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Involving Students In Engineering The Infrastructure Of A Space Based Economy

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.767.1 - 7.767.10



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Narayanan Komerath

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Session 2793

Involving Students in Engineering the Infrastructure of a Space-Based Economy

Narayanan Komerath School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA 30332-0150


Many students enter aerospace engineering with visions of participating in the human exploration and development of Space. While we wait for national leadership towards grander objectives, we are using a spinoff from a NASA-sponsored competition to develop thinking and problem-solving related to the infrastructure needed for a sustainable human presence beyond Earth. Student teams have developed a conceptual framework for a Space-Based Economy which justifies usage of extra-terrestrial resources. A test case of a large project is used to illustrate the process of breaking immense problems into bite-sized chunks for engineering solution. The problem of building the radiation shield of a one-km-radius, two-km long cylinder is revisited in the light of recent studies on bootstrapped lunar solar-electric power plants, mass drivers, and autonomous spacecraft. The paper describes the process of getting first-year and senior-level students interested, prepared and active in solving these problems.

I. Introduction

The central issue in this paper is how to get students involved in large interdisciplinary projects at an early stage. In the past three years, enrollment in aerospace engineering at the author’s institution has risen sharply. This rise appears to be related to the expectation that there will be a wealth of Space-related opportunities, resulting from the Mars Exploration plan 1 and the “Gold Rush to Low Earth Orbit” 2 seen in the late 1990s. The rigorous courses on fundamental mathematics and science in the first two years of college afford little occasion to remember why one wanted to enter engineering in the first place. In the 1990s, we tried to address this demoralizing aspect by setting up a Design-based Introduction to Aerospace Engineering course3, enabling students to experience the conceptual design of aircraft in their first weeks in college. While this has inspired the students who see themselves as airplane designers, it has left unmet the needs of the 40% of our first-year students who see themselves as Space enthusiasts4. There is not time in a course at this level to teach more than the rudimentary aspects of “rocket

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Komerath, N. (2002, June), Involving Students In Engineering The Infrastructure Of A Space Based Economy Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11256

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