UT collaborates with Air Force on space research

Space exploration is generating more excitement now than at any other time since the moon landings from private companies competing to revolutionize zero gravity tourism, to modern lunar programs striving to make their mark on history. 

But with these opportunities also come serious challenges requiring innovative solutions. 

The University of Texas Research Initiative graduate research assistant Michael Hibberd joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss. 

Rebecca Thomas: So give us some background on UT's new collaboration with the U.S. Air Force. What makes this so important? 

Michael Hibbard: Yeah. So what's really important about this research thrust in this joint work with the U.S. Air Force is that this Cislunar regime, which is kind of just an unexplored or not so unexplored, but underutilized region of outer space, is, you know, there are lots of nations and private companies that are really starting to become interested in utilizing this space with this with the space. There are a lot of additional challenges that we didn't we don't necessarily see in our more traditional satellite operations. So with this research we're aiming to do is to really start from kind of the foundations of of of this problem and really determining how to better model the conditions in this Cislunar regime. So like, for example, the astro dynamics that is of these spacecraft. And then from that, how can we use that information to create better algorithms for these spacecraft to operate autonomously in this space? 

Rebecca Thomas: For decades now, you know, countries have really worked to harness space for geopolitical reasons, but many of these programs have fallen short of their goals. Is this becoming a real possibility with modern technology?

Michael Hibbard: Yeah, I think definitely is especially is more private companies and governments are expanding into this space. You know, we're seeing a lot of innovation here and just more missions that are being planned, more kind of ideas for how we can utilize the space, especially when we think of NASA's Artemis mission. So when we with NASA's Artemis mission, want to return humans to the moon, well, there's going to be a lot of infrastructure that goes into that as well. So not just necessarily for NASA's purposes, but when we think of other governments that now also want to build up this infrastructure and use our space resources such as those on the moon, how can we ensure safety in these operations and kind of ensure that people are kind of following the rules? So definitely this space, I mean, awareness is a growing issue, especially in this Cislunar regime.


Rebecca Thomas: Final question, looking ahead, what does the initiative at UT hope to accomplish a few years down the road, and how will it affect people or how people are capable of going into space?

Michael Hibbard: So first, just these kinds of first principles of just really understanding the environment of the spacecraft. So from there, you know, there are a lot of uncertainties that we have. So, for example, just the gravitational effects of the moon that now have to be accounted for when we're trying to predict where these spacecraft will be in the future. Now, we also have effects said due to space weather. So how can we better characterize what these uncertainties are and kind of propagate that So these they can be put into is an input for these autonomy algorithms. So really the first part then is understanding what these uncertainties are afterward. Then how can we use that uncertainty to create better algorithms or is a part of better algorithms for these types of operations? So it's kind of how we've seen on Earth with autonomous vehicles taking all the information that we have to make the best decision. Now, trying to do that in outer space applications.