Of the 96-year life of the University’s Aerospace program, Assistant Professor James Culter has been here for 4, and yet has already produced 3 satellites. Part of their speed, says Joshua Weiss, a senior aerospace engineer and researcher in Cutler’s lab, is the ability to produce designs quickly and cheaply through rapid prototyping. They most often make models of battery and antenna mounts to make sure the parts will fit correctly on the actual satellite, which can be hard to predict without physical models. The plastic prototypes can be produced for half the price and twice as fast as metal parts, which allows students and researchers to work on multiple designs at one time.
Weiss is currently working on three satellites: M-Cubed, GRIFEX, and CADRE. M-Cubed is being re-launched, and GRIFEX is still in the design stages, while CADRE is still being engineered. If it is successful, CADRE will have one of the most complex control systems, and be one of the first satellites made of carbon fiber.
The University of Michigan Aerospace program focuses on research, design, and the use of advanced technology. Students at all levels typically design models in CAD or Solid Works and, especially in the design states, will print prototypes for research related to the structure of satellites (other areas of focus include communications and power systems). The program as a whole graduates about 120 students a year, and is steadily growing. Student groups on campus, like Student Space Systems Fabrication Lab (S3FL) and the Michigan Exploratory Laboratory (MXL) also provide students an opportunity to explore space and near-space technology.
By Josephine Keenan