as COVID-19 closed the center in the spring, that timeline was altered and the project was put on hold. The fabrication finally resumed in my last week. Lastly, my team and I successfully delivered three footpad concepts which were warmly received by our supervisors and will be forwarded as a guide for our commercial partners as the Artemis Human Landing System is created.
Describe positive lessons learned from this experience:
This internship exposed me to a broad array of new skills. A derivative benefit of my initial 3D parts verification project taught me how to navigate fastener specification sheets and select the correct fastener for the application. Fasteners are often an afterthought, yet crucial to a working design. I now feel comfortable selecting from a myriad of possible options to satisfy the job. In the CLARREO Pathfinder 3D printing project, I developed a sound understanding of the best-practices to 3D print parts. Prior to this internship, I had limited 3D printing experience, yet now I believe I have a strong background. My final HLS footpad design, however, might have taught me the most lessons, especially with the short one-month deadline. In addition to the software and technical skills I learned, I also learned key insight on the importance of teamwork. Working alongside two extremely competent teammates redefined the importance of teamwork for me. While many people despise team projects, especially in school, I have learned leveraging strong teammates is an integral part of developing a timely and cohesive final product. For spaceflight projects, there are far too many specialties for any one individual to conduct all of the work. However, utilizing the diverse talents of skilled members within an organization is the key to its success, as evidenced by NASA’s accomplishments to date.
Describe negative lessons learned from this experience:
Unlike some other interns, I endured a unique position being on-center initially in the spring. Therefore, I experience both sides: on-center and virtual. While technology has come an exceptional way and now provides a generally conducive virtual work environment, there are still aspects which it cannot replace. Timely assistance is one major hurdle. On-center, with everyone working in the same space, I could easily walk to a supervisor’s desk with papers or my computer to articulate a question and receive an immediate answer. Online there is more latency. Often, I had to wait for an answer and move on to another task to remain productive and return later to the topic in question. The necessity to type rather than speak the question further cut down communication efficiency. Calling often was the more efficient option, but even then, any handwork would pose a challenge to illustrate. Since I worked on a design project, perhaps one of the most difficult challenges was the design brainstorm phase. In-person, this usually consists of everyone sitting around a table with possible designs being drawn on a whiteboard in real time. This allows active critique and constructive conversation. We did not have software to facilitate drawings in real time. Instead, we had to think and sketch independently. Often, some of the best ideas are derived from others. Perhaps we could have had even more productive and creative solutions realized, yet we would never have known it.