Published: April 12, 2022

National Science Foundation logoThe National Science Foundation has awarded five prestigious Graduate Research Fellowships to University of Colorado Boulder Smeed Aerospace graduate students.

This top award recognize and supports outstanding graduate students from across the country in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

Honorees Rachel Cueva, Jenny Horing, Ben Kraske, and John Tucker are current aerospace graduate students at CU Boulder. Recipient Caroline Austin is completing her senior year at the University of Alabama and will join CU Boulder as an aerospace PhD student in the fall. Each awardee will receive a $34,000 annual stipend and cost of education allowance for the next three years as well as professional development opportunities.

With 39 awardees in 2022, CU Boulder ranks 10th overall among universities in the United States for graduate research fellowship recipients. In addition, 28 graduate students received honorable mention recognition through this program. 

2022 CU Boulder Aerospace Honorees

Caroline Austin

Advisor: Torin Clark
Lab: Bioastronautics Lab

I am a graduating senior at the University of Alabama and I will be a first year PhD student at CU Boulder in the Fall of 2022. My research will study the use of galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) to recreate the disorientation experienced by astronauts upon return from space flight. I will be testing a prototype GVS device and developing an algorithm to appropriately couple stimulation levels with different head movements. This research will provide a new training method for astronauts. 

Rachel Cueva

Advisor: Jay McMahon
Lab: Orbital Research Cluster for Celestial Applications (ORCCA) Lab

My research focuses on the dynamical evolution of binary asteroid systems. A key component of this evolution is solar radiation pressure (SRP). SRP interacts with binary asteroid systems and can cause the mutual orbit between the two asteroids to expand or contract, which controls the long-term secular evolution of these systems. This is known as the BYORP effect, which has been shown to be highly dependent on asteroid shape changes. Binary asteroids also experience solid body tidal effects due to gravitational interactions between the two bodies. Asteroid shape changes can occur from these tidal interactions and from various surface activity processes such as impact cratering, seismic shaking, and YORP spin-up. This research will look at the relationship between the BYORP phenomenon, tidal interactions, and surface activity to further explore the exciting dynamical environment at binary asteroids and their resulting evolution. Improving our knowledge of these systems helps us better understand the near-Earth asteroid population and origins of our solar system, and this research also has applications for planetary defense.

Jenny Horing

Advisor: Iain Boyd
Lab: Nonequilibrium Gas & Plasma Dynamics Laboratory

Due to the extreme aerothermodynamic environment, hypersonic air-breathing vehicle designs are driven to be completely integrated systems, using the compression from the shock as the compressor for the engine. This integration creates close coupling between the flow-field, airframe and propulsion system (often a scramjet), which calls for an interdisciplinary approach for designing and analyzing the vehicle. My research aims to create a multidisciplinary tool to investigate the highly complex and coupled interactions of the fluid-thermal-structural response of the vehicle forebody and engine inlet. Additionally, I will develop a multi-objective shape optimization tool to enhance certain performance metrics such as inlet compression and overall drag, while maintaining realistic vehicle conditions such as temperature, deformation and stress within the body.

Horing is also a 2022 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship recipient. Program rules require her to choose only one of the two programs. She has selected the NDSEG.

Ben Kraske

Advisor: Zachary Sunberg
Lab: Autonomous Decision and Control Lab (ADCL)

My work focuses on transforming the national airspace in order to safely and efficiently incorporate unmanned aerial systems (UAS). My current work applies partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) to management of component faults and failures onboard UAS. My proposal addresses securing and coordinating aircraft. We plan to use principles from POMDP optimization to increase the robustness of autonomous systems to cyber-physical attacks. Using principles from game theory and Markov decision process optimization, we also plan to develop a framework for coordinating use of airspace by multiple autonomous agents with differing priorities.


John Tucker

Advisor: Zachary Sunberg
Lab: Autonomous Decision and Control Lab

As cyber-physical systems become more complex, it is increasingly important to understand how they might fail due to natural disturbances or the actions of an adversarial actor. My research strives to find these failure modes through a black-box reinforcement learning-based approach known as Adaptive Stress Testing (AST). We hope to apply AST to new fields such as space domain awareness in addition to expanding AST’s theoretical foundation to make it more effective at finding ways cyber-physical systems can fail. Ultimately, AST presents a promising method for finding these failures and subsequently improving the system to make it more robust.