University of Colorado
College of Engineering & Applied Science
Aerospace Engineering Sciences
Department Update | Fall 2012
New graduate sets Lidar data collection record in Antarctica
A solo, four-month deployment in the bitter cold and darkness may not be anyone's idea of fun, but for Brendan Roberts (BS/MS AeroEngr '12), it has enabled him to set a record among known solo Lidar data collectors of 48 hours of straight data collection - and experience an amazing and little known environment. "I was falling asleep at the wheel towards the end," he admits, "but it was worth it!"

Brendan is working on the field deployment of a two-channel Fe-Boltzmann Lidar system at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. He was deployed there for four months of that continent's winter, working for Dr. Xinzhao Chu, who runs a remote sensing lab that is endeavoring to develop a whole atmosphere Lidar. This would allow the calculation of temperature from the ground to the edge of space.

Dr. Chu's group also collects data to study many components of the atmosphere, from gravity wave energy deposition to extreme events at high altitudes that might only be seen at –78 degrees latitude. Her team has recently published material in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Brendan actually completed his master's degree "on the ice," finishing his Aerospace Environment course with Dr. Delores Knipp last spring through the Center for Advanced Engineering and Technology Education, CU Engineering's online program. "Down here," he says, "I am using the 'Spectroscopy' and 'Lidar and Remote Sensing' 6000 level ASEN courses directly in my work. In addition to operation of the Lidar system, we use MATLAB to model the system and verify our photon returns."

You can view pictures from Brendan's adventure, including some amazing aurora borealis shots, on his blog. He plans to be "off the ice" in less than 30 days: Hang in there, Brendan!

Each edition of our quarterly AES e-newsletter features an alum of our department. If you are interested in being featured, please send an email to, describing your work and how you are applying your AES education in the field.
Young alum steps up to the challenge at SpaceX
Jeff Mullen (BS/MS AeroEngr '10) hit the ground running when he was hired at SpaceX in August 2010 to work for the Guidance, Navigation, and Controls group, and he hasn't slowed down yet.

At that time, the Dragon Spacecraft was undergoing development for its first mission for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) test flight, dubbed Dragon C1. This mission would send the spaceship up to orbit the Earth a few times, de-orbit, re-enter the atmosphere, and be recovered back on Earth. Jeff joined SpaceX during the launch campaign of this project and on his second day of employment was given tasks to re-derive and validate flight algorithms, write unit tests, and develop new Monte Carlo test software to predict the landing ellipse of Dragon after it re-entered the atmosphere.

"So far, after graduating from CU-Boulder, I have been given an inordinate amount of responsibility early on, was among a small team responsible for several multi-million-dollar payment milestones, and have designed, tested, analyzed, and flown the Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) software for three re-entry vehicles - two of which have berthed with the ISS," he says. "The GNC team at SpaceX gives a lot of responsibility and freedom to all members, whether they are new or experienced - everyone is treated as an equal and everyone's ideas matter."

Jeff says his core aerospace classes - including Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics and Control with Hanspeter Schaub, Automatic Control Systems with Eric Frew, lab with Trudy Schwartz and senior design with Kurt Maute - prepared him well to take on this job and immediately contribute. Jeff has shifted gears and is now working on the manned version of Dragon, designing the launch abort control system and on-orbit GNC on the vehicle he calls "a stepping stone to getting humans into space with an all-American made vehicle."

What an exciting time and place to find yourself, Jeff. We're proud of your participation!
Student team sees stars with DayStar tracker balloon flight

Waiting for launch, Fort Sumner, NM (photo by Jed Diller)
We are all familiar with large space-borne telescopes like the Hubble and the amazing images they are capable of sending back to Earth. What if there was a way to get similar images at a fraction of the cost? Large, high-altitude, balloon-borne telescopes are one way researchers are achieving space-like sight without the immense effort and cost of putting a large telescope into orbit.

DayStar began as one of the 2011-12 aerospace engineering senior projects. Funded by the Southwest Research Institute, it was the brainchild of customer Eliot Young, who commissioned CU students to design and build a prototype star tracker for balloons capable of daytime operation at an altitude of 35 km and to produce attitude knowledge to 0.1 arc seconds RMS during nighttime operation.

During the Spring 2012 semester, AES undergraduate Jed Diller and graduate students Kevin Dinkel, Zach Dischner, and Nick Truesdale designed, built, integrated, and tested DayStar. The project was awarded First Place in the Team Technical Paper category at the 2012 AIAA Region V Student Conference and won CU's Aerospace Senior Design Best Data Collection and Analysis Method.

Immediately after graduation, work started to get DayStar ready for a fall flight as a secondary payload on the Wallops Arc Second Pointer (WASP) gondola sponsored by Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility. DayStar launched from Fort Sumner, NM on Sept. 22.

"DayStar successfully operated through a 15-hour flight and was recovered the next morning," recalls Jed Diller (AeroEngr '12), who attended the launch. "The post-processing of the half-terabyte of images and data collected is ongoing, but preliminary results suggest that DayStar did in fact detect stars during daytime operation and the 13 months of blood, sweat, and tears put in by the DayStar team were worth it."

