Stevens Institute of Technology: Carving Out a Space with NASA
For decades, Stevens graduate Aaron Cohen M.S. ’58 Dear Sir. D.Eng. ’82 managed the Apollo lunar programs and eventually the entire Space Shuttle program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
That legacy continues today: the university’s relationship with NASA has never been stronger.
Steven’s graduates continue to rise to the top positions at the agency, while faculty researchers continue to receive regular funding from NASA and work closely with NASA scientists on projects ranging from robots, modules, and vehicles to mathematical modeling, landing site selection, and ground satellite image processing.
A sharper view of climate change:
Stevens physicist Knut Stamnes is working with NASA to improve its satellite images of landforms and oceans so we can track signs of global warming or other planetary changes — which can be difficult when weather, clouds, dust and other conditions interfere.
Stamnes, director of the university’s Light and Life Lab, introduced a new mathematical algorithm in the 1980s to predict the transmission of radiation through layered material. Today, he works with satellite image processing and uses techniques that algorithmically refine our understanding of ice and snow cover in polar regions and phytoplankton living in the world’s oceans.
Along with Stevens quantum physicist Yuping Huang, Stamnes also recently contributed to research that assesses the thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet and Arctic sea ice. Working with scientists at Langley Research Center in Virginia and Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, as well as researchers from the University of Arizona, the University of Maryland and several private companies, Stamnes and Huang helped refine models that draw on lidar (light). detection and ranging) measured data collected by NASA’s in-orbit ICESat-2 satellite.
Better vital signs monitors
Stevens Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Negar Tavassolian is using specially-aimed radars and conventional cameras to develop a new type of wireless heart rate and breathing monitor that could benefit astronauts, flight crews — and ultimately, all of us.
Tavassolian, supported in part by a NASA grant and working with Hoboken-based technology firm Autonomous Healthcare, has created algorithmic systems that more accurately focus the radar antenna’s scanning beams on the chest and abdomen. In the first tests, the system achieved high accuracy even when tracking individuals or clusters in a simulated spacecraft environment moving in different positions and at different angles to the system.
Safer landings on stars, Venus and SaturMn
While at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California—part of NASA, managed by Caltech—Stevens professor Jason Rabinovitch supported the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission in a number of different roles. From providing flight hardware and supporting parachute testing, to analysis for the preservation of collected samples, to testing the ingenuity of the Mars helicopter and even modeling the interaction between rocket engines and the Martian surface (composed of particles covering solid rock). with many aspects of the mission.
Rabinovitch continues to work at Stevens, including recent work modeling the large 20-meter-diameter supersonic parachutes used to land spacecraft on Mars.
Working with JPL, it is doing more calculations for mission concepts that could soon explore Venus – a much hotter, bumpier and more complex planet to target. It helps NASA narrow down potential landing zones by analyzing historical satellite and radar images of the planet’s surface, applying image processing and statistical techniques to those images to determine the distribution and size of rocks on the planet’s surface, as well as other physical features that could complicate a landing.
Rabinovitch is also interested in computational modeling of clouds on one of Saturn’s moons (Enceladus), as the US is also considering potential future Saturn missions.
Systems Professor Paul Grogan is working with NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office as principal investigator on a project to build a new system that will allow Earth scientists to test, evaluate and develop technologies for observing conditions on Earth.
The project, known as the New Observing Strategies Testbed (NOS-T), will integrate information from multiple sources to automate decisions about space observing operations.
One example: during a flood, certain lower-resolution satellite images could be integrated with more powerful ground-based sensors to confirm local conditions, then temporarily linked to higher-resolution commercial satellites to acquire additional images during a disaster response—all automated and real. time.
Keeping space stations Running Technology:
Stevens Graduate Ron Cobbs M.Eng. ’12 manages avionics and payloads as chief engineer on the famed International Space Station (ISS), which has orbited Earth since 1998 with a changing mix of international astronauts and scientists, modules and equipment.
Cobbs’ distinguished career at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston spans more than three decades. In 2014, he was awarded the Director’s Commendation Award — the space center’s highest honor — and Cobbs says his Stevens master’s degree and graduate certificate in systems engineering fueled his rapid rise within the organization.
“We design, develop, build and test complex systems that go into space to support human spaceflight,” explains Cobbs. “Systems engineering affects all aspects of every system.”
Mary McCabe M.Eng. ’09 is another high-profile Stevens graduate at JSC. McCabe, now acting chief of the center’s Crew and Thermal Systems Division, has worked for NASA since she was a student in Texas.
Today, McCabe continues to focus on systems that enable crew communication, safety and monitoring, and was also involved in technical updates to the shuttle following the 2003 Columbia accident, which now allow NASA to more comprehensively monitor the shuttle’s structural condition in real time during missions.
Stevens faculty member William Shepherd as NASA Space Shuttle Commander
Expertise of Astronauts Technology
Visiting Chief Research Scientist (and former Navy SEAL) Captain William Shepherd, Stevens flew four space missions for NASA, including his flight as the first crew commander of the International Space Station. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work organizing the space station program and the 4.5-month mission in orbit with his crew.
Today, Captain Shepherd is a member of the university’s Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), where he helps manage SERC’s “Capstone Marketplace.” Shepherd shares his knowledge and experience across multiple engineering disciplines with student engineers and mentors them as they tackle their senior design projects.
Lunar and planetary wonderrings Technology
Stevens student teams also have a long and successful history of competing in NASA-sponsored challenges, including a 2019 team that placed second in the nation in the agency’s Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge with a semi-autonomous rover that can retrieve water from ice deposits buried under simulated Martian or lunar soil using a special copper-tipped drill.
Codenamed DEIMOS (Drill-based Extraction of Ice-water and Martian Overburden System), the prototype was awarded for producing the cleanest water in the competition as well as the most accurate digital core samples. Mechanical engineering professor Eric Williams advised the team, which received a $10,000 grant from NASA as well as additional sponsorship from Protolabs, a leading digital manufacturing resource for rapid prototyping.
More recent student projects that have entered NASA competitions have included a lunar-roving project designed for particularly sandy environments. The team’s design includes fins to keep the unit stable when traveling or sampling on sandy surfaces — and was unveiled at the university’s Innovation Expo 2022 in May.