Matthew Clancy’s small satellite has a vital mission: supporting STEM education by showing children and teens how their math and science classes can lead to careers in Earth’s orbit and beyond.
“I loved every space and technical-related thing as a kid,” he says. “But I had no idea how I’d get from studying math and science fundamentals to actually working on an aerospace mission.”
Now he knows – and he may get that mission sooner than he thought. Clancy designed and built his prototype CubeSat (cube satellite) as part of Space Science Mission Design, an honors seminar taught by Physics Prof. Supriya Chakrabarti, director of the Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology.
Clancy was honored for best oral presentation by an undergraduate engineering student at the 2018 Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium. The Honors College also awarded him a $1,000 fellowship to keep working on his “LEARNsat” over the summer. He plans to develop it for NASA launch.
Clancy, an honors mechanical engineering student, says Chakrabarti’s class offered the kind of hands-on experience that led him to choose UMass Lowell in the first place.
“We get to learn industry-relevant skills that aren’t offered in other programs,” he says.
In the class, each student had to design a CubeSat that met NASA proposal guidelines for undergraduate projects. Then they presented them – and scored each other using the NASA judging guidelines.
“We tore each other apart,” Clancy says. “You get all these questions, and it’s a crazy learning curve.”
Clancy’s proposal scored in the top four, standing out for its educational mission. His goal is to go into K-12 schools with the satellite’s mobile base station. The satellite would be programmed to transmit images of that school’s town and weather to the base station in real time, so students can see them. Then the students would do related engineering activities and hear from Clancy and others about what they need to study to prepare for an aerospace career.
Because Clancy authored one of the class’s top proposals, Chakrabarti assigned two classmates to help him refine his design and build a prototype. They fabricated nearly every component themselves using laser cutters, CNC machines and 3-D printers in the North Campus MakerSpace, with help from support staff. Forgione Engineering in Lowell – owned by Matteo Forgione ’07, ’09 – donated time at the company’s waterjet table to cut the steel components.
In his free time, Clancy is helping to design and build a Formula One race car as a member of River Hawk Racing, the campus chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
“We just finished the frame,” he says. “I love hands-on work so much.”
Clancy says that’s the legacy of his grandfathers: One worked on cars all the time and talked to him about making things, while the other was a pipefitter and project manager.
Not to mention his parents, high school sweethearts who attended the university together. His dad studied mechanical engineering and his mom studied elementary education. Now Clancy is marrying the two fields in his CubeSat proposal.
“Aerospace is the leading edge of all these advances in manufacturing and technology,” Clancy says. “I want students to understand why and how it connects to the math and science fundamentals they’re studying now.”