Thursday, April 7, 2016

Midshipman Receives Honorable Mention in SECNAV Innovation Awards

A U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) midshipman recently received recognition in the 2015 Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Innovation Awards Program for his work with additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.

Midshipman 1st Class James Catina’s research demonstrated the benefits of additive manufacturing for creating rocket engines.

The SECNAV Innovation Awards Program seeks to annually recognize top Department of the Navy individuals and teams who made significant innovative achievements.

“Through additive manufacturing we are looking to be able to create designs for hybrid engines that will improve their thrust, overall capabilities and combustion safety,” said Catina.

Currently, the two most commonly used types of rocket engines are liquid rocket engines and solid fuel grains. A third and less-used type is the hybrid rocket, a combination of both. Hybrid rockets are more cost effective and energy efficient, but lack the thrust the others provide.

“Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, allows rocket engine production to be done in less time, with less weight and considerably cheaper,” said Catina. “It allows engineers to manufacture designs that could not be done with traditional manufacturing methods. Because of that, we can conceptualize designs that could not be thought of before, allowing us to create a design geared towards increased thrust that could not be manufactured previously."

The research started with Marine Maj. Kristen Castonguay, USNA Aerospace Department master instructor, contacting Catina for assistance in building a laboratory test. Catina helped build the lab, and over three years, developed the idea into independent research and further researching it under a Bowman Scholarship. Castonguay serves as the advisor for the research, and also recommended Catina for the SECNAV Innovation Award.

“He is extremely motivated, very enthusiastic and has great new ideas,” said Castonguay. “The additive manufacturing we have been developing, he’s really taken it to another level of capability. I saw the innovation award, and I thought the work that Catina does is different and well beyond the research that a senior would typically be doing. He’s performing at a really high level; it’s a very cutting-edge and new type of application for the technology.”

The research team has grown to five midshipmen who are involved with conducting experiments and testing the grains being developed. The midshipmen attest that both the research and Catina are the reason they participate.

“I love the research, I love being part of something that really hasn’t been done before,” said Midshipman 1st Class Brett Nellis. “I talk to James all the time and bounce ideas off of him, and there really is no reference. It’s us just figuring it out as we go. I’ve worked with James in the past, and I knew how hard he works – that he does it smartly and is really good at research.”

The culmination of Catina’s research is slated for later this month in a live firing test of the hybrid engine. After graduating in May, Catina will be attending the Naval Postgraduate School, where he will study mechanical engineering.

“Ultimately I will be going to serve in the fleet, and I have to give up the research. But having my fingerprint on a puzzle piece, in a much bigger picture makes me feel very humbled,” he said.

For more information about USNA’s Aerospace Department, visit


  1. I think Maj. Kristen Castonguay is in the Air Force.

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