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Spectre An Extended Interdisciplinary Senior Design Problem

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.466.1 - 4.466.9

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Michael Ruane

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2625

SPECTRE - An Extended Interdisciplinary Senior Design Problem

Michael Ruane Electrical & Computer Engineering, Boston University


SPECTRE - the Student-run Program for Exoatmospheric Collecting Technologies and Rocket Experiment, is a sounding rocket experiment in NASA’s Student Launch Program. Electrical and computer engineering seniors have worked on the flight hardware as a continuing capstone design project for five semesters, as part of an interdisciplinary student project team. Students have faced rich technical problems and unique project management challenges arising from the multi-team, multi-semester nature of this senior design effort. The need to interface regularly with other students, multiple faculty, staff engineers, and NASA review teams injected real- world pressures into the design course. This paper discusses the structure of the capstone course, the SPECTRE technical goals, and team experiences managing this complex evolutionary design problem. Substantial extended design can be successfully attempted within a capstone course if management continuity is maintained and if student teams develop effective communications and provide good engineering documentation for their successors.


Senior Design in the Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) Department is a four credit required course that stresses open-ended problem solving, team dynamics, written and oral communication, and project planning and management. Annual enrollment is about 90 students, and the course is offered both semesters and during summer session. All projects are done by teams of two to four students, usually organized to have a mix of electrical and computer engineering majors. At the first meeting, teams generate preferences for their project from a list of candidate problems solicited from "customers" - local companies, government, public and non-profit groups, faculty and individuals. Final assignments are made by the professor to balance preferences, team and individual skills, and problem requirements.1

In one semester students are expected to develop a proposal, design a solution, fabricate a prototype, test their product, and document their efforts. This is an ambitious schedule considering that most projects arise from the real problems of real customers. Often teams have only partial success during their one semester effort, leading to some problems being attacked again by a new team in the next semester. These reworked projects are different from a few extended or "legacy" projects, e.g. the IEEE micromouse, that are deliberately maintained over several semesters. In legacy projects new teams are expected to improve incrementally on the prior design. Legacy teams are not allowed to scrap the previous work and start over, just as a business would not abandon previous development while seeking improvements.

Ruane, M. (1999, June), Spectre An Extended Interdisciplinary Senior Design Problem Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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