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Houston, We Don’t Have a Problem: Designing Tools to Develop Intuition

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2019 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


California State University, Los Angeles , California

Publication Date

April 4, 2019

Start Date

April 4, 2019

End Date

April 6, 2019

Conference Session

PSW Section Meeting Papers - Disregard start and end time - for online paper access only

Tagged Topic

Pacific Southwest Section Meeting Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Kaela M Martin Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott

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Kaela Martin is an Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott Campus. She graduated from Purdue University with a PhD in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and is interested in increasing classroom engagement and student learning.

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Elif Miskioglu Bucknell University

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Dr. Elif Miskioglu is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University. She graduated from Ohio State University in 2015 with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and is interested in student learning in engineering. In particular, her work focuses on various aspects of students' development from novice to expert, including development of engineering intuition, as well as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.

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Maciek Czyz

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Maciek Czyz is a senior studying aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He has been there for two years, after previously completing a degree in physics. He is involved in several organizations and projects on campus, one of which is a NASA Space Grant to develop a tool to improve student intuition in space mechanics. Maciek will be interning at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory this summer, and plans to complete graduate school before becoming an astronaut and working on the moon.

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Students studying astronautical engineering are expected to be capable of calculating an orbital trajectory based on initial conditions or data, but that doesn’t mean they have an intuitive feel for how each parameter affects the final orbit. By manipulating aspects of a spacecraft such as its launch conditions, thrust vector, or time of flight and immediately seeing the results of their manipulation, students can develop a sense of how various conditions affect spaceflight and make use of that intuition in the classroom and workplace.

The purpose of this project is to develop a tool that allows for easy to use and easy to understand demonstrations of orbital mechanics. We start with a simple n-body propagator, using our solar system as the model, to establish baseline trajectories with just the initial conditions. Initial conditions will be linked to launch conditions, providing students with an understanding of how the spacecraft started its journey. Once basic orbits are established, we introduce more complicated maneuvers such as thrusting and gravity assists to provide broader intuition on deep space travel. Once students have used this software they should have a much deeper understanding of how the elements of spacecraft and mission design work together to create an orbital trajectory and be capable of designing a basic deep space mission using the tools provided.

The software used to develop this will be Matlab. Matlab offers advantages in the development with its library of aerospace functions and the App Designer, which will simplify the GUI design considerably.

The purpose of developing engineering intuition is rooted in the Dreyfus [1] model of skill acquisition. This model considers intuition an essential part of transitioning from proficient to expert in any skill. Previous studies have shown that students who demonstrate intuitive understanding in their discipline correlate with higher GPA and more internship experience. This study hopes to provide a tool which develops intuition for aerospace engineering students; thereby improving their chances of success after graduation.

[1] Dreyfus, Stuart E., and Hubert L. Dreyfus. A five-stage model of the mental activities involved in directed skill acquisition. No. ORC-80-2. California Univ Berkeley Operations Research Center, 1980.

Martin, K. M., & Miskioglu, E., & Czyz, M. (2019, April), Houston, We Don’t Have a Problem: Designing Tools to Develop Intuition Paper presented at 2019 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, California State University, Los Angeles , California.

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