Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Dillan McDonald Receives Honorable Mention

November 30, 2020

photo of dillan mcdonald

Aerospace engineering senior Dillan McDonald was selected for an Honorable Mention as part of the 2020 Universities Space Research Association (USRA) Distinguished Undergraduate Awards. McDonald was one of 11 Honorable Mentions selected from 126 applicants by a review panel consisting of faculty at USRA’s member institutions. The USRA, established in 1969, is an independent, non-profit research corporation that combines in-house talent with university experts who work together to advance space science and technology. Learn more about McDonald’s research and experience as an aerospace engineering student at UT Austin in this Q&A.

Why did you choose to study aerospace engineering at UT Austin?

I chose to study aerospace engineering at UT because I had always been interested in space exploration, rockets and robots. After hearing about many of the programs and student organizations here, UT seemed like a good choice.

What do you enjoy most about this major?

I enjoy how tight-knit the students are through our experiences in organizations and in class. I hear from friends in other majors just how large their class is and how few people they know, where in aerospace we are all much more a family. 

Tell us about the research you’re working on for which you received the 2020 USRA Honorable Mention Award.

My current research under Dr. Brandon Jones pertains to spacecraft system design and developmental schedule optimization. Through our experiences of several mission development cycles in the Texas Spacecraft Lab, I have been developing software to help guide spacecraft development in future missions to ensure a more payload-centric system, and a more robust spacecraft bus.

image of serpent satellite
The SERPENT satellite shown here, will enable new capabilities to improve space situational awareness (SSA) and autonomous inspection of uncooperative targets and is the major driver for Dillan McDonald's undergraduate research in the Texas Spacecraft Lab.
 How can this work make a difference?

This work will, in theory, dramatically cut down mission concept development time allowing for more mature proposals and mission concepts therefore hopefully preventing spacecraft mass and power growth over the mission development cycle and enabling the team to focus their efforts on maturing the science and the payload at the early stages of development.

What are your plans after graduation?

My current plan is to attend Georgia Tech in pursuit of a Ph.D.