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PowerHab IGLUNA 2020 - COVID-19 Experience

Introduction

This article details the PowerHab Strathclyde University student teams experience in adapting to and working through the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the COVID pandemic started to spread across the globe, lockdowns were implemented in order to stem the infection rate however this meant that University offices and buildings had to close. This greatly affected the PowerHab team as the members had planned to develop prototypes for the IGLUNA field campaign in the summer of 2020 however as a result of the university closing, the team was without safe lab environments to develop prototypes or even work together as a team. As such the team had to adapt and provide creative solutions to allow the members to continue work and provide the content promised to the Swiss Space Center.

How the PowerHab team adapted to succeed despite COVID-19

This section details some of the techniques and methods adopted by the PowerHab team in order to overcome some of the obstacles imposed by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Remote Working

The first major adjustment was transitioning to working remotely. All members were forced to work from home which meant the team was spread across multiple countries. This meant that all work had to be carried out online which meant using tools such as online storage drives, documents, regular zoom sessions and a lot of communication. The team made good use of online drives and documents allowing the team members to view and verify each other’s work similar to an in-person setting. The team also used Slack, Facebook and email to stay in communication both internally and with the Swiss Space Center. The slack tool proved extremely useful allowing for multiple channels of communication to be established from within one app.

Prototype Development from Home

Another major adjustment was that since the team no longer had university lab access, the prototypes could no longer be developed due to a lack of equipment. As such the team had to consider what would be feasible to bring to the field campaign whilst ensuring the safety of the students within their home environment. There was an original plan for the team to bring a microwave wireless power transmission system to the field campaign however this prototype had to be cancelled as it was deemed unsafe to manufacture from home. The original fuel cell prototype could also no longer be developed for the same reason however, the team found an assemble at home fuel cell kit that would provide a suitable demonstration and was safe to use. This was then brought to the field campaign to demonstrate the hydrogen fuel cell concept. Finally, it was planned to assemble a battery management system using the electrical labs at Strathclyde which became no longer possible. This is where the team’s partnership with RS Components proved invaluable as they provided a home electronics lab for the team to use to continue development of the prototype. As such the prototype was able to be finished on time for the field campaign which along with the hydrogen fuel cell, played a key role in the success of the team’s presentation.

Zoom Presentation

Another adjustment the team had to make was the use of Zoom as a method of presenting the project show for the field campaign. The original presentation format became completely obsolete and so the team had to adjust and develop a new presentation which allowed for multiple team members to present whilst still appearing as a smooth professional presentation. The team rehearsed using zoom and established tactics such as having one member control the slides, the use of virtual backgrounds for professionalism and the preparation in case a members Wi-Fi dipped and another member would have to present their section. The team carried out many rehearsals both on their own and with audiences for feedback which allowed the team to remain composed and professional during the field campaign.

Online Outreach

One final key adjustment the team had to make was to adapt to online outreach via social media platforms. In previous years, the team would have actively spread the word of the field campaign and perhaps attended events and networking sessions to recruit an audience. However, in the year 2020, this became impossible and the team had to resort to other methods. The team used their various social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn to promote their exploits. However, the team also appealed to newspapers, YouTubers, social media influencers and companies for promotion. The team had several articles written about them through the year both in newspapers and on engineering community websites such as DesignSpark. The team approached numerous social media influencers and YouTube stars to promote them and also received numerous shares and posts from companies such as the UK Space Agency, UKSEDS and numerous academics in the space industry.

Risk Assessments

In order to minimise the risks imposed by COVID 19, the team developed risk assessments with mitigating factors that would assist them in the event of one of the risks occurring. This was a crucial requirement from the Swiss Space Center and proved to be an invaluable tool in planning out and accounting for worst-case scenarios throughout the project.

Risk assessment form

As shown by the risk assessment table, the team considered the various possible scenarios that could affect the performance of the team at the IGLUNA field campaign and were able to avoid significant setbacks and provided the expected deliverables on time and to a high standard.

Key Skills Developed

This section of the article highlights the key skills developed by the PowerHab team throughout the course of the entire project and crucially the skills developed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic experience.

Skills

Explanation

Self-Motivation

As the team was no longer under university supervision, it was important that the team remain motivated in their work and to not drop in productivity.

Remote Communication

It was important that the team ensure they stayed in constant communication despite not being able to physically see each other.

Virtual Team Working

The team had to ensure to use online tools such as one drive, zoom and social media to allow for the team to still work together.

Working Safely

It was extremely important that the team members developing prototypes ensure that they remained safe whilst working with dangerous elements such as fuel cells and lithium batteries.

Presentation

The team had to rehearse presenting via zoom as it offers an entirely different experience to presenting in person.

Maintaining Standards

It was crucial to ensure the standards of work produced did not drop despite the lack of university oversight. This meant that team members had to validate and check each other’s work to ensure quality.

Social Etiquette

It was also important to ensure that the team were understanding of the situation imposed by COVID-19 and accepting of members limited ability to work etc.

The skills developed by the team will be used in the members future university and academic careers to adapt to the constraints and conditions of the “new normal” and to allow the members to perform to the best of their abilities.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the working environment for engineers, academics and students alike who all now need to learn and adapt to the new reality of remote learning and development. There are several key techniques and methods highlighted in this article that the PowerHab team feels will benefit anyone looking to improve their working experience and performance. It is therefore hoped that other teams in similar positions can draw on the lessons learned by the PowerHab team to overcome their own obstacles and achieve their own success. 

We are PowerHab! A team of fourth- and fifth-year engineering students from the University of Strathclyde selected to participate in the IGLUNA 2020 campaign with the Swiss Space Center and ESA. Our objective is to develop a system capable of powering a lunar habitat whilst maintaining resiliency in the harsh lunar environment.
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