Some of the projects I am/have been involved with:

Current Projects

Viper MkII - Low-Cost, Non-Toxic, Versatile Rocket Engine

Frontier Astronautics, LLC – Chugwater, WY

The Viper MkII is a new design for low-cost, reusable, highly-throttlable rocket engines. It is designed to use high-test hydrogen peroxide (HTP) and kerosene as propellants. This means that it can be run in a low-thrust monopropellant mode with just peroxide, or self-igniting high-thrust mode when kerosene is added. In addition, the combustion chamber is designed to minimize combustion instabilities over a wide range of operating parameters, so that the engine can be throttled over a very wide range in each mode. Finally, the entire design is easily manufactured and can be quickly refurbished and re-fueled for short turnaround times. The engine is currently in its initial prototyping and testing phases.

SUNFISH - Human-Portable Highly-Maneuverable Underwater Robot

Frontier Astronautics, LLC and Stone Aerospace – Austin, TX

I am systems and software lead on SUNFISH, a hover-capable, human-portable autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). This vehicle has come out of the work I’ve done with Stone Aerospace on ENDURANCE and ARTEMIS, and is flexible and powerful enough that it has become the world’s first autonomous underwater cave explorer (video). SUNFISH is also useful for mapping underwater structures such as ships, harbor installations, dams, or offshore infrastructure; for HD underwater videography; precision scientific sensing or instrument placement; and any other underwater task requiring extreme portability and precision maneuvering or hovering.

SPINDLE - Terrestrial Cryobot for Subglacial Lake Access

Frontier Astronautics, LLC and Stone Aerospace – Austin, TX

I was project manager and AUV development lead for the NASA SPINDLE project whose goal is to design, build, and test the first full demonstration of an ice-penetrating robot (cryobot) carrying a small underwater robot to an ice-covered water body. While this phase of the project is aimed at developing a demonstration on Earth (to a lake under the Antarctic ice cap), ultimately we we to develop the technologies required to do this on extraterrestrial ice-covered oceans on worlds such as Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons).

SIMPLE/ARTEMIS - Robotic Exploration Under the Ross Ice Shelf

Frontier Astronautics, LLC and Stone Aerospace – McMurdo Sound, Antarctica

I was technical lead on the preliminary design of ARTEMIS (a modified version of the ENDURANCE vehicle) and software lead for the implementation. ARTEMIS is an ocean-going under-ice vehicle developed for the NASA SIMPLE project, which mapped and sampled the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf in and near McMurdo Sound in Antarctica in the 2015 austral summer, where I was software and operations director. In addition to providing new data on the biology, chemistry, and geophysics under the ice, this project has also allowed us to advance autonomous underwater exploration capabilities and operations that would be required for missions to ocean worlds such as Europa. Blog. Video.

Shackleton Energy - Mining Rocket Fuel on the Moon

Shackleton Energy Company, Inc.

The goal of the Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) is to kickstart a new era of space exploration by providing rocket propellants and other services in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and on the Moon. Using both astronauts and advanced robotic systems, SEC intends to prospect for and mine the water ice which has been found to exist in ultra-cold craters at the polar regions of the Moon. This water would be ferried to depots in orbit around the Earth where it would be dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen to be used as rocket fuel. Due to its much weaker gravity, bringing fuel from the Moon to LEO is much less costly than bringing it from Earth, so that the costs of all kinds of missions would be drastically reduced. Think of it as opening up a couple of gas stations in outer space. Suddenly, you don’t have to bring a tanker truck full of fuel with you whenever you go traveling, just enough to get you to the station and get a re-fill. Space travel will become much less expensive, including for you.

Past Projects

VALKYRIE - Ice-Penetrating Robot

Frontier Astronautics, LLC and Stone Aerospace – Austin, Texas

I worked on guidance, navigation, and control systems for the VALKYRIE (Very-Deep Autonomous Laser-Powered Kilowatt-Class Yo-Yoing Robotic Ice Explorer) cryobot. This ice-melting probe demonstrated technologies required for a robotic vehicle to successfully penetrate though ice using heat and gravity, including navigating around obstacles and taking science measurements along the way. This type of technology could eventually penetrate to the vast lakes and rivers under the Antarctic ice sheets, or explore extra-terrestrial targets, such as the Martian polar ice caps or two of the moons of Jupiter: Enceladus and Europa.

