Gold wins first place at the 2020 WE Local Des Moines Collegiate Competition

Rachael Gold standing outside.

Rachael Gold earned a first place award for her work on eliminating space debris.

By Nicole Capozziello

Published August 27, 2020

Aerospace engineering student Rachael Gold won first place in the undergraduate category at the WE Local Des Moines Collegiate Competition for her research on eliminating debris in space. 

“I've been impressed by Rachael's motivation to take up a research project, as well as by her love for space engineering and eagerness to learn. ”
Eleonora Botta, assistant professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers, the competition is a feature of WE Local conferences, which provides students with an opportunity to present their research to a broad technical audience and receive live feedback and encouragement from others in the STEM field. The virtual event was held April 14.

Gold presented her research on “Lumped Parameter Modeling of Space Tethered Net with Nodes Inside of Threads.” Tethered nets are one method of retrieving and disposing of space debris in the Earth's orbit, which represents a growing issue.

“My research addresses the problem by developing a more general lumped parameter model, allowing for placement of point masses at the knots as well as evenly spaced points along the threads,” says Gold.

In Gold’s research with her advisor, Eleonora Botta, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, she first compared existing simulation data and experimental data to validate a simulator for deployment of nets in space.

Gold co-authored a paper on this topic, which she presented at the American Astronautical Society (AAS)/American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Astrodynamics Specialist Conference in 2019. She then worked on modifying the model of the net, which is key to simulating net-based capture of debris in space with thin elements, which led to her presentation and award at WE Local Des Moines.

“Rachael has shown remarkable initiative. She contacted me to inquire about undergraduate research opportunities and ever since, I've been impressed by her motivation to take up a research project, as well as by her love for space engineering and eagerness to learn,” says Botta.

During her time at UB, Gold was an active member of the Nanosatellite Laboratory, where she most recently served as the Operations Manager of the GLADOS Mission. Off campus, she was a Summer Undergraduate Research at Florida (SURF) Intern in 2019, a summer scholar at the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2018, and a test engineer co-op at Moog Inc. in 2017.

Gold graduated with a BS in aerospace engineering and a BA in mathematics from the University at Buffalo in spring of 2020, and is starting a PhD in orbital mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin this fall.

In addition to the annual conference, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) holds smaller conferences each spring, known as the WE Local conferences. Of these, the Des Moines event was held virtually, and the Buffalo conference was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now scheduled for March 26-27, 2021, the WE Local Buffalo is seeking submissions for sessions 

NSF Director France Cordova and students in UB's Nanosat lab.

Rachael Gold explains the Nanosat lab's current projects to National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova (far left). To Gold's right is Ryan Flora.