November 15, 2018
A&A is pleased to announce the appointment of Justin Little to assistant professor. Little’s research focuses on the intersection of electric propulsion and plasma physics.
Although electric propulsion systems have been flying in space since the early 1960s and have proven to be extremely reliable, Little notes that “We are entering a phase where new ideas are needed to push the bounds of what is possible.”
These new ideas include working on technology applications that have transformative potential. For example, he is working on a magnetic nozzle to accelerate new forms of molecular propellant that can provide significant mission benefits. He is also pursuing the miniaturization of electric propulsion systems for small satellites, plasma-assisted aerocapture technologies, and methods to monitor electric thruster health in orbit.
Little is also pleased to be further developing the electric propulsion laboratory class he established three years ago as a research scientist. "I originally developed this class to introduce students to the concepts and laboratory techniques important to electric propulsion. The creativity and excitement that students bring to this course make it incredibly fun to teach."
Indeed, students are already seeing the benefits of that course. Graduate student Nadiah Jenkins credits it with preparing her for her electric propulsion internship at Aerojet Rocketdyne this past summer. Says Jenkins, “Professor Little’s course was my first introduction to electric propulsion. We got to see the scale and integration of the equipment, which was new to me. He really demystified the field and helped me identify and reach out to the people building these new thrusters.”
Building on the momentum of the reception of this course, Little is establishing the UW Space Propulsion and Advanced Concepts Engineering (SPACE) Lab to pursue new ideas in the science and technology of electric space propulsion.
And Little is excited to be at UW. “It brings me great joy to join the faculty at the University of Washington. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so joining the UW had been a goal of mine for many years. Electric propulsion requires a strong understanding of plasma physics, a topic that has been a core strength within the A&A department for many years. Furthermore, A&A is home to elite faculty and researchers that are at the top of their fields from multiple disciplines. Interacting with these colleagues will undoubtedly inspire exciting new avenues of research. Finally, I look forward to building collaborations within Seattle's world-renowned aerospace industry to push the envelope of space technology."
Little received a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from Princeton University in 2014. Prior to his appointment to assistant professor, he joined Redmond-based MSNW LLC as a propulsion research scientist and A&A as a research scientist and part-time lecturer.