Scholar troubleshoots for international space mission during co-op

Jeff Rice
October 24, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The supervisor who recruited Kriston Ramdass to work at Moog in a co-op last year promised the Penn State student he would have substantial work to do at the space and defense company.

Two weeks into the job, that supervisor came to Ramdass and made good on that promise.

“He said, ‘You’re going to be fixing the Orion spacecraft,’” Ramdass said.

The aerospace engineering major and Schreyer Honors Scholar, now a Penn State junior, spent eight months in a co-op at Moog’s failure investigation department, which included work on spacecraft that will be part of an upcoming NASA mission.

“We were presented with obstacles that may be within the company or within another company’s products,” Ramdass said. “Our job was to figure out what’s going wrong, why it’s happening, how to fix it, and then how to prevent it from happening in the future.”

Moog built more than 140 thrusters for Orion’s European Service Module, the chief propulsion component of the Orion Spacecraft. Initial testing showed that valves on five of those thrusters had failed. Ramdass and his team had to discover why, and they found that the valves that failed — cracking after being shipped — had been made by the same machine.

“We were able to say that only 45 or so of the 140 were susceptible to failing in the future,” he said. “That really brought down the concern. Replacing 140 valves would have delayed the launch (set for June 2020) two years. Forty-five, we could do this year.”

The next step was developing and implementing a repair plan, which Ramdass presented to a group that included representatives from NASA, Lockheed Martin, and the European Space Agency.

“It was not the hiccups that could stop us, but not learning from the hiccups, so I made sure to just take notes of every obstacle we would run into, make changes according to those obstacles, and then avoid those obstacles in the future,” Ramdass said. “We were able to get all those valves repaired within two-and-a-half months, which is really amazing.”

His next project at Moog involved exploring a similar failure on a Japanese spacecraft that would be used to resupply the International Space Station. The challenge was communicating with representatives from IHI — the company who developed the spacecraft — who came to Moog facilities in Buffalo, New York, to work on the project but did not speak fluent English.

“I learned to articulate a lot more clearly,” Ramdass said. “How to use simpler terms to explain technical ideas and how to overcome those barriers.”

Ramdass came to Penn State with 16 credits as a result of taking advanced placement courses in high school, which allowed him the flexibility to either graduate early or use a semester on a co-op.

“I was all about having a great experience, and I knew a co-op was a great opportunity to really immerse myself within one company,” he said.

Ramdass said he has known he wanted to be an engineer since his first year at Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, when his sister introduced him to the robotics club. It was through the club that he made a trip to Boeing and became hooked on aerospace engineering. He chose Penn State in large part due to the University’s engineering reputation and participated in the Pre-First Year in Science and Engineering (PREF) summer bridge program before he enrolled.

Upon joining the Schreyer Honors College this fall, Ramdass decided to take advantage of the integrated undergraduate/graduate program, which will allow him to leave Penn State with bachelor’s and master’s degrees but save him a year of school. He is also mulling the pursuit of a doctorate. Either way, he hopes to join — or re-join — the aerospace engineering industry and continue to play a role in helping astronauts around the world explore the rest of space.

“For years, space has been the final frontier,” he said. “And that doesn’t have to be anymore.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2 percent of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated October 25, 2018