There has been a new addition to The University of Texas Aerospace Engineering department which will enable students to receive further hands-on training. The Sensors and Actuators Laboratory has been developed and is now being offered as a course to graduate students. The students are experimenting with instruments ranging from gyroscopes to sun sensors to magnetometers and robots. These instruments are applied to experiments involving visualization, remote actuation, and attitude determination. The idea was originally proposed by Drs. Bishop and Lightsey and was approved in Spring 2006. National Instruments (NI) became involved by providing financial support and donating some of its CompactRio and PCI data acquisition equipment. NI also provided software to aid the students in studying many different types of sensors and actuators with a large range of input/output interfaces.

Sensors and Actuators Lab

The course was offered for the first time in spring of 2007. The students had the opportunity to be creative and receive hands-on experience with real hardware. They applied theory learned in other courses to the designing and building of different experiments. During the first couple of weeks students learned how to use LabView software and National Instruments data acquisition equipment by completing a hands-on tutorial. For the remainder of the semester students formed their own experiments in groups, then performed experiments developed by other students taking the class. Few classes offer the opportunity to take an experiment from the idea phase, through research and design, on to using and building hardware, and finally, testing and performing the experiment. This provided for a lot of work, but a different type of learning experience. “Getting off the tracks every once in a while is a welcome change from the routine of homework assignments” said former student, Eric Rogstad. The students encountered real world problems and were able to relate their education to actual space applications.

At the end of the semester students presented their experiments to a group of professors and representatives from National Instruments including NI President Dr. Truchard and Vice President Ray Almgren. Ideas and feedback were well received and will be applied to the laboratory to improve the course future semesters. Development will continue through the fall and the laboratory will be available to students for research during semesters when a class is not being offered. The Sensors and Actuators Laboratory continues to be a changing and growing project providing exciting and useful opportunities for numerous students.

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