AFIT students get robotic assist

$470,000 mill machine to help AFIT students craft parts on base.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Air Force Institute of Technology students assembling satellites to reach for the stars have a $470,000 computer-controlled milling machine to get to orbit cheaper and faster, authorities said.

The machine, the second of its kind in Ohio, will aid students in designing and manufacturing parts for a telescope they plan to launch to the International Space Station, to assembling radiation detection devices to find weapons of mass destruction, officials at the postgraduate school said.

The mill, housed in the old nuclear reactor building at Wright-Patterson, has already been called to duty to manufacture parts for mini-satellites, officials said.

“It’s going to give AFIT some very unique and impressive capability it has not had before,” said Todd I. Stewart, the postgraduate school’s civilian director and chancellor. “It gives our students the opportunity to see what it actually takes to produce what they have envisioned.”

The computer-programmed mill, a Hurco VMX60SR, can shape a piece of metal with the precision a sculptor uses to carve stone.

“We’re teaching our students how to become engineers, and the only way to do that is they need to have the ability to learn from their designs,” said Eric Swenson, an AFIT assistant professor of astronautical engineering.

Completing the work on site is less expensive and takes less time than contracting off base, officials said.

“In these tough-type budgets, we need to do things faster, cheaper, better,” said Col. Timothy J. Lawrence, AFIT commandant and vice chancellor.

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