SSPI and its regional chapters take seriously their mission to bring in and foster opportunities for the next generation of satellite professionals. One way this is done through partnerships and programs that provide guidance and opportunities for those considering a career in the satellite and aerospace industries. This is also done through scholarships and other financial incentives for them to advance in these fields of study. The SSPI Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter (SSPI-MA) specifically pursues these goals through its annual Engineering Student Prize Competition each Spring.

On April 29th, th such competition, which showcased the hard work, creativity, and vision of the next generation of satellite and aerospace professionals. Students nominated by the University of Maryland and George Washington University presented five engineering projects (done for academic credit) to a panel of satellite industry professionals. It once again proved to be a fascinating showcase for those seeking not just to join the satellite industry but to actively advance it.

While such specialized expertise could potentially yield very dense academic presentations, each speaker took care to explain the importance of their research in understandable terms for the judges and the entire audience, some of whom were not as well-versed in aerospace engineering as others. In his presentation Utilizing GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) to Accelerate Satellite Conjunction Assessment, University of Maryland’s Eric Frizzell explained how his research can reduce response time and improve the accuracy of conjunction assessments (intersection of two orbits at one time within one kilometer) for orbiting objects. This could represent a potentially tremendous improvement in orbital collision avoidance efforts. GWU’s Shankar Kulumani presented his research in Low-Thrust Trajectory Design near Asteroid 4769 Castalia, explaining how deep-space asteroid missions (for scientific research, mining, or Earth-collision mitigation) can more accurately navigate within the complex orbital environments that these asteroids present. And Maryland’s Jacob McCullum described how the human elbow served as “bioinspiration” for space mission technology with his presentation Design and Control of a Lightweight Biomimetic Robotic Arm with CubeSat Applications.

The event was hosted at Iridium’s Operations Center in Leesburg, Virginia, the 40,000 square foot facility that routes traffic and manages the operation of the LEO operator’s 66-satellite network. Guests were treated to a tour and description of the facility’s capabilities as it prepares to manage the switchover to the new Iridium NEXT network, which is expected to be fully deployed by mid-2018.

A panel of judges from the satellite industry took in the presentations, asked questions, and gave valuable feedback to the students. After conferring and sharing their impressions and scores, these judges had extremely high praise for each of the students, and awarded $1,000 each in scholarship prize money to winners in specific categories: 

  • Most Innovative – Shankar Kulumani (GWU) – Low-Thrust Trajectory Design near Asteroid 4769 Castalia 
  • Best Application of Scientific Method – Thomas Leps (UMD) – Simulating MR Gripper in LIGGGHTS SSDEM
  • Best Presentation – Samantha A. Hurley (GWU) – Linear Actuated Micro-Cathode Arc Thruster System for CubeSats

The blending of forward-thinking demonstrations, up-close observation of Iridium’s state of the art network, financial support for new entrants in the aerospace industries, and career-advancing employment opportunities made this year’s Engineering Student Prize Competition truly remarkable. SSPI-MA is looking forward to next year’s showcase, and is especially looking forward to what the future holds for these visionary competitors, as well as those who come after them.