Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Principal Investigator: Marlena Fraune, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Psychology

Description: Our objective is to improve astronaut mental models of co-present robots on the ISS. We will develop robot behaviors that can improve human understanding of a robot’s states and abilities (see Table). When people do not know what to expect from robots, they behave in ways that robots cannot support (e.g., humans may employ natural language that robots cannot interpret). This mismatch causes task errors [4, 6, 7], impacts trust, and has other negative consequences. To address this, we study how robots can behave to improve people’s mental model of them. This can include understanding and responding to typical initial expectations of the robot and by working to avoid or repair misunderstandings. Robots that do this will increase the situation awareness of astronauts and reduce the training necessary to successfully work with robots. We will advance understanding of how people can more effectively interact with robots and propose design recommendations for improving space robots.

Screening for Salt and Drought Tolerance in Edible Crops Selected for Space Plant Breeding Program

Principal Investigator: Elena Sevostianova, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Description: The project aims to screen several monocotyledons (grasses) and dicotyledons (broad leaf crops) that can be used for a space plant breeding program. The grass family (Poaceae) includes species from a wide diversity of habitats and shows a considerable measure of ecological adaptation. While many of the grasses can be grown under extreme conditions such as drought, heat, and low quality irrigation water, they also possess characteristics that make them particularly well suited for this program, such as compact size, tolerant to stress, rapid growth, and reliable germination. In addition to grasses, two crops with high levels of beneficial phytonutrients or antioxidants values will be included in the study to identify other potential candidates for the space breeding program. If funded, we propose to screen two grasses and two broad leaf crops of high nutritional value in greenhouse conditions to identify plants that tolerate irrigation with treated effluent water under deficit evapotranspiration (ET) replacement while maintaining high level of nutrients. This research is directly applicable to the topics of particular interest of the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate [1]. The objectives of the proposed research are:

Use ground-based facilities to simulate conditions in outer space by growing grasses and broad leaf crops with high nutritional values that can tolerate irrigation with low quality water under deficit ET replacement

Contribute to and strengthen New Mexico agricultural educational and research programs at NMSU

Develop nationally competitive research expertise and research programs in the proposed and related areas to build capacity and assist in securing future external funding.

Temperature-dependent Ellipsometry and Thermal Stability of Phase Change Materials for Tunable Optics Applications

Principal Investigator: Stefan Zollner, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Physics

Description: NMSU will determine the transmission spectra and ellipsometric angles of several one-inch CaF2 wafers coated with germanium-antimony-tellurium based phase change memory alloys covered with a silicon dioxide capping layer over a broad spectral (190 nanometers to 40 micrometers) and temperature range (80 to 750 degrees Kelvin) at an incidence angle of 70 degrees in an ultra high vacuum cryostat. Data from two different instruments (J. A. Woollam variable angle of incidence spectroscopic ellipsometer and J. A. Woollam Fourier-transform infrared variable angle of incidence spectroscopic ellipsometer) will be merged to achieve this broad spectral range. A custom window correction will be applied to avoid merging discontinuities. The back side of the wafers will be sand blasted before the ellipsometry measurements for roughening.  The combined data set will be analyzed to determine the optical constants (complex dielectric function, refractive index, extinction coefficient) as a function of wavelength and temperature for the design of active optical devices, such as optical filters. Other measurements, such as atomic force microscopy, x-ray reflectance, and powder x-ray diffraction will be performed as needed for the analysis of the ellipsometric angles. These layers will be provided by NASA. Regular meetings with NASA will be scheduled to coordinate sample preparation, data acquisition, and analysis.

Design, Build, Fly

Principal Investigator: Andreas Gross, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Engineering

Description: The Design Build Fly (DBF) competition is a competitive fixed wing aircraft challenge hosted yearly by American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). AIAA develops unique and challenging design criteria governing the entire airframe and flight mission. After working on their designs for the better part of a school year, over 100 teams from across the world congregate to the deserts of Tucson, AZ to show off and compete with their designs. AIAA judges and volunteer personnel perform tech inspection on airframes and score team’s designs before allowing the teams to fly the mission specified by that year’s challenge. Design Build Fly is an amazing opportunity for developing applied aerospace engineering skills and team members of every skill level, age, and academic background are essential in developing a well-rounded design from multiple engineering perspectives. NMSU’s Design Build Fly club has existed since the early 2000’s and has had varying success over the years – but NMSU’s 2020/2021 season DBF team has the opportunity to improve on advanced manufacturing techniques and design points integrated by the teams of previous years. With the support of funds from NMSGC’s Student Competition Program, Design Build Fly will be able to push the limits of integrating cutting edge aerospace materials and advanced manufacturing techniques into the design of the 2020/2021 airframe. Additionally, the logistics of taking a team of ~15 students to competition out of state for multiple days are extremely taxing on the DBF design budget – NMSGC funds could allow us to focus more of our current budget on accomplishing the most professional airframe design possible.