Laramie Rose - Low-Cost Lunar Lander Prototype

Frontier Astronautics, LLC and SpeedUp, LLC – Chugwater, Wyoming

SpeedUp hired Frontier Astronautics to help design and build the Laramie Rose lunar lander prototype for the XPrize Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. The goal of the challenge was to have a rocket-powered vehicle take off, hover for at least 90 seconds while transiting 100 m to a designated landing spot, land and be re-fueled, and repeat the task within 2 hours. I signed on to develop the guidance and control system for the Laramie Rose. Unfortunately, funding ran out before we could fully test the lander in time to win the prize. However, SpeedUp and Frontier worked out a reduced test plan as time and funds allowed and demonstrated that such a vehicle can be designed, built, and flown from scratch for less than $250k.

Mechatronic Systems Design - Translation

Springer Verlag

While I was still in grad school at Stanford, I had the opportunity to meet Prof. Dr. Klaus Janschek of the Technische Üniversität Dresden. Klaus then wrote a textbook on mechatronics (the engineering of systems with electronic and mechanical parts interacting—e.g. robots) in German, and got in contact with me after I finished my Ph.D. to translate it into English for the international market. The result, Mechatronic Systems Design, is now available from Springer.

ENDURANCE - Robotic Exploration of an Antarctic Lake

Frontier Astronautics, LLC and Stone Aerospace – Lake Bonney, Taylor Valley, Antarctica

Stone Aerospace designed and built the ENDURANCE vehicle as part of a NASA grant to develop and demonstrate technologies that would be used for finding extraterrestrial life by using analogs on Earth. The permanently ice-covered Lake Bonney, in one of the Antarctic Dry Valleys, provided a perfect location to experiment with how it would be to do robotic science in the liquid water ocean which almost certainly exists under the ice of the Jovian moon Europa. Along with a small team put together by Stone, I developed the control software for ENDURANCE, and was in charge of integrating a new sensor into the navigation suite. I also took part in the field deployment of the robot in Antarctica.

Real-Time Seafloor Navigation and Mapping

Stanford Aerospace Robotics Lab (ARL) – Stanford, California

My Ph.D. research looked at underwater robots as a more accessible, cheaper analog to robots for exploring outer space and extra-terrestrial bodies. We actually know much less about the ocean floor than we do about the surfaces of the Moon or Mars. This is mainly because it’s so hard to see for any distance in water. My research focussed on allowing a robotic vehicle to move over the sea floor at only a few meters standoff to be able to take pictures, and then stitching those image together to form a composite overview or photomosaic. The kicker was, I wanted to do this in real time so that the robot would have a constantly-updated visual map of what it had seen, and could actually use this map as a position reference for navigation.

Sondrestrom Research Facility

SRI, International – Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

After graduating, I lived and worked for almost three years at an atmospheric research station just north of the Arctic Circle in Greenland. The station had 5 site crew (including me) from Denmark, the US, and Iceland. We were responsible for the operation and maintenance of about 50 different scientific instruments, as well as the site infrastructure (diesel generators, network installation, sewer pipes, etc.). This was a great learning experience—if something didn’t work, you couldn’t just call the repair man. So, I learned the ins and outs of everything from diesel engines to dye lasers to VLF radio equipment to our 1 MW radar klystron.

In addition to the daily station operations, we also undertook an upgrade of the computer systems running the primary incoherent scatter radar, and I re-wrote the steering control for the 32-m dish antenna.

POLINAT - Simulation of Atmospheric Pollution Propagation

German Aerospace Research Establishment (DLR) – Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany

As part of a paid internship after my Junior year, I worked on implementing a simulation of the dispersion of pollutants generated by aircraft in the stratosphere, particularly over the North Atlantic. Taking the flight tracks and aircraft types reported by Air Traffic Control as inputs, and using a model of the evolution and diffusion of several types of pollutants which was developed at the DLR, I implemented a simulation of how the pollution in the upper atmosphere varies over time as waves of traffic move back and forth between North America and Europe throughout the day.