Aerospace Engineering Students Win Grant Funding Supporting MR & MRS SAT Mission

Donna Jennings, Jill Davis and Pavel Galchenko, Ph.D. students in aerospace engineering, were the winners of the competitive Educational Alliance Program's University Grant Program (second place went to the University of Minnesota and third place to the University of Alabama).  This program is sponsored by Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI) and the applicants must demonstrate their problem solving and creative skills using AGI software.  Their project "Verification and Validation of Student-Designed Guidance, Navigation, and Control Algorithms" will receive $1,000 in funding.

The funding will go towards research related to the MR & MRS SAT (Missouri-Rolla Satellite & Missouri-Rolla Second Satellite) mission, in which Missouri S&T placed first as one of ten universities in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) University Nanosat Project’s Nanosat 8 competition.  The team was selected for a launch opportunity and with the launch quickly approaching the team is working on ensuring that the satellite’s guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) algorithms perform as expected.  Though the team already had a “truth model” that had been used to test the functionality of the GNC algorithms, the model did not replicate the exact conditions expected on-orbit and made several assumptions.  This is where the Analytical Graphics, Inc. software System Tool Kit (STK) comes into place: to validate the GNC algorithms with a higher-fidelity analysis. The team’s advisor, Dr. Hank Pernicka, challenged the students to devise a plan to better validate the algorithms, and the students took it from there by merging the Matlab GNC algorithms with the STK software. As a result of this, a number of improvements to the algorithms were made that will improve the chances of success once the spacecraft pair reaches orbit.

The team will now demonstrate these algorithms (and related spacecraft hardware/software) to Air Force Research Laboratory personnel later this semester in an on-campus review. If the team passes this review, the flight versions of MR & MRS SAT will be integrated, shipped to Kirtland Air Force Base, and prepared for deployment from the International Space Station by astronauts using a robotic arm called “Cyclops.” The team will then monitor and command the spacecraft from its ground station in the campus Space Systems Engineering lab as the MR SAT spacecraft attempts to conduct formation flight about MRS SAT. (More mission details are available at