Aerospace companies find engineers at Nebraska race car … – Lincoln Journal Star

Over the past decade, entrepreneurial space companies in Southern California have set their sights on such goals as launching small satellites, carrying space tourists and colonizing Mars.

As they hire young engineers, those companies and more-traditional aerospace giants are finding talent in an unlikely place: a college race-car competition in Nebraska.

This week, 100 university teams will bring their prototype race cars to the Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) competition in Lincoln, where they will be judged on design, manufacturing, performance and business logic.

The aerospace leaders who help judge the contest that starts Wednesday say it’s also an opportunity to hear students explain design and production decisions, present their business cases and adapt on the fly.

“Race cars and rockets are pretty similar,” said Bill Riley, a Formula SAE alumnus from Cornell and competition judge who is now a senior director of design reliability and vehicle analysis at SpaceX. “It’s lightweight, efficient, elegant engineering. Those basic principles are the same, no matter what you’re designing.”

SpaceX has had “fantastic success” recruiting new hires and interns from Formula SAE teams, and from sister competition Baja SAE, which focuses on building an off-road vehicle, and other hands-on engineering competitions, said Brian Bjelde, the Hawthorne, California, company’s vice president of human resources.

Of the 700 students who intern at SpaceX each year, 50 or 60 come from Formula SAE. And as of three years ago, about 50 percent of the company’s 300-person structures team had worked on some sort of project-based design team in college.

“For any candidate, the ones that are most successful at SpaceX have a combination of passion, drive and talent,” Bjelde said. “And to me, (Formula SAE) plays into the passion piece.”

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