BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It may not look that way to us earthlings, but
the U.S. Air Force estimates that there are approximately 22,000
resident space objects in outer space and that number is growing.
In order to prevent potentially catastrophic collisions with
satellites and other important space objects, engineers are
developing new techniques to establish "space situational
awareness" so countries can better keep track of these objects.
Puneet Singla, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University at Buffalo,
was recently chosen to receive a prestigious Air Force Office of
Scientific Research award to develop more robust mathematical
models to assess space situational awareness. The highly
competitive Young Investigators Research Program award will fund
Singla's research into "Information Collection and Fusion for Space
"Currently, the U.S. Air Force collects information for the
purpose of space surveillance through a global network of radars
and optical sensors to maintain a map of more than 20,000 resident
space objects," says Singla. "Because of the large number of these
objects and the limited number of sensors available, it is
impossible to maintain persistent surveillance on all objects so
the observational data is limited."
Singla points to the accidental collision between Russia's
Cosmos 2251 satellite and a U.S. Iridium satellite, as evidence of
the limited usefulness of the current methods of doing space
He notes that it isn't just the number of objects and difficulty
tracking them that must be taken into account.
To determine the location and orbit of resident space objects,
Singla explains, researchers also need to consider mathematical
models, which must take into account the modeling of space weather
effects, such as solar radiation "wind," atmospheric drag from air
molecules and higher-order gravity potentials that produce
disturbances for the motion of space objects.
To improve the accuracy of space situational awareness, Singla
will combine observational data with mathematical models in order
to provide greater understanding of these physical phenomena and
how they affect the position and trajectory of resident space
"The most critical challenge here is to provide a quantitative
assessment of how closely our estimates reflect reality in the
presence of model uncertainty and other factors relating to
measurement errors and uncertainty," he says.
The goal of the research will be to design a robust methodology
for optimal sensor management while taking into account these
"The analysis tools we develop will enable accurate assessment
of risk and consequently lead to more informed decisions, which
potentially will prolong the lifetime of our space assets, such as
satellites and space vehicles," he says.
At UB's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Singla's
research group also develops mathematical tools to quantify
uncertainty and has applied these tools to applications ranging
from rigid body attitude estimation and orbit estimation in
astrodynamics to tumor motion tracking and the dispersion of toxic
materials in the atmosphere. He also works with an
interdisciplinary team in UB's Strategic Strenth in Extreme Events:
Mitigation and Response that is studying the Eyjafjallajokull
eruption in Iceland.
Singla teaches courses at UB in Flight Dynamics, Digital Control
Systems, Optimal Estimation Methods and Multi-Resolution
He earned his doctorate at Texas A & M University and his
undergraduate degree at the Indian Institute of Technology in
He is a resident of Amherst.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.