Jill Davis Wins SMART Scholarship

Jill Davis, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering, has been awarded a prestigious scholarship established by the Department of Defense – the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transportation (SMART) Scholarship. This award is offered to students pursuing any level of degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. While in school, Jill will receive full tuition and education-related fees, a generous stipend, health insurance, paid summer internships, mentoring and guaranteed employment placement with the sponsoring facility upon graduation.

Davis is sponsored by Kirtland Air Force Base and will be collaborating with them and her advisor, Hank Pernicka, on her research project, “Vision-Based Cooperative Navigation for Small Satellites in Deep Space.” This research focuses on the development of novel small satellite navigation techniques to enable deep space and cislunar (near the Moon) formation and swarm missions. As humanity again pursues the exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit, there is a need for advanced manned mission support systems. Small satellites have shown great promise in accelerating the development of space systems while decreasing the overall associated costs, and as technologies mature, SmallSat mission portfolios can expand to operate with increased functionality beyond Earth orbit. Groups of rapidly developed spacecraft with lowered launch costs operating in a swarm can reduce the need for the typical monolithic spacecraft that takes years to develop and launch.

Currently, Ms. Davis’ research seeks to develop vision-based sensor suites that enable relative position and orientation estimation between cooperative members of a spacecraft swarm. This work will explore the use of advanced cooperation mechanisms, such as LEDs or QR codes attached to the spacecraft that enhance the accuracy of the sensor suites. The project will also incorporate machine learning algorithms to facilitate spacecraft identification and tracking, as well as investigate a variety of swarm/sensor configurations and architectures that will be analyzed using a design optimization approach.

After analyzing candidate designs, prototypes will be tested in Missouri S&T’s Space Systems Engineering lab. Further tests of the system will likely include campus high-altitude balloon flights to assess system performance in a dynamic near-space environment. The solution set provided by this research will help expand the ever increasing SmallSat mission capabilities and potentially help propel humans to the Moon, Mars, and beyond!

Davis is from Republic, Missouri, and earned her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Missouri S&T in December 2016. Her interest in aerospace engineering came from her love of reading science fiction and a desire to be on the forefront of human exploration and discovery.  As an undergraduate student at Missouri S&T, she was an active member of the Rocket Design Team, as well as a participant in the Chancellor’s Leadership Academy. Throughout her graduate career, she has been engaged with the Missouri S&T Satellite Research Team, with a focus on the MR & MRS SAT proximity operations mission. She is also active in performing K-12 STEM community outreach activities. Following the receipt of her doctorate degree, she will become a civilian employee in the United States Space Force, working with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition to her studies, Jill enjoys reading, skiing, and hiking.