Science & Engineering Week: Connecting the dots to innovation

Raytheon UK engineer Chinmay knows the importance of collaboration and connections to make a mark in aerospace

Raytheon UK engineer and STEM ambassador Chinmay is nurturing his connections by championing STEM outreach work and industry collaboration.

“I’m passionate about inspiring younger generations into the field, which is essential for future innovation. I first got involved in STEM outreach at my university where I helped to organise and deliver a science camp to schools in rural India,” said Chinmay.

The final year of his Master of Engineering degree at Oxford University presented a unique opportunity to collaborate with a team of faculty academic scientists to come up with an innovative way to address a 66-year-old much-researched problem: managing the heat on space vehicle re-entry.

He recently returned from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Science and Technology Forum 2023 in the US – an event jointly sponsored by Raytheon Technologies – where he and his former research colleagues presented their co-authored paper supporting the development of a new hypersonic wind tunnel that uses a hot plasma flow to heat re-entry vehicle models before testing.

Chinmay was involved in creating this innovative design that enabled them to match real flight conditions for accurate experimental results. Put simply, the research developed a new solution to resolve the challenges surrounding thermal management and hypersonic flight to ensure space vehicles and astronauts return home to Earth safely. 

“The purpose of the tunnel is to match the flow conditions of atmospheric re-entry, not the environment in space. This requires producing a fluid – usually air – flow of specific speed, temperature and density. The conditions required in the tunnel are scaled values of those seen in real flight,” Chinmay said.

This technique, which integrated a novel plasma preheating facility into an existing wind tunnel, provided the same minimum level of safety but explored using different materials to improve the performance using computational modelling and simulation tools. 

“This was a new and exciting project, which will allow us to accurately match a wider range of hypersonic re-entry conditions and explore certain phenomena that are still not well understood. All re-entry vehicles using ablative thermal protection systems will begin to burn during entry. However, this new tunnel improves our understanding of the flow physics to design lighter, more cost-effective heat shields.

“By improving the current design and testing capability for re-entry vehicles, we hope to improve uncrewed and crewed access to space in terms of efficiency and safety,” he said.

Chinmay and his colleague set up a Condor MK3 interrogator for testing

Chinmay and his colleague set up a Condor MK3 interrogator for testing.

From junior science kits to solving real-life problems

Chinmay joined Raytheon UK on the company’s Graduate Leadership Development Programme for Engineering in September 2022. He’ll enjoy several cross-business rotations over the programme’s duration, the first being the Air Traffic Management Systems business where he is involved in the testing and qualification of radar systems technology to ensure that aircraft land safely.

“I do feel incredibly proud to be part of a process that has a tangible impact on society and the security of people in the UK and across the world. Much of the civil and military radar systems in use today are developed by Raytheon UK, so whenever a member of the public takes a flight, it’s quite likely that one of our radar systems is playing a big role in making sure they land safely,” he said.

Chinmay’s interest in aerospace grew out of the university hypersonic flight research project but he’s been captivated by science since his grandad taught him to fix radios as a young boy.

“My grandad used to own a radio repair shop,” he said. “When I was younger, he used to take apart old radios and explain to me what each component did. I always liked building things and, from a young age, was very fascinated by electricity and how circuits worked. I received a science kit as a gift and used it to conduct practical experiments to explore chemical reactions, magnetism, and building circuits.”

This unwavering interest continued at secondary school where Chinmay jumped at the opportunity to take part in an engineering project to build a device that could identify different gas samples.

“It was a yearlong project with an industry mentor. I really enjoyed the experience of working in a team to develop a prototype that eventually was able to function as it should,” Chinmay said. “I think that’s why I chose engineering; it’s because I like being able to apply theories to something practical and be able to solve real-life problems.”

Supporting sustainability in aerospace

Looking beyond the field of hypersonics, resolving gargantuan challenges like climate change, energy security and depleting natural resources would be top of Chinmay’s research ‘wish list’ given the opportunity, funding and resources.

“The aerospace industry is developing satellite technologies to monitor and manage the impact of climate change and, for example, soil quality and clean water sources across the world. I’m interested in the development of efficient desalination technology that would enable clean water to be extracted from oceans, thus alleviating water insecurity,” he said.

He believes that these types of interconnections are essential to cross-industry collaboration advancements.

“Although I specialise in engineering, it’s important to have a more generalist outlook and to be able to visualise how technology developed for one field can have an impact on another,” said Chinmay.

“This is most visible in the medical field and engineering, for example the use of robotic systems in surgery. Another example is how 3D printing technology has been developed to provide additional capabilities beyond traditional engineering manufacturing techniques and is being applied for bioprinting of tissue and replicating organs,” he added.

Determination leads to success

Having learned at a young age that perseverance pays off, he is unafraid of failure and hard work.

“I remember experimenting with a circuit and inadvertently burned the casing of a computer,” Chinmay said. “Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt.”

Far from putting him off, it fueled his resolve to try again until he got it right, which he did.

It’s therefore no surprise that Chinmay cites determination as the prevailing trait of one of his engineering heroes, Nikola Tesla. He said he is inspired by the Serbian-American inventor who didn’t allow his humble upbringing to deter him rising in the field of science and technology at the turn of the twentieth century. 

“A lot of the technologies that Tesla developed were revolutionary and are still having a big impact today, especially influencing advancements in alternating current and electromagnetism,” Chinmay said. “This is the reason why I have more than one engineering hero. The field is so collaborative that there’s many people who have shaped the world as we know it.”

It’s about connections between individuals.