AE Grad Student Wins NASA/GSRP Fellowship
The NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Graduate Student Researchers Program Fellowship will support Englander’s PhD work for the next three years.
Typically, according to Englander, when NASA decides to send a probe to a planet that is difficult to reach, such as Jupiter, Saturn, or Mercury, analysts manually design a sequence of rocket burns and gravity assist maneuvers to get the spacecraft there efficiently. Numerical methods are used to optimize each maneuver in the sequence.
This method becomes problematic because the best sequence of maneuvers may be non-intuitive, so it may not occur to designers if they are doing the work the traditional way, by hand. Unfortunately, the significant amount of time it would take to run all possible sequences on a computer makes the process prohibitive to simulate.
Englander’s goal for the project is to develop an autonomous method for choosing an optimal sequence of maneuvers and events, and then optimize each maneuver in the sequence.
“The method has to be fast and robust because we don’t want our program to crash in the middle and have to start over, wasting hours or even days of computer time,” Englander said.
The method also has to be adaptable to handle many different types of missions. Finally, any code developed would be integrated into NASA Goddard’s GMAT (General Mission Analysis Toolkit) so that Goddard engineers could use it to design real missions.
Englander said Bradley Wall, MS 04, PhD 07, and now an assistant professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and Christian Chilan, MS 02 Computer Science, did previous work on this concept. AE Prof. Bruce Conway advises Englander.