UB awarded $1 million for ‘space economy’ grant by U.S. Space Force, AFRL

A satellite orbits the moon.

Illustration by Daniel Rutter, NASA.

Engineers will use the award to better track objects in deep outer space

Release Date: November 30, 2023

John Crassidis head shot.

John Crassidis

Moises Sudit head shot.

Moises Sudit

“Space is more crowded than ever, and we expect the number of satellites, telescopes and other objects orbiting Earth to continue to grow. ”
John Crassidis, Moog Professor of Innovation and SUNY Distinguished Professor
University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo engineering professors John Crassidis and Moises Sudit have been awarded $1 million from the U.S. Space Force and Air Force Research Laboratory to help advance the space economy.

The award is part of larger $5 million grant led by the University of Colorado Boulder.

Researchers will use the funding to address the challenges related to tracking satellites, debris and other objects orbiting Earth tens of thousands of miles away. This is an area of space known as high Earth orbit, or “beyond geostationary,” that is used for communication, navigation, scientific research and military operations.

“Space is more crowded than ever, and we expect the number of satellites, telescopes and other objects orbiting Earth to continue to grow,” says Crassidis, PhD, Moog Professor of Innovation and SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

As the U.S. becomes increasingly reliant on these tools, he says, it’s incredibly important that it develop sophisticated technology to monitor and manage their activities, an area of research called space domain awareness.

NASA, the Space Force and private businesses envision significant potential for economic development in deep space, including on and around the moon, which orbits Earth at an average distance of 238,900 miles.

A major reason for this is the discovery of frozen water at the moon’s lunar south pole. It represents a potential game changer for space exploration, making it much easier to sustain human life on the moon and beyond.

That creates new opportunities and challenges. With more nations and businesses targeting the moon for economic development, the potential for conflict between them is growing. As part of the grant’s research focus, the team aims to develop new decision-making tools to avoid conflict and strategic surprise.

“While the U.S. has made many successful moon landings, we’re working on developing tools and technology to advance sustainable human economic activity there for years to come,” says Sudit, PhD, professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and associate dean for research and graduate education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

As such, the project, called STARLIT, will fund an array of activities, including lunar-focused astrodynamics, sensing research and conflict simulation. It also aims to expand the space workforce by creating new graduate education pathways.

The grant is being administered by the Universities Space Research Association. It also includes Purdue, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, University of Texas Austin, as well as an industry advisory board of 11 aerospace firms.

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