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AFIT’s CSRA achieves historic milestones with DL classes, international student internship during COVID-19 constraints

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Air Force Institute of Technology offers classes not just to military members, but also civilians working with the Department of Defense through the Civilian Development Education program. (U.S. Air Force photo / Wesley Farnsworth)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

The COVID-19 restrictions have brought many changes and challenges for the students, faculty and staff of the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Center for Space Research and Assurance.

One immediate challenge was switching all in-person classes to distance learning; something that has never been implemented before in the history of the Center.

Through the use of Microsoft Teams 365, professors are able to teach classes live with video capabilities and other technological modifications and applications. Faculty office hours, research meetings, student presentations and study groups have also continued through the use of virtual technology. In addition, faculty can also record live lectures so students can view again later for clarification.

“The education we are receiving now is of the same caliber of education we were receiving before the distance learning began,” said 2nd Lt. Nathaniel Enders, astronautical engineering student.

“This is a testament to both the faculty’s and student’s ability to adapt. All of my instructors this quarter have been very responsive to questions I have in and out of class. They care about students learning just as much as the students do,” said Enders.

To encourage class interaction, professors will present questions to be answered within a time limit. This approach also assists with keeping students actively engaged in class since distance learning requires more effort to stay focused.

“CSRA staff and AFIT resources have done a great job making the shift to distance learning. Instructors have communicated expectations early and often, leaving no ambiguities as to when and how course work is to be accomplished,” said 1st Lt. Cecily Agu, astronautical engineering student.

“AFIT has enough resources and dedicated staff for ensuring the success of the student, but it also falls on the individual to take the challenges head on. Staying motivated and driving yourself to learn through unconventional means will instill a resiliency that will serve you well in your most difficult classes and research problems,” said Agu.

In March 2020, CSRA welcomed its first international intern, 2nd Lt. Paul Gindre from the French Air Force Academy (L’École de l’Air); another history-making milestone for the Center.

Gindre’s research has involved small spacecraft systems engineering. One project focused on validating software-based radiative heat transfer models in order to improve modeling confidence and accuracy of CubeSat component thermal designs. Another focus of his research was to minimize the number of commercial-off-the-shelf modular attitude control units for a 6U CubeSat while maximizing the control torque for a given mission.

Due to COVID constraints and restriction of access to the AFIT campus, Gindre’s research was changed from a hands-on approach to a computer-based effort.

Although the greatest difficulty was completing the research in a telework environment through the use of video conferencing and phone calls, one major benefit of this collaboration was the ability to start a dialogue with a fellow NATO member for space systems design, development, and testing. The internship also laid the foundation for future research collaboration in space, as well as other technical/engineering disciplines across AFIT. In relation to the Center, the internship enhanced its diversity by bridging international cultures to create a collaborative environment for space research and analysis.

“Our Department of the Air Force leadership emphasizes the importance of building and strengthening partnerships. AFIT and CSRA look forward to expanding the relationship begun with Lieutenant Gindre in the critical domain of space,” said Col. Timothy Albrecht, CSRA director.

The Air Force Institute of Technology located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, is the Air Force’s graduate school of engineering and management as well as its institution for technical professional continuing education. AFIT is committed to providing defense-focused graduate and professional continuing education and research to sustain the technological supremacy of America’s air, space and cyber forces.

For additional information about graduate or post-doctoral degrees in astronautical engineering or space systems, visit the CSRA website at https://www.afit.edu/CSRA.