September 22, 2020
A&A Ph.D. student Charlie Kelly won a prestigious NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship for research on "Revolutionizing Orbit Insertion with Magnetoshell Aerocapture." Magnetoshell Aerocapture is an aeroassist maneuver enabling satellites to achieve stable orbits around space bodies with significant atmospheres with the use of a "plasma parachute." This fellowship is awarded to students who are working on the development of technologies that will bolster NASA's science mission goals. This fellowship is specifically for technology development, which will enable Kelly to turn the Magnetoshell Aerocapture concept into a technology NASA engineers can use in mission designs.
A&A Professor Justin Little, whom, with Professor Uri Shumlak, Kelly credits with helping him land this award, comments, "What makes Charlie unique is his strong understanding of both plasma physics and the narrow constraints of space technology. The NASA STRF fellowship will allow Charlie to apply his plasma physics knowledge to address feasibility concerns of plasma-assisted aerocapture technologies, while working closely with EDL (Entry, Descent, and Landing) experts at NASA Langley to find the best way forward for this mission-enabling technology."
Kelly, who just submitted his thesis to earn his MSAA in June, is excited for this transition into his Ph.D. work. While the generous tuition and stipend award, $300,000 in total, will be a tremendous help in his academic career, he is most grateful about the opportunity to spend ten weeks per year over the next four years working at a different NASA location as a "Visiting Technologist." Kelly says, "I have always dreamed of working for NASA and this is a very humbling first step towards achieving that goal."
For a great explanation of this Magnetoshell aerocapture technology, check out this video that Kelly created.