Jed says future work for the DayStar team includes data analysis from this flight, papers and conferences, and, hopefully, more flights. Congratulations to Jed, Kevin, Zach, and Nick on these achievements!
BS/MS student plans space habitats in NASA co-op program
After completing a summer co-op with Boeing's Space Station Space Environment Effects team and taking a ride on NASA's microgravity flight last July, BS/MS student Christopher Nie continues to gain hands-on knowledge as he begins the "Pathway Interns" program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Chris plans to alternate semesters of coursework with semesters of work experience as part of this unique training program. "The co-op experience is a great way to experiment with different groups at Johnson to see what I would want to do after I graduate," Chris says. "It is also an amazing way to see and learn about all the history and current happenings at JSC and in NASA."

At Johnson, Chris is working in the Human Health and Performance Directorate (formerly Space Life Sciences) in the Habitability and Human Factors group on NASA's next deep space habitat design.

"The courses I have taken at CU have definitely helped me in my professional experiences," Chris says. "The thing that has helped the most is all the practice I have had with technical writing and presentation skills through the labs in the aero curriculum. Being able to present my ideas and work in writing and verbally is very important in the workplace."
Microgravity flight offers impressions of weightlessness
The "Microgravity University" program is a unique undergraduate student opportunity that allows students to propose a significant scientific question, develop the accompanying experimental apparatus, and operate the hardware onboard NASA's "Weightless Wonder" (also known as the "Vomit Comet").

For a week last July, a team of six CU students - Mike Lotto, Andrew Broucek, Kirstyn Johnson, Chris Nie, and Kyle Shannon of AES, and Jared Yenzer of ECE - advised by Prof. Dave Klaus, participated in NASA's 2012 Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.

Junior Mike Lotto served as the team lead and led the scientific investigation. He provides these personal memories and impressions:

"The flight week is obviously among the best times of my life. Everyone on our team had the great opportunity to fly the experiment through 40 parabolic maneuvers onboard NASA's "Weightless Wonder," and each of these lasted for approximately 25 seconds," says Mike, who hopes to work in the field of human space flight after graduation. "For the first several parabolas of microgravity, I couldn't mentally comprehend what was actually happening. By the end of the flight, floating sideways and upside-down came as second nature."
BioServe Anniversary

It's been 25 years since Dr. Marv Luttges founded BioServe Space Technologies, a center within the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. In that quarter century, BioServe has designed, built and flown microgravity life science research and hardware on more than 40 space flight missions and has involved more than 130 students in space research.

Over the years, BioServe payloads have launched on as many shuttle missions as has the most flown orbiter, Discovery - 39 to be exact. But with 43 total missions to date, including those on various other launch vehicles, BioServe payloads have actually flown in space more times than has any single orbiter!

Given the center's commercial research focus, it's also a notable coincidence that BioServe's 25th also marks the transition to the commercial ISS resupply era. Just this October, BioServe payloads were carried to and returned from the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon.

Of course, none of these accomplishments would have been possible without the talent and exceptional dedication of so many individuals involved with BioServe over the years, including staff, students, and alumni.

The list of former students includes some 42 PhD and 68 MS graduates - nine of whom went on to medical school and 13 of whom became professors. In addition to its success in developing and flying payloads, BioServe has enabled significant academic contributions that have launched many students into successful professional careers.

Congratulations, BioServe - here's to the next quarter century!

Upcoming Events
Dec. 4: Alumni Breakfast with Herbst Prof. Wayne Ambler in Westminster

Dec. 8: Engineering Design Expo

Dec. 20: Engineering Recognition Ceremony

Spring 2013: Alumni Tour: Houston, LA, and San Francisco

Feb. 6, 2013: Alumni Breakfast with AES alumnus presenter Todd Mosher at Sierra Nevada

Honors & Awards
Prof. Lakshmi Kantha and AES External Advisory Board members Dr. Lisa Hardaway (Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.) and Dr. Mark Sirangelo (Sierra Nevada Corp.) were all elected to Associate Fellow status in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Prof. Hanspeter Schaub received the AIAA 2013 Summerfield Book Award.

PhD candidate Waqas Qazi was named 2012 Muneeb Kamal International Student of the Year, CU-Boulder.

New Faculty:
Jelliffe Jackson
Dr. Jelliffe Jackson joined AES in 2011 as an assistant professor adjunct and was made a full-time instructor this year after a national search. Reflecting on his experiences at CU-Boulder and those he had previously at the University of Florida, where he earned his MS and PhD, and the University of Trinidad and Tobago, where he taught, Jelliffe noted two major differences between CU and the other schools.

"CU's curriculum is designed to mirror the multi-disciplinary nature of the engineering profession, especially the AES field. Courses are designed to simultaneously develop the students' theoretical knowledge and 'soft skills' (teamwork, effective communication), while giving them hands-on experience," Jelliffe says. "Many of the programs I have been involved with compartmentalize these areas, and as a result, the students that graduate from these programs spend a substantial amount of time learning to integrate these skill sets while on the job."

"Another great aspect of the AES program here is the capstone/senior design project," he says. "The students design, build and test 'actual' products for 'actual' customers. During this time they are required to apply all the knowledge and skills which they have developed to that point, to a real-world system. This is unlike other programs that have students focus on a paper-based project, which seldom has them work through the entire engineering design cycle. These major differences lead me to conclude that students graduating from the AES program at CU-Boulder are better prepared to contribute immediately and require far less training than students graduating from other programs."

In addition to teaching, Jelliffe says he loves the abundance of outdoor activities in Colorado, noting, "The people of Colorado have a deep respect for nature, which I share, and the fact that I can go hiking and camping on weekends, or rafting in the summer and skiing in the winter, without having to plan a vacation to do so, is great."

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Aerospace Engineering Sciences
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