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Engineering student Andrew Allen spends a lot of time studying sails, but the kind that outfit spacecraft, not sailboats. The Oviedo native is pursuing a master’s in mechanical engineering while completing the research in Dr. Kawai Kwok’s Structures and Materials Design Lab.

Allen believes that solar sails are the future of spacecraft design, describing how their lightweight design and ability to use light from the sun to propel small spacecraft without the need for fuel can revolutionize space travel. However, the sails must be very large, relative to the spacecraft, and require compact storage methods, so he studies how the material behaves when creased and what it takes to create the material for storage. Allen emphasizes the importance of his research, as solar sails would provide an excellent method for small unmanned spacecraft to propel themselves for extended periods, allowing for new types of future scientific missions.

Working in Dr. Kwok’s lab as an undergraduate, Allen thoroughly enjoyed the research he conducted and sought to continue working on such an innovative project. He cites this as the main reason he chose to pursue his master’s degree at UCF. Though the work can be challenging, Allen continues to work hard. “The most important thing I have personally learned while conducting research is the amount of effort that goes into seemingly small increases in knowledge,” he says. “Something may seem like a simple and obvious conclusion, but the amount of effort required to prove that conclusion can be significant.” However, he remains dedicated to the advancement of spacecraft design.

Allen also benefitted greatly from the proximity to UCF, and connections to the Florida Space Coast, along with the UCF chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics(AIAA), saying that the opportunities have assisted him with acquiring his current internship at Kennedy Space Center.

After graduation, Allen plans to work in the space industry, possibly in mission planning or spacecraft design.