Two Students Win Space Grant Consortium Awards

SOCORRO, N.M. June 19, 2014 – Two Tech students have been recognized by NASA and the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium for their research projects and academic excellence.

The N.M. Space Grant Consortium recently announced the 2014-15 fellowships and scholarships awarded to students across New Mexico, including one graduate student and one undergraduate student at New Mexico Tech

The Tech graduate awardees are Stephen Davis, a doctoral student in materials engineering and Austin DeHart, a junior in physics.

DeHart’s award is $5,000 for his project, “Asteroid Lightcurve Analysis and Shape Modeling.”

Davis’s award is $10,000 for his project, “Nitrous Oxide Hypergolic Propellants II.” This award is Davis’s second. He won the same award for the same project in 2013.

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Austin DeHart at the Etscorn Campus Observatory.


DeHart is working with Dr. Dan Klinglesmith to measure the rotational rate of asteroids. Using telescopes at the Etscorn Campus Observatory, he takes a series of observations and measures the brightness of asteroids. Over a period of time, he can calculate the rotational rate, which correlates to the changing brightness of the target object. 

“This came off as a big surprise,” DeHart said. “I was pretty excited about it.”

Originally from Whittier, Calif., DeHart took up amateur astronomy in middle school. DeHart said a small cadre of astronomers are observing more than 200 target asteroids that have yet to be characterized.

“It just takes a group of astronomers to do it,” he said. “It takes a few nights to collect data to build a light curve for a single asteroid. It’ll take a few years until we know the light curve of every asteroid, but there will pretty much always be work to be done in the mean time.”

In addition to his academic path and research, DeHart has also served as a teaching assistant and learning coach for the Living-Learning Community course in astronomy. Last school year, he helped freshmen build telescopes with professor Dr. Peter Hofner and worked in the Office of Student Learning as a tutor.



Davis is working with Dr. Nadir Yilmaz of the Mechanical Engineering department. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Engineering. His project includes thermodynamics and fluid mechanics on a nitrous oxide-based fuel that can be used for thrusters on small satellites. His goal is to find a propellant that is less toxic and less corrosive than those currently in use.

“If you can minimize the hazards, you can ideally reduce the cost as well,” he said.

Davis, who went to high school in Edgewood, Md., earned his bachelor’s at New Mexico Tech in chemical engineering and his master’s in materials engineering.

Davis has found a few promising formulations of fuel blends via thermodynamic calculations. He is now working on modeling to see how the fluids will interact prior to combustion.

“Because of the highly reactive nature of the fuel blends, modeling is important before experimental confirmation to maximize the probability of success,” he said. “If we can produce a high-thrust propellant with low toxicity, it’ll be easier to produce future rockets and minimize risk on the ground prior to launch.”

Davis’s aim is to develop a propellant that can be used in small satellites as maneuvering thrusters and adjusters.

New Mexico Space Grant Consortium is a member of the congressionally funded National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program which is administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. Consortium fellowships and scholarships are competitively awarded based on application information, faculty recommendation, GPA, the research project, and its alignment to NASA’s mission.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech