Engineering alum on frontline of revolutionizing space travel through work at SpaceX

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Just days before SpaceX announced plans to send two tourists to the moon and back in 2018, Lipscomb alumnus David Beaman (’07), a propulsion engineer at SpaceX and former Lipscomb engineering student, visited campus to share some insight into his role in the company and invest in the next generation of engineers.

SpaceX – which was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space travel and make life multi-planetary – designs, manufactures, tests and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.

For the past eight years, Beaman’s primary role at SpaceX has been to analyze and manage the rockets’ fluid systems, which includes such tasks as propellant slosh calculations and high-pressure fluid system modeling. Today, he is serving in a relatively new role analyzing the thermal systems associated with each rockets and payload from the time of payload encapsulation through payload deployment.  

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Beaman visited the Networking and Professional Development class in the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering to share his journey from Lipscomb to SpaceX.

“Its important to expose our engineering students to professionals in their respective industries, so students can have a direct line into those industries as well as broaden their horizons for their future careers and aspirations,” said Fort Gwinn, associate dean of the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering. “SpaceX is a one-in-a-million opportunity, and for students to get to hear more about this history-making company as well as David’s journey is extremely valuable. Hopefully, David’s story will inspire our current students to realize that dreams can come true.”

Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Beaman came to Lipscomb in 2002 to pursue a Bachelors of Science degree in engineering mechanics as well as minors in physics, applied math and pure mathematics. After graduating from Lipscomb in 2007, he enrolled in the University of California Los Angeles’ Aerospace Engineering program, where he received his master’s degree in 2008.  

While at UCLA, Beaman said he worked as a teacher’s assistant and was a part of the university’s astrophysics club. In late 2008, the club planned a field trip to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and his wife Laura encouraged him to take his resume.

“At first I thought there was no reason I should take my resume because I never thought I could actually get a job at SpaceX, but I am sure glad I did,” he said.

During the presentation, he shared that although studying was difficult, he saw the value in being a diligent student.

“SpaceX is a place for driven people,” he said. “My knowledge base and ability to articulate engineering solutions was greatly expanded by being a teacher’s assistant during graduate school. Rather than just learning the information, I had to know it forward and backwards in order to teach the students. It also worked in my favor that I was a student-leader in Lipscomb’s Mini Baja project. This was a relevant engineering activity that demonstrated practical, hands on involvement with what I was learning in school. All of this helped me to successfully navigate the interview process and what would eventually become my career.”    

In 2006, Beaman, along with a handful of other engineering students, started the first ever Mini Baja team at Lipscomb, a student-led, hands-on project where students can apply their fundamental knowledge that they have learned in the classroom to construct a car from the ground up and compete with other universities around the nation. Over 10 years later, Lipscomb students are still participating in the Baja SAE competition.

“I do a lot of the stuff in my daily work routine that I was trained to do in school,” said Beaman. “Engineering school for the most part teaches you how to think and to be patient with problems. Fortunately, I was able to find a job that not only allowed me to use this aspect of my education, but one that allows me to actually use the information I learned in class at Lipscomb and UCLA.”

Hunter Printz, a senior mechanical engineering student, said he appreciated Beaman’s advice to put your trust in Christ and always persevere with patience.

“Seeing how Lipscomb prepared David to not only get his master’s degree at UCLA, but to get a job working at SpaceX shows the quality of Lipscomb’s engineering program,” said Printz. “I had the opportunity to eat lunch with David after his presentation and he said that even though he doesn’t always know the answer to a problem right away at SpaceX, he takes his time and dissects the problem into little pieces that he does know how to solve, and eventually, he finds an overall solution to the problem. His advice to trust God, be patient and put myself out there for new opportunities was also very valuable as I am graduating this May and am starting to look for jobs.”

SpaceX is the world’s fastest-growing provider of launch services and has over 70 future missions on its manifest, representing over $10 billion in contracts. Currently under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA, SpaceX is flying numerous cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, for a total of at least 20 flights under the Commercial Resupply Services contract.

Since December 2010, SpaceX has gained worldwide attention for a series of historic milestones including being the first private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit. The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth — a technically challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. Since then, Dragon has delivered cargo to and from the space station multiple times, providing regular cargo resupply missions for NASA.

The most recent and revolutionary milestone that the company has achieved is the successful recovery of the first stage of their rocket, which they have now done numerous times by landing it vertically on “droneships” in the ocean and a landing pad in Cape Canaveral. This is a huge leap in the front of rocket reusability. The first launch of a reused first stage will be sometime in late March or April.    

For more information about SpaceX visit: www.spacex.com/ and to learn more about Lipscomb’s Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering, visit: www.lipscomb.edu/engineering.