Engineering students work on new propulsion system for NASA

Grove City College Engineering students experienced a unique opportunity to contribute to a NASA project in the 2019-2020 NASA Glenn Research Center University Student Design Challenge.

Armand Ignelzi ’21, Robert Goodrich ’21 and Joshua Harhai ’21 worked together with Dr. George "Geo" Richards, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and Dr. Luke Rumbaugh, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, on the project.

“This NASA student design competition was exactly the sort of experience we try to get for all our engineering students at Grove City College: hands-on work on real-world problems, in close collaboration with fully invested faculty members,” Rumbaugh said. “A big tip of the cap to Glenn Research Center for making this possible.”

The challenge involved analyzing a propulsion system for NASA’s prototype hybrid electric aircraft and identifying problems in its thermal management. Each team built a simulation model of their electrified propulsion system based on details from NASA. The model was used to analyze and document the system performance, identify weaknesses and improve the design, according to NASA’s guidelines. The winner of the competition will go to the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland in July, tour the facility and meet with the people hosting this competition.

Though electrical engineering students don’t usually spend much time on thermodynamics, the three students in the project had to adapt and learn more about the subject, Richards said.

“Geo and I worked almost daily with Josh, Armand, and Robert throughout the process, and the result – we hope – was growth for the students and new knowledge for NASA,” Rumbaugh said.

Ignelzi said it was a fantastic learning opportunity. “I learned a lot of new things about concepts I had already covered in class, as well as stuff I had not learned about,” he said.

“The biggest lesson I learned from this project was the insight it gave me into working professionally as an engineer,” Ignelzi said. “As an engineer you have to clearly define the problem you are trying to solve if you are going to create a good solution.”

“My favorite part was getting to apply my knowledge to a real-life problem and working through the different challenges that arose,” Goodrich, said.

The team began late fall, meeting hard deadlines, turning in their project and giving a final presentation over video at the end of March.

Because of site closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA has delayed announcing the winner until mid-May. “We are learning patience to wait and see the final verdict on our work,” Richards said.

“Projects like this help the students, but they help faculty too,” Richards said. “The students get a sense of what real projects are like and we get to coach them along. That’s what I came to Grove City College to do and this project really embodied that.”

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Engineering students work on new propulsion system for NASA

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