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Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

Graduate and undergraduate students at Space @VT, the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research.

The nature of the threat to deployed US national security platforms is changing: as we pivot from a more permissive counterterrorism environment of the last decade to the denied areas of nation-states for the coming decades, we face new challenges in every domain of war, particularly the electromagnetic spectrum. To overcome these challenges, the US needs flexible, autonomous platforms with the ability to locally process sensor data and make tactical decisions. 

In the Aerospace and Oceanic Systems Division, we focus on taking advantage of the latest technological capabilities for airborne and spaceborne systems, including machine learning, decision theory, computational mechanics, space situational awareness, maritime remote sensing, and small satellite design and security/resiliency. We have a strong history of fielding technology in military systems that offers experience to interested undergraduate students, or funded positions for graduate research associates.

Over the last few years, students in our lab have launched multiple satellites and high-altitude balloons in partnerships with NASA and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. Students have helped design and install our Virginia Tech Ground Station facility upgrades, including a new roof-mounted telescope, for use in future Space Situational Awareness work. Finally, our students have designed and piloted countless drones in a variety of controlled environments designed to simulate earth orbit or other specific conditions. We are currently seeking students for a number of new and exciting projects, including blasts, hypersonics, biomedical interactions of fluid-structures, warfighter capabilities, and strategic adaptation.

Core research include:

  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Autonomy and Resilience
  • Maritime Remote Sensing
  • Cubesats and Small Satellites

The Aerospace and Oceanic Systems Lab conducts research to address critical areas of national security in four major research areas:

  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Autonomy and Resilience
  • Maritime Remote Sensing
  • Cubesats and Small Satellites

For Space Situational Awareness, this research can include:

  • SOSI
  • Proximity Operations
  • Tracking

For Autonomy and Resilience, we focus on:

  • Cognitive orchestration
  • Robust/secure control

For Maritime Remote Sensing, we use:

  • Physics-based models
  • Computational fluid dynamics

Finally, for Cubesats and Small Satellites, we investigate:

  • Satellite design and security
  • Tracking via ground stations

Our ongoing projects are constantly changing and evolving as we address the rapid discoveries within our field. Here is a selection of some specific projects we address:

Virginia Cubesat Constellation: The Virginia CubeSat Constellation consists of three CubeSats that will conduct a scientific investigation to measure the orbital decay of a constellation of small satellites, informing a database of atmospheric drag and the variability of atmospheric properties. Current atmospheric data are necessary to accurately predict orbits for small satellites in low-Earth orbit and the data will provide better understanding of the effects of solar activity and space weather on small satellites.

Space Situational Awareness Robotic Optical Telescope: The number of space objects in low-Earth orbit has increased dramatically, leading to a congested, contested, and competitive domain necessitating the move from human-in-the-loop to human-on-the-loop tracking of space objects. We will use a 14” Astrograph telescope to identify and track objects in space, identify and track high proper motion of near Earth objects, and use state-of-the-art electron multiplying CCD technology to operate in vastly disparate optical regimes.

Sensor Tasking for Space Situational Awareness: This student project produces synthetic data representative of challenging SSA scenarios to improve space battle management, command and control. Using novel algorithms for sensor tasking problems, we can develop metrics to allow for varied types of objectives and extend tasking algorithms to produce tasking strategies rather than singular solutions.

 Interested students should reach out to our Assistant Division Director Leon Harding (lkharding@vt.edu), who can help schedule time with the appropriate faculty member. We are always happy to meet new interested students!

 Interested students should reach out to our Assistant Division Director Leon Harding (lkharding@vt.edu), who can help schedule time with the appropriate faculty member. We are always happy to meet new interested students!

 Interested students should reach out to our Assistant Division Director Leon Harding (lkharding@vt.edu), who can help schedule time with the appropriate faculty member. We are always happy to meet new interested students!

personnel

Leadership

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    Michael Fowler

    Associate Director for Autonomous and Multiagent Systems, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    Leon Harding

    Assistant Division Director, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

Core Research Faculty

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    John Gilbert

    Research Assistant Professor, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    Carson Horne

    Research Associate, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    Zachary Leffke

    Research Associate, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    James McClure

    Research Associate Professor, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    Collin Phillips

    Research Associate, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    Kevin Schroeder

    Research Scientist, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

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    Kevin Sterne

    Research Associate, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division

Technical and Support Staff

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    David Kusterer

    Computer Engineer, Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division