Orbital Mechanics

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This area involves study and research in orbital mechanics, space geodesy, and remote sensing in the context of spacecraft and celestial bodies. Research in this area is motivated and sponsored by customers including NASA, Department of Defense, other governmental agencies, and the rapidly growing commercial space industry.

Research in spaceflight mechanics includes trajectory and mission design, nonlinear optimization, numerical methods, perturbations, dynamical systems theory, high fidelity simulation, and high-performance computing. Research in nonlinear estimation provides observable properties of dynamical systems in order to enable autonomous operations of spacecraft and ground-based tracking for satellite applications and situational awareness. Research in space domain awareness and space traffic management seeks to develop and deliver the decision-making science for the space community. Example topics include space object detection, tracking, identification, and characterization via multi-source information collection, curation, and fusion.

Research in space geodesy and remote sensing encompasses space geodetic and active and passive satellite remote sensing techniques, such as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), laser and microwave tracking of satellites, Light Detection and Ranging (lidar and the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). Topics of research span algorithmics, Earth system science applications, measurement systems architecture (including space missions), geoinformatics and software, etc. Application areas include measurement and interpretation of global and regional Earth System variations such as the gravity field, loading, topography and surface change, Earth rotation, and terrestrial reference frames; applied to diverse problems in the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, and hydrosphere, as well as their mutual interactions.

Additional research in this group covers GNSS signals, assurance, and applications for navigation and precise positioning.

Research is supported through engagement in multiple space missions, and by a large database of satellite remote sensing measurements, state-of-the-art high performance computing resources, GPS receivers, and image processing equipment.

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