Published: March 14, 2022 By

Sreyas Krishnan
Sreyas Krishnan (MSMechEngr'16) stands in front of ULA's Atlas V rocket.

Mechanical engineering alumnus Sreyas Krishnan has played a critical role in United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) latest Atlas V rocket launch, which carried another weather satellite into space on Tuesday, March 1.

Krishnan (BSMechEngr’12, MSMechEngr’16) supported the production and launch for the rocket’s first stage propulsion systems as the primary Booster Propulsion Tiger. This meant that he tracked the rocket through assembly, test and launch, and provided technical support throughout the process.

The NOAA-NASA GOES-T weather satellite will track destructive wildfires, lightning, Pacific Ocean-based storms, dense fog and other hazards that threaten the U.S. West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska.

Serving as a Booster Propulsion Tiger is one of the many roles Krishnan takes on as a Propulsion Systems Design Engineer at ULA. He said the job allows him to constantly learn and see new things to expand his knowledge base. It is a career path that he has been dreaming about since he was a kid whose parents are also University of Colorado alumni.

“CU Boulder was my dream school growing up in South Denver, so being a Buff is everything to me,” Krishnan said. “One of my early inspirations to work in aerospace was Dr. Kalpana Chawla, who was the first woman of Indian descent to go to space. She was also a CU Boulder alumna. She meant a great deal to me as the son of Indian immigrants and CU grads.”

Once he was at CU Boulder, Krishnan just had to choose the major that would propel him to his dream career. He shared with us why mechanical engineering was the path he took and how valuable his education and experience as a Buff has become.

Tell us about your background. What inspired you to become a mechanical engineer?

I was always interested in physical systems as a kid, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to study mechanical engineering until a couple months into my freshman year at CU Boulder. My Intro to Engineering course took us on a field trip to Ball Aerospace in Boulder and I was able to catch a glimpse of the Kepler Telescope while it was still onsite. I knew immediately that mechanical engineering was the major for me. I was so inspired by the idea that I could help design, develop or operate immensely complex physical systems. Not long after that, I started working on projects with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium (COSGC), including a high-altitude balloon payload and a 3U CubeSat bus, which set the stage for my future career path.

What is your day-to-day like at United Launch Alliance (ULA)?

Sreyas Krishnan

The Delta IV Parker Solar Probe in Cape Canaveral.

My role as a Propulsion Systems Design Engineer at the Centennial, Colorado design center has two different flavors.

  • Component Engineer: I am the certified responsible engineer (CRE) for all the solenoid-operated valves used on ULA rocket propulsion systems and a CRE-delegate for several other flight-critical components like vent valves, pneumatic regulators and pressure vessels. I like to call this a ‘whatever, wherever, whenever’ role because you are responsible for the entire lifecycle of a component from pre-assembly to in-space operation. Over the years, this role has touched almost every discipline covered in the mechanical engineering curriculum, has allowed me to wear a ton of different hats and has provided me with the opportunity to learn from some incredible people. In addition to product ownership, I also led the development and qualification programs of six flight-critical components used on the new Vulcan Centaur rocket alongside my industry partners. These programs are exciting but very demanding since propulsion system components need to perform flawlessly through a multitude of challenging environments such as extreme temperatures, shock, vibration and heavy usage to ensure mission success.
  • Tiger Team: I support production and launch for the first stage propulsion systems of the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. This involves following each vehicle through its assembly, test and launch while helping to resolve any issues that occur along the way. This role also brings me out to the launch sites in Cape Canaveral, Florida and Vandenberg, California to complete final inspection walkdowns inside and around the vehicle, then provide on-console engineering support in the ‘back room’ of our Launch Control Center on the day of launch.

My favorite mission so far was the Parker Solar Probe, which we launched for NASA on a Delta IV Heavy rocket back in 2018.

How have the mechanical engineering skills you gained at CU Boulder helped your career?

The engineering program had an enormously positive impact on my career. As an undergraduate from 2008 to 2012, CU Boulder provided me with numerous opportunities to spend quality time in the CAD lab and machine shop in support of various engineering projects for COSGC, as well as regular course work such as Component Design and Senior Design. I credit this experience with giving me a fundamental understanding of design and manufacturing concepts.

That said, my time in CU Boulder’s Graduate Design Program from 2014 to 2016 was on another level. In those two years, I worked on an incredible array of projects. We built an autonomous, nerf-dart firing robot, a vascular closure device prototype, a single-pill dispensing pill bottle lid and even a 3D-printed toy Ralphie with moving legs. However, the project that literally propelled me towards my current role was a ULA-sponsored, 3D-printed thruster design project called Additive-Manufactured Aerospike Reaction Control System (AMARCS). That was my first exposure to fluid/propulsion systems design, and I was HOOKED! 

What advice do you have for current mechanical engineering students?

Sreyas Krishnan
Krishnan and the AMARCS team with CU Boulder's mascot Chip.

Take advantage of every opportunity afforded to you by the school – there are a ton of them! That means picking your professors’ brains at office hours, signing up for interesting extracurricular projects, doing lab research and learning new hard skills. This is your best opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a broad base of knowledge, so use it as leverage to become the best version of yourself.

Build meaningful connections with people and don’t be afraid to ask for help. As you go through various highs and lows, both in your coursework as well as in life, those people will help you persevere. It takes effort to maintain those relationships, but trust me, it’s worth it!

Develop critical thinking skills in a relatively low-consequence environment. Learning to gather data and documenting well-reasoned interpretations of said data is an essential skillset for any confident decision maker.

HAVE FUN!!! Boulder is amazing. Don’t graduate with regrets about missed opportunities.

Related Stories

Connor Winter

Alumni Spotlight: ShoeSense is off and running, with help from CU Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem

When Connor Winter (MechEngr’16) decided to pursue a Certificate in Engineering Management in conjunction with his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, it put him on a path that would lead to the founding of his own startup company, ShoeSense. Read more
alicen kandt

Alumni Spotlight: Alicen Kandt - National Renewable Energy Laboratory

As a Senior Mechanical Engineer with NREL, alumna Alicen Kandt’s goal is to inspire people to embrace more resilient and sustainable energy options. She earned her master’s degree from the Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2004. Read more
Craig Sampson

Meet Graduation Recognition Ceremony Keynote Speaker Craig Sampson

Alumnus Craig Sampson (MechEngr’82) is the founder and leader of the Chicago consulting firm TBD Innovation. He will be delivering the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s keynote speech during the Graduation Recognition Ceremony on Saturday, May 7. Read more