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Shooting for the stars paid off for two members of UCF’s AIAA chapter, who took home silver for their research last month at the AIAA regional conference.

The Region II Student Conference, which took place at the Kennedy Space Center on April 4 and 5, represented AIAA chapters from ten states and territories in the southeast. Students who showcased research were judged by aerospace industry professionals on their technical content and presentation skills. The second place winners in the undergraduate category are:

Darrel Nieves Lugo, B.S.AE, Mario Vignali, B.S.AE | Advisor: Michael Kinzel | Paper: “Experimental Study of Rotor-Sand Ground Interactions Utilizing Scaled NASA Dragonfly Model”

Their project, which was based on NASA’s New Frontiers Project, involved the students building a scale model of NASA’s octocopter, Dragonfly, to understand how the drone would interact with Saturn’s moon Titan when taking off and landing.

“To collect this information, we ran the drone over sand in a large box,” Vignali says. “The drone has adhesive cells in a grid along the bottom and the sides, and these cells collect all the sand that is thrown up into the air by the wash made by the propellers. We graph and document the weight of the cells post-test.”

Their findings showed that sand concentrated mostly on the model’s bottom front center and bottom back center.

“This idea can help us visualize and hypothesize where the critical locations are, due to sand movement,” said Lugo. “Characterizing particle mobilization can help study rotor effects and consider the overall effects on the drone body and instrumentation.”

Lugo has been a member of AIAA since his freshman year, drawn to the organization’s diverse projects and knowledgeable members and officers. His interest in drones began after joining AIAA’s Quadcopter Design project, which he later became a lead on.

“The greatest feeling is seeing all members working hard during the semester to build their drone and then see their reactions on flight day,” Lugo says. “Sharing that feeling reminds me why I was motivated to join AIAA at UCF!”

This passion led Lugo to join the Computation Fluids and Aerodynamics Laboratory, which collaborates with NASA on the Dragonfly mission. It was there that he began working alongside Vignali on the Dragonfly scaled model research project. A year of hard work paid off for the duo, who took home a prize of $300 for their research.

“I feel privileged to receive such great feedback from the judges,” Vignali says. “I look forward to how this research could influence possible future developments with NASA’s Dragonfly.”