Art and Aerospace: Alumna Engineers Thermal Solutions for Spacecraft

As a little girl, Aleks Bogunovic ’12 ’13 (Fiber B.F.A., Business of Art and Design M.P.S.) knitted, crocheted and sewed clothes, taking after her Eastern European mother and grandmothers. Culturally, it was a way of life, but Bogunovic never thought she would make a living from it. “My family didn’t understand why I would pay for a degree to learn how to make blankets,” Bogunovic recalled.

For the sake of story, Bogunovic is, on this rare occasion, oversimplifying her work. Blankets, yes. However, her work entails much more than basic quilting. Bogunovic is applying her intrinsic passion for fabrication to a unique niche in the aerospace industry. She and her team at Aerothreads, Inc. employ their craftsmanship skills to design, create and install Multi-Layer Installation (MLI) blankets for spacecraft.

Components of spacecraft must cope with extreme fluctuations in deep space, solar and planetary temperatures, not to mention the heat generated by operation of the space flight hardware itself. Thermal control is essential to mission success. Bogunovic translates traditional techniques in pattern making, material handling and sculpting to design MLI blankets that meet on-orbit performance requirements. “Think, clothes for spacecraft,” she said.

After working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland for six years, Bogunovic made a career transition in 2014, launching Aerothreads, an SBA Certified HUBZone and Woman Owned Small Business in College Park, Maryland. She devoted the deliverable of her 14-month stint in MICA’s M.P.S. program to launching the company.

The complexities of running her own business, managing her staff’s professional development in this inimitable trade, all the while brainstorming deep space thermal engineering solutions requires a serious combination of skill and dexterity. A combination, Bogunovic said, that is put into practice in MICA’s masters program in the Business of Art and Design.

The creative thinking and problem solving skills learned via an art education are the obvious applications, she explained. The emphasis on aesthetics and developing an eye for beauty are the subtler teachings that have acute business application.

“Areothreads’ branding and attention to detail in the products we make are picked up from an artist’s mindset and an artist’s training, more than anything else,” she said. “It helps us separate ourselves from the rest of the pack.”

While artists and makers like Bogunovic do not always enjoy a trodden path, with clear markers instructing how to convert their arty passions into business form, she believes it is getting easier as more artists blaze the trail and widen the definition of “artist” in the workplace.

“In any business, who you know and your connections are the most valuable thing you have. We have to support one another as artists, and offer our networks of who we know to each other.”