Published: April 27, 2023 By

NSF LogoThe National Science Foundation has bestowed eight prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards to University of Colorado Boulder aerospace graduate students.

These top awards recognize and support outstanding grad students from across the country in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

PhD students Sophie Anderson, J Flores Govea, Ethan Leong, Scott McKinley, Kalvin Monroe, Amrita Singh, Mark Stephenson, and David Dezell Turner have each received the honor for 2023. Awardees receive a $37,000. annual stipend and cost of education allowance for the next three years as well as professional development opportunities.

2023 NSF GRFP Honorees

Sophie Anderson

Advisor: Jade Morton
Lab: Satellite Navigation & Sensing Laboratory

Sophie Anderson is a second year PhD student in the CU Boulder Satellite Navigation and Sensing Lab. Her research focuses on the use of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals for remote sensing of the cryosphere. GNSS signals are present everywhere on Earth, with 24/7 all-weather availability, and their reflections off of Earth's surface can be harnessed for scientific studies in a method called GNSS-Reflectometry (GNSS-R). GNSS-R has been successfully used for a variety of applications, and Sophie's research aims to expand its utility to retrieve the surface elevation of land ice regions. This advance would significantly increase the temporal resolution of surface elevation and ice mass balance measurements, helping to quantify ice loss and predict sea level rise.

J Flores Govea

Advisor: Hisham Ali
Lab:  Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory

When a vehicle is at hypersonic speeds, a layer of heated, partially ionized plasma exists in front of the vehicle due to a strong bow shock. In the presence of an applied magnetic field, this conducting plasma flow experiences a body force called the Lorentz force. This Lorentz force reacts an equal and opposite force on the vehicle, causing a “plasma drag.” Additionally, the applied magnetic field repels the bow shock further from the vehicle surface, reducing the thermal heat flux experienced. My research focuses on experimentally investigating this magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) interaction by developing an electromagnetic device that can provide active flight control and thermal protection in the hypersonic regime. Using the inductively coupled plasma wind tunnel in the Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory, I will test the device through various planetary atmospheres. Using experimental data from these tests, I will implement it into existing computational models and analyze the system impact of an electromagnetic device on hypersonic vehicle design. As a result of this work, I aim to provide the hypersonics community with a prototype electromagnetic device, aerothermal and plasma experimental data, and vehicle system analysis.

Ethan Leong

Advisor: Hisham Ali
Lab:  Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory

Ethan's research will investigate the usage of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) to mitigate flow separation caused by shock wave/turbulent boundary layer interactions (SWBLI), which will reduce heating rates and energy losses on hypersonic vehicles. MHD involves the coupling of a magnetic field and electric current on an electrically conductive fluid such as plasma to induce the Lorentz force on the fluid. Because post-shock flow in hypersonic flight can create plasma, the Lorentz force created by MHD can be used to control the plasma and augment post-shock flow properties without moving parts. Multiple MHD models will be optimally designed and tested across varying conditions in an in-house inductively coupled plasma wind tunnel to provide physical characterization of MHD plasma control. This will inform and build upon previous experimental and computational work for a more detailed understanding of MHD plasma control in reducing SWBLI-induced flow separation.

Scott McKinley

Advisor: Hanspeter Schaub
Lab: Autonomous Vehicle Systems (AVS) laboratory

My proposed research will advance physics-informed neural networks for gravity field modeling around small bodies in the solar system. The improved networks will be able to use diverse sources of data to generate a robust gravity solution, which will then be used to autonomously evaluate potential spacecraft trajectories. This work will enable more complex and scientifically rewarding missions to small-body systems.

Kal Monroe

Advisor: Iain Boyd
Lab: Nonequilibrium Gas and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory (NGPDL)

In a hypersonic flow, such as a space-shuttle reentry, the extreme aerothermodynamic environment imparts significant heat loads to the surface of your vehicle. These loads are particularly high near stagnation regions and can result in material failure if unmanaged. My research aims to investigate a novel thermal protection system for these regions using thermionic materials, which, when heated, emit high-energy electrons that carry heat away from the surface. To accomplish this, I will construct a computational framework to simulate thermionic emission in hypersonic environments. This framework will then support an analysis of a conceptual hypersonic vehicle utilizing thermionic materials. Mission characteristics, such as maximum range, speed, and payload capacity will be calculated to characterize any benefits in vehicle performance this technology may offer.

Amrita Singh

Advisor: James Nabity
Lab: Bioastronautics Lab

Understanding and mitigating the risks posed by the presence of lunar dust is critical to ensure safety during lunar missions. Spacesuits are particularly vulnerable during don and doff, as lunar dust may migrate to the suit’s interior and cause abrasive damage to the bladder layer. This damage may render the suit unable to hold pressure, posing a major risk to not only crew health and performance, but also mission success. I propose research on the integration of passive dust mitigation technologies with the spacesuit bladder layer to prevent dust adhesion and subsequent abrasive damage, resulting in a higher level of spacesuit robustness and reliability over repeated use.

Mark Stephenson

Advisor: Hanspeter Schaub
Lab: Autonomous Vehicle Systems (AVS) laboratory

Mark's research studies decentralized satellite autonomy policies for optimization of constellation-wide search-and-image tasks, in which agents collaboratively search for and identify new targets and image them, maximizing the science output of the constellation. Advances in spacecraft technology have enabled observational satellite constellations containing a greater number of imaging agents, allowing for more complex planetary and climate science missions such as those to observe emergent geothermal activity on Enceladus or transient climate-influenced activity on Earth. However, current methods for constellation operation identify targets and generate multiagent satellite scheduling solutions offline, which has various drawbacks. This research will increase the responsiveness of terrestrial constellations for environmental monitoring and enable deep-space constellations about bodies with dynamic planetary science environments where communication with offline systems is costly, if not impossible.

David Dezell Turner

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

Turner completed his bachelor’s degree at MIT and is now a first-year PhD student at CU Boulder studying astrodynamics. His current research interests include designing stochastic guidance algorithms for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), a type of space propulsion known for its balance between high thrust and high fuel-efficiency. His research also involves designing an interactive mixed reality platform for interplanetary trajectory design.