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University showcase: New frontiers in space exploration from OSAM to xGEO

As space technology gets smaller and less expensive, more and more countries, universities and people can participate. We’ve seen thousands of small satellites launched into earth orbit from numerous developers over the past decade, many of whom were new to space. What’s next for on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (OSAM) and orbital debris clean up as small spacecraft move beyond earth orbit and the geostationary satellite belt (xGEO) into open space (cis-lunar space), and onto the lunar surface itself? We’re showcasing university trail blazers in space exploration. Meet the people working on the projects, find out what’s ahead, and how you can participate. Learn about the technologies that are shaping a world where OSAM, xGEO and “cis-lunar” are becoming household terms.


Jonathan Black | Professor, Virginia Tech

Dr. Jonathan Black is a Professor in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering at Virginia Tech (VT), the Director of the Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division (AOSD) within the VT National Security Institute (formerly Hume Center), and the Northrop Grumman Senior Faculty Fellow in C4ISR. Prior to joining VT, Dr. Black served as a faculty member in the Aeronautics and Astronautics department at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he was the founding Director of the Center for Space Research and Assurance. As Center/Division Director, Dr. Black focuses the division’s efforts on the execution of cutting-edge space technology development and scientific space experiments; manages and executes an annual $4 million research portfolio; supervises a diverse group of 30 research faculty, program managers, laboratory and administrative staff, graduate students, and summer interns; briefs senior Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, and corporate leadership advising national strategy; and cultivates research and educational relationships inside and outside the university. He served as PI or Co-PI on six spaceflight experiments. Dr. Black works across academic departments and multiple research centers at the intersection of mission platforms and mission payloads. His research interests include space and atmospheric vehicle dynamics, linear and nonlinear control theory, autonomous vehicle design, structures, structural dynamics, advanced sensing technologies, space systems engineering, and novel orbit analysis for a wide variety of military and intelligence applications including large lightweight space structures, micro UAV development, and taskable satellites. Dr. Black is the Co-Director of the Virginia SmallSat Data Consortium (VSDC), which supports Commonwealth-wide data cube, real-time cloud computing, rural broadband, and AI/ML work. He is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the past chair of the Spacecraft Structures Technical Committee.

Dr. Debra L. Emmons | Vice President, Special Studies, Office of the Executive Vice President, The Aerospace Corporation

Dr. Debra L. Emmons is Vice President of Special Studies at The Aerospace Corporation, where she promotes the use of corporate and government resources through integrated planning and engineering. Previously, Emmons served as general manager of Aerospace’s Communication Technologies and Engineering Division, overseeing the division’s communications studies, analysis, and testing products to serve Aerospace’s customers. Harnessing more than 20 years of experience in systems engineering, technical and risk analysis, program management, and communications systems, Emmons was a principal contributor on several high-level assessments that have informed strategic decisionmaking within the government. She has received top awards from Aerospace and NASA for her achievements, considered integral to the establishment and growth of the NASA and civil space customer lines of business. Emmons earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Cornell University; an MBA from Imperial College Management School; and a Ph.D. in systems engineering from George Washington University.

Kathleen C Howell | Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Purdue University

Professor Kathleen Connor Howell is the Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics in the College of Engineering at Purdue University. Her research interests and expertise are in astrodynamics including mission planning and trajectory optimization, station-keeping and maneuver design, as well as low-thrust applications including small satellites and the development of interactive visual capabilities for complex mission scenarios. Professor Howell is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the International Academy of Astronautics; she is also a Fellow of both AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and AAS (American Astronautical Society). As an educator at Purdue, she teaches courses in fundamental dynamical analysis and a rage of astrodynamics topics. She is involved with various organizations within the international aerospace and astrodynamics community.

Moriba Jah | Associate Professor, Aerospace Engineering & Engineering Mechanics, The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Jah is an astrodynamicist and space environmentalist, leading a transdisciplinary research program in space safety, security, and sustainability. He’s a leading subject matter to industry and government, in and out of the United States, and is the Chief Scientific Advisor for Privateer. Jah leads NATO science and technology activities in space domain awareness, and testified to congress twice. Jah is a fellow of AFRL, AIAA, AAS, RAS, and TED. He’s a full member of the International Academy of Astronautics and is a co-editor of their peer-reviewed journal, Acta Astronautica. Jah has a monthly column in Aerospace America called Jahniverse, and hosts a bi-monthly webcast called Moriba’s Vox Populi through SpaceWatch.Global.

Ricardo Sanfelice | Professor, University of California

Ricardo G. Sanfelice is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of California at Santa Cruz, CA, USA. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in 2004 and 2007, respectively, from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During 2007 and 2008, he was a Postdoctoral Associate at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and visited the Centre Automatique et Systemes at the Ecole de Mines de Paris for four months. Prof. Sanfelice is the recipient of the 2013 SIAM Control and Systems Theory Prize, the National Science Foundation CAREER award, the Air Force Young Investigator Research Award, the 2010 IEEE Control Systems Magazine Outstanding Paper Award, the 2012 STAR Higher Education Award for his contributions to STEM education, and the 2020 ACM Test-of-Time Award from the HSCC. He is Associate Editor for Automatica and has served as Chair of the Hybrid Systems Technical Committee from the IEEE Control Systems Society. He is Director of the Cyber-Physical Systems Research Center at UCSC. His research interests are in modeling, stability, robust control, observer design, and simulation of nonlinear and hybrid systems with applications to robotics, power systems, aerospace, and biology.