By Joseph Martinez
By Joseph Martinez
Though Riverside Community College is a two-year college and therefore does not hold academic or institutional research as the primary goal for the faculty of the college, there are opportunities in the college for professors to actively conduct research with grants from outside institutions.
Instructor Mark Lehr received a grant from NASA in April in order that he may develop advanced computer data analyzers to detect errors in rocket engines for space shuttles.
He was a summer faculty fellow in 2004 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, were the opportunity arose.
The research he has been conducting for NASA is the development of computer algorithms to analyze test data from rocket test fires. The object is to detect malfunctions in the firing process which have been arising regularly as the rocket engines age.
The malfunction which Lehr has developed tools to analyze is a thorn in NASA’s rocket operations. The fault was in a set of the engines valves, in a mechanism called the pilot seat assembly, which had protruded to block the full movement of an internal valve.
The malfunction creates costly complications– not just in further complications but in the correction of the malfunction itself.
Technicians as of yet are required to partially disassemble the rocket engine, a complicated task because of the thousands of components contained in the engine, and analyze the components, in this case the pilot seat valves, in order to find obvious wear, search for distended pieces, and so on.
The cues to a faulty engine operation are received through test data in the form of charts which display the procession of the operation of the engine by the electrical cues which are involved in the internal procession of the engine.
The electrical information is arranged in data sets to be analyzed by the technicians.
The task of analyzing the data sets is time consuming and tricky.
Technicians may miss some signs of trouble or take a good data set to have troubling indications. Therefore, some engines without the malfunction are disassembled and analyzed while others are passed only to be disassembled in the future.
So Lehr has been asked to develop a system capable of analyzing the test data of the rocket engines, leaving out the technicians, and having the system produce very accurate and consistent results. This saves time and money for NASA’s divisions.
Lehr has developed a neural network, as a data analyzer which can be trained to recognize and analyze the interplay of sets of data more and more consistently to create an accurate analysis.
It is still under construction, as sets of reinforcement data are due from the White Sands Test facility in New Mexico, as is stipulated in the grant agreement.
By the grant, RCC Computer Information Systems Department has also received four computer systems with special software and hardware equipped, in order for the neural network to work and proceed here at RCC.
With some of the refinement of the neural network conducted at RCC, Lehr can employ students to aid him with the development of the system.
These students have had the opportunity to advance through the programming classes to their present level of expertise and confidence. Students Raul Jimenez, Kuandai Imdzi, Jason Newton and Tim Hidalgo have been helping Lehr analyze the rocket test data with collective efforts as part of student work here at RCC.
Each of these young men started in RCC Computer Information Systems-5 class, introduction to computer programming, and had since been working his way through the programming class ranks to where he has finished most of the classes offered to him.
They each have tasks they work on individually as part of the project, and they interface among each other to bring the project up to speed for the developer reviews. The nights leading up to the developer reviewers are sleepless.
“We may put in over a hundred hours a week in the weeks leading up to the developer review,” Newton said.
They have had the opportunity to travel to New Mexico’s White Sands test facility last summer with Lehr to have the systems development tested.
“We had a lot of fun on that trip, a lot of good memories from the trip,” Lehr said.
“That was fun” Jimenez said. “We worked so hard during the trip”.
Each of the students has received a J plus scholarship from Jet Propulsion Laboratory over their years here, having the chance to work with students from around the state on computer applications in what is called “surfing.” They have also earned internships and other opportunities at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Grants are continually received in the Computer Information Systems department, and the students continually have the opportunity to absorb the latest information in programming and help each other solve problems.