Plant the Moon Challenge (Higher Education Team)

Principal Investigator: Nicole Pietrasiak, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Description: Our student team would like to participate in the Plant the Moon Challenge hosted by the Institute of Competition Sciences on behalf of NASA and supported by the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Lab. The competition is a nationwide/global science competition and is linked to NASA Artemis’ near future mission to return to the moon for a detailed exploration of the moon’s surface which will require astronauts to spend a considerable amount of time in space. Such a mission necessitates the availability of healthy food for the crew over a long period. Sustainable plant production on the moon could help optimize logistics and economics of the mission. Our objective is to design and conduct space biological research that will test a variety of experimental conditions aiming to grow healthy and nutritious food from moon regolith simulant. Specifically, we will focus our experimental design on crop selection, regolith amendments, and microbial inoculants. Our team aims to particularly focus on growing nutritious drought tolerant plant and mushroom crops. Drought tolerant plant crop species such as the heirloom Anasazi beans are adapted to low fertility soils and have been selected and bred under arid climate for millennia. Mushrooms also need very little water or fertilizer to grow, do not require sunlight, and have been shown to be high in 12 vitamins and minerals including antioxidants (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019).

Plant the Moon Challenge (K – 12 Team)

Principal Investigator: Andrew Moralez

Affiliation/Dept.: 21st Century Academic Enrichment Programs

Description: The Plant the Moon Challenge, hosted by Institute of Competition Sciences on behalf of NASA, is a global science experiment, learning activity and inspirational competition to see who can grow the best crops using lunar regolith simulant. Design and conduct a set of plant growth experiments using lunar soil simulant provided by the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Lab – part of a NASA virtual institute. Our student team will report experimental parameters and results to help NASA scientists understand how to use lunar soil to provide nutritious crops for future Moon missions! Per the Plant the Moon Challenge website, all dignitaries with completed projects will be invited to showcase their projects at a virtual symposium with NASA scientists, program executives, and other dignitaries.

Spaceport America Cup- Atomic Aggies

Principal Investigator: Fangjun Shu, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Description: The Atomic Aggies compete through a competition called the Spaceport America Cup, which is held annually at Spaceport America through an organization known as ESRA (Experimental Sounding Rocket Association). University teams from all over the world build rockets to compete in categories broken up by the estimated apogee, 10K or 30K feet, and whether or not the motor was designed (SRAD) or bought (COTS) by the team. No matter the category, each team must also carry an 8.8lb. payload onboard their rocket. The ESRA organization provides the overall logistics of the competition, providing launch infrastructure safety team liaisons to each team, team mentors, and periodic progress reports to be filled out by each team.

Conceptual Design and Performance Enhancement of Space Drones with Morphing Capabilities in Different Solar System Bodies

Principal Investigator: Abdessattar Abdelkefi, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Description: In the past decade, there has been a tendency to design and fabricate drones which can perform planetary explorations. Generally, there are various ways to study the space objects, such as applying telescopes and satellites, lunching robots and rovers, and sending astronauts to the targeted solar bodies. However, due to the advantages of drones compared to other approaches in planetary explorations, plenty of researches have been done by different space agencies in the world, including NASA to apply drones in other solar bodies. Progress in recent technologies has enabled space drones to be considered as valuable platforms for planetary explorations. Thus, drones and specially Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have had extremely high progress in order to be applied for planetary science missions. Usually drones have greater ranges for exploration than other surface platform explorers, such as rovers. Also, these flying vehicles due to their proximity to the planet surface could provide more high-resolution information rather than the orbiters. These drones are usually able to correct the atmospheric entry errors and they can provide a fundamental scientific knowledge about the planet’s atmosphere, surface, and interior. In other words, they can fill a unique planetary science measurement gap. Therefore, recently scientists from NASA and other space agencies have started to design different types of fixed, flapping, and rotary wing drones which are able to fly in space and other planets, such as Mars and Venus.

Low Gain Avalanche Detectors for Space Radiation Measurements

Principle Investigator: Sally Seidel, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: University of New Mexico, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Description: This proposal concerns the development of a new kind of radiation tolerant silicon detector with unprecedented accuracy in measurement of arrival times of charged particles. This accuracy is achieved with no diminishment in the already extraordinary spatial precision obtainable with silicon. Development of technologies for measuring charged particle radiation is a priority for NASA, and precision timing measurements have wide application in astrophysical measurements, including studies of correlation between detected charged particles and large-scale solar, terrestrial, and galactic phenomena observed in coincidence with them, from other messengers. Examples include the detection and classification of the constituents of solar energetic particle processes, anomalous cosmic rays, and magnetospheric relativistic electros. The new devices that we seek to develop are called low gain avalanche detectors (LGADs). Their intrinsic charge amplification feature, the basis for the precision timing, also allows them to operate with lower mass than traditional sensors, an important consideration in space applications. We seek to characterize the response of LGADs to gamma rays and protons for dose and fluence relevant to extended deployment at the ISS or elsewhere in space.

