Undergraduate aerospace engineer wins best paper award at international conference

Group photo of Charles Barnes holding his award certificate.

Aerospace engineering student Charles Barnes earned first place for his paper on space debris removal. From left are Riccardo Bevilacqua (conference chair), Barnes, Eleonora Botta (Barnes' advisor and UB assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering) and Jean-Michel Contant (IAA Secretary-General).

by Nicole Capozziello

Published February 17, 2020

Charles Barnes, a senior in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, won the best student paper award at the Second International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Conference on Space Situational Awareness (ICSSA).

“I think the thing that stood out most to me at the conference was the wide range of expertise of the participants. It was a really useful experience.”
Charles Barnes, undergraduate student
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Barnes’ paper, entitled “An Improved Quality Index for Net-Based Capture of Space Debris,” contributes to the field of space debris removal, which poses growing problems in space exploration.

“One idea to combat the proliferation of space debris is to capture the largest pieces by using a net and then tugging them to a place where they can be safely disposed. Our research is focused on ways to make sure this method is reliable,” says Eleonora Botta, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Barnes’ advisor.  

“Towards this end, our paper is the first to propose a method to automatically measure the quality – or success - of this type of capture without the need for humans to inspect the results of simulations. This can enable large simulation studies and investigations of the design and dynamics of nets to capture space debris, ultimately improving safety for operational spacecraft and satellites,” added Botta.

Barnes presented the research to the conference attendees, who were from academia, industry and government.

“I think the thing that stood out most to me at the conference was the wide range of expertise of the participants,” says Barnes. “It was a really useful experience.”

He added that the next steps for his research include publishing a journal article as well as expanding the quality index by adding in a safety component.

“The most exciting thing about this research is its potential for future applications,” says Barnes. “We are completing some prerequisite work now and are hopeful that it will lead to implementation in a real-life scenario.”

Barnes was recognized at a reception during the conference, and received a certificate signed by the IAA Secretary General as well as complimentary registration to next year’s conference.

A leading conference dedicated to space situational awareness, ICSSA covers broad-ranging technical and policy-related aspects associated with the knowledge and management of the space environment, including active spacecraft, space debris and asteroids. It was held in Washington, D.C. from January 14-16, 2020.