Published: Feb. 23, 2024 By

Natasha BosanacDr. Natasha Bosanac has earned a 2024 Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Young Investigator Program award to advance the study of spacecraft trajectories in cislunar space – the region around the Earth and the Moon.

The $450,000, three-year AFOSR Young Investigator Program grant recognizes early career researchers conducting exceptional research in areas important to the Air Force.

Bosanac, an assistant professor in the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, leads a research group that focuses on developing new strategies for spacecraft trajectory design, analysis, and prediction in multi-body gravitational systems such as cislunar space.

 “The astrodynamics community has been studying transport pathways that govern spacecraft motion within multi-body systems for decades,” Bosanac said. “However, our current approaches are challenged when we study spatial motion at a high energy, in more complex and accurate models, and with continuous thrust. These approaches also rely heavily on a human analyst for extensive analysis.”

Although NASA has been sending spacecraft to the Moon for decades, cislunar space is a chaotic and complex environment, and the recent expansion of government and commercial interest in missions is presenting new challenges.

Dr. Bosanac and her research group are addressing some of these obstacles using a data-driven technique called clustering to automatically discover groups of geometrically distinct spacecraft trajectories. These groups form a summary that reduces the burden on human operators.

The AFOSR award will enable Dr. Bosanac’s group to take a big leap forward in the development of this framework and automatically extract transport pathways that govern the motion of spacecraft within the Earth-Moon-Sun system.

“The array of possible motions between any point A and point B is cislunar space can be incredibly diverse,” she said. “One guiding motivation of our work is to contribute to the astrodynamics community’s quest for a more comprehensive understanding of motion in this area. This will help us with the spacecraft trajectory design and prediction tasks that will be critical to future cislunar operations while allowing humans to focus on more complex decision-making.”

The research could also be used to inform missions throughout the solar system.

In addition to this grant, Bosanac is part of a separate Air Force Research Laboratory multi-year program to advance orbital and artificial intelligence research. She also recently received the 2022 American Astronautical Society (AAS) Emerging Astrodynamicist Award and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Rocky Mountain Section 2023 Young Professional Engineer of the Year for making significant impacts in the field of space exploration and astrodynamics.