I have been recruited to work on the Stardust (stardust2013.eu) FP7 project as an Experienced Researcher (ER). I will be doing so in my capacity as Senior Engineer at Dinamica. In a nutshell, my job will involve defending planet Earth from the impending disasters posed by Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) and space junk.
Close encounter of Apophis (NASA)
Space debris cloud (NASA)
The chance of impact from a sizable asteroid might be relatively small, but it is by no means negligible. It makes good sense for us to be prepared for all scenarios, and to come up with deflection and/or removal strategies to mitigate risks. This involves understanding the near-Earth environment, charting out the known objects, predicting their future paths, determining high-risk candidates, and developing strategies to ensure that risk to life on Earth is minimized if not completely mitigated.
Space junk is similarly important to study and is becoming a fairly big nuisance for operational satellites. In addition, understanding the path and impact footprint for re-entering space debris objects that survive the Earth’s atmosphere is crucial to help us understand the risk to populated areas. Finally, the Kessler syndrome, predicted as far back as 1978 describing a collisional cascade scenario for space junk has turned out to be a very real threat for the coming decades. Understanding the nature of space debris, including the existence of collisional pairs, is of paramount importance if we are to mitigate such risks.
In concrete terms, I will be investigating mission scenarios to NEAs and space debris, focussing on optimal trajectory design for both high-thrust and low-thrust missions. Both NEAs and space debris objects are characterized by the fact that our knowledge of them is imperfect. To deal with the high degree of uncertainty, I will be developing methods to integrate active control with incomplete knowledge of an intended target.
The objectives of the ER position within Stardust are given by the following:
- To apply modern techniques for local and global trajectory design and optimization to the mission analysis for asteroid deflection and debris removal missions
- To design optimal high-thrust and low-thrust trajectories to near-Earth asteroids (NEA)
- To identify and develop approaches for the active removal/deflection control of uncooperative targets
- To investigate the use of imprecise probabilities for robust system and control design under uncertainty
- To integrate active control under uncertainty in the removal/deflection technology models.
- To develop nonlinear optimal control methodologies for the efficient control of dynamical systems affected by uncertainties
- To simulate optimal asteroid deflection and debris removal mechanisms under uncertainty
- To fully characterise mitigation strategies based on the use of discrete changes in linear momentum
I’m looking forward to some great research and collaboration with scientists and engineers across Europe! I’ll be posting my progress here from time to time. For more information, feel free to get in touch: Email me!