AE PhD student Cutler Phillippe receives NASA research award

7/9/2024 Debra Levey Larson

Written by Debra Levey Larson

Culter Phillippe
Cutler Phillippe

Cutler Phillippe recently received a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities award for his project entitled, “Imaging and Analysis Framework for Parachute Micro-structural Basis.”

Phillippe graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and came to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in January 2021 to begin working toward a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering with faculty advisers Francesco Panerai and Laura Villafane Roca.

About his research, Phillippe said, “During a spacecraft’s entry, descent, and landing, there are extremely complex challenges posed by inflation dynamics, multi-body physics, and capsule wake-parachute interactions. Because of that, parachute design relies on extensive ground/flight testing and intuition-based modifications to legacy hardware.”

He said, validated computational models are a key component to decreasing the risk, cost, and schedule of the EDL parachute design process.

“The robust datasets required to constitute a solid micro-structural basis and validate computational models are lacking,” Phillippe said. “That missing data is the main focus of my research. Through the study of parachute microstructures experiencing tensile and flow induced loading, the goal is to elucidate the relationships between in-flight conditions and material response.”

Parachute textile clamped in the permeability tester with no flow (a), experiencing through-thickness flow (b), and "W", the local deflection of the textile "bubble" (c) as measured by the digital image correlation cameras.
Parachute textile clamped in the permeability tester with no flow (a), experiencing through-thickness flow (b), and "W", the local deflection of the textile "bubble" (c) as measured by the digital image correlation cameras.

Phillippe already presented his research at AIAA SciTech 2023 and at a recent fluid-structure interaction symposium, where he garnered attention from NASA scientists and researchers at other universities.

The NASA award includes funding for up to four years of his graduate studies. It also includes funding for four visiting technologist experiences. For this aspect of the award, Phillippe will be matched with leading engineers and scientists in his area of research. Having already done some work with NASA Jet Propulsion Lab personnel, he is looking forward to this component of the award.

“Through exposure to NASA material scientists, entry systems engineers, and fluid-structure interaction modelers the technologist experience provides a font of ongoing context, feedback, and guidance,” Phillippe said. “This includes both technical know-how and commentary on the relative importance of testing specific soft-good materials, weave patterns, seams, and other mission critical components. And my personal growth as an aerospace engineer and scientist also stands to benefit from this experience.”

Cutler conducts his research at the world-class imaging facilities of the Beckman Institute at Illinois.  Watch a video showing a moving cross-section of the microtomography of a NASA parachute weave, along both principal axes taken during a high load (in tension).

This is the 10th consecutive year for NASA’s Space Technology Mission directorate to sponsor U.S. citizen and permanent resident graduate students who show significant potential to contribute to NASA’s goal of creating innovative new space technologies for the nation’s science, exploration and economic future.

Two U of I aerospace alumni have also received 2024 NSTGRO awards.

Marta Cortinovis, BS ’22, who is graduate school at Stanford University received an NSTGRO for her project entitled, “Design of Broadcast Navigation Message for Lunar Navigation System Satellite.”

Miron Liu, BS ’23, who is in grad school at the University of Michigan, received the award for his project, “Development of a Magnetically Shielded Hall Thruster without Pole Erosion.”

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This story was published July 9, 2024.