Training Future Influencers of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Technology: Course Development, First Delivery, and Publication of Materials

Principle Investigators: Marlena Fraune and Matthew Rueben, Ph.D., Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, Department of Psychology

Description: We propose to develop, deliver, and publish a new course at NMSU on the societal impacts of robotics and artificial intelligence. In our seminar-style course, students of STEM and non-STEM majors will engage with emerging technologies of NASA interest and build a vision for how they can influence the creation and use of these technologies. We will make course materials and an instructor’s guide freely available online to facilitate the development of more technology and society courses across the US. After completing our course, students will be able to describe examples of emerging technologies, infer what claims the media makes about them, evaluate how a technology might uphold or erode human values, and create a personal vision for influencing the future. These learning objectives will help NASA achieve their Strategic Goals 3.1, 3.3, and 4.4. The course will feature a small class size and flipped instructional format. We include aeronautics and space technologies in several modules, like Cross-Cultural Perspectives, Automated Decision Making, Relationships with Robots and Virtual Agents, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Privacy, Trust, and Dignity. We will use creative, active learning activities, including: interviewing a subject matter expert, structured journaling, a moderated debate, and mock social media interactions. This project will run from July 20 to January 19: we will finish developing the course in the first month, deliver it for the four-month Fall semester, and then improve, publish, and advertise it in the final month of the project.

NASA Robotic Mining Competition: Lunabotics

Principle Investigator: Seokbin Lim, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico Tech, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Description: The NASA Robotic Mining Competition (RMC)/Lunabotics (known as Lunabotics hence with) is a collegiate challenge in which students deliver an excavating robot. The competition is hosted in the spirit of NASA’s Artemis project. In humanity’s return to the Moon, NASA aims to establish a sustainable lunar base. As such, resources must be sourced from the lunar surface in order to limit the shipments of supplies from Earth. During the first contact, these types of rovers will be used to determine the availability of such resources. Water and fuel may be produced on the lunar surface should these advances be pursued. The robot must be capable of mining in a simulated lunar environment and is tasked with collecting in-situ resources. The rover must have tele-operational capabilities and must display levels of autonomy. The rover must be able to navigate through a simulated lunar environment, travel to a designated mining area, unearth icy gravel, and deliver the mined resources to a collection bin. There are three total phases. Phase I, the Design Stage, requires the team to submit a Project Management Plan and Executive Summary. Phase II, the Build-It phase, requires the team to submit team materials, a system engineering paper, poster, presentation, and public outreach documents. Phase III, the Dig It phase, requires that the students travel to NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center to compete.

High School to College Robotics STEM Class

Principle Investigator: Curtis O’Malley, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico Tech, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Description: The proposed course will introduce high school students to robotics and rover design concepts, programing, and engineering decision-making. Course concepts will be taught through the lens of designing, building, and testing a robotic combat device. The course will add an additional competition element to the class. The competition is intended to drive the students to excel and encourage them to engage in continued learning, experimentation, and development after the class. The students will learn to break down a complex problem into manageable subsystems and design each without forgetting to account for subsystem interactions. The project will begin by leading the students through assembly of a previously designed robot combat bot that possesses performance shortcomings. Students will work through understanding the robot’s coding, then identify and improve upon coding deficiencies. Students will also be guided to streamline and redesign the bot overall to be more efficient and effective at performing its objectives.

2022 WERC Environmental Design Contest- Cleaning Lunar Regolith from Spacesuits

Principle Investigator: Ginger Scarbrough, Ph.D.

Affiliation/Dept.: New Mexico State University, College of Engineering

Description: The WERC Environmental Design Contest requests funding to offer the NASA-supported task, “Cleaning Lunar Regolith from Spacesuits,” as a part of the 2022 contest. The contest invites diverse populations of students to research a problem, write a technical report, give oral and poster presentations, and build and demonstrate a working bench-scale model as proof-of concept for their design. Participating teams, primarily consisting of undergraduate students, will demonstrate their working bench-scale models at the contest in Las Cruces, New Mexico in April, 2022. Judges, who have experience as professional scientists and engineers, remain with a team throughout the April contest. Their primary role is to act as colleagues who discuss with the teams their designs, including process flow, techno-economic analysis, waste minimization, adherence to government regulations, health and safety, public involvement, full-scale implementation plans, etc. Students comment that they are treated as equals during the contest, rather than feeling “judged,” and research shows that students who are treated on an equal footing by professionals increase their level of confidence, enthusiasm, and retention in STEM fields. The WERC Environmental Design Contest meets the NASA STEM engagement goals and objectives, as well as goals in America’s Strategy for STEM Education by creating opportunities for a diverse set of students to contribute to NASA’s knowledge base, contributing to workforce development in STEM, creating authentic learning experiences that engage students with NASA staff, and engaging students in multidisciplinary teams.