Launch of a new era or flights of fancy? Branson, Bezos ventures may open space travel to all
The space travel pursuits by British entrepreneur Richard Branson and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are evoking awe and wonder among enthusiasts and even casual observers, conjuring visions of a day when such flights may become fairly ordinary. After reaching the edge of space with a five-person crew aboard a spacecraft from his company Virgin Galactic on July 11, Branson said he wanted to “make space more accessible to all.’’ Other advantages include the possibility they could spur new developments that may enhance airline travel and considerably shorten flight times. "Within five years, I would say the people who can afford to fly first class around the world would be able to afford a (space) flight," said Morteza Gharib, Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering; Booth-Kresa Leadership Chair, Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies; Director, Graduate Aerospace Laboratories; Director, Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies. [USA Today article] [pdf article]
New Algorithm Helps Autonomous Vehicles Find Themselves, Summer or Winter
Without GPS, autonomous systems get lost easily. Now a new algorithm developed at Caltech allows autonomous systems to recognize where they are simply by looking at the terrain around them—and for the first time, the technology works regardless of seasonal changes to that terrain. The general process, known as visual terrain-relative navigation (VTRN), was first developed in the 1960s. By comparing nearby terrain to high-resolution satellite images, autonomous systems can locate themselves. The problem is that, in order for it to work, the current generation of VTRN requires that the terrain it is looking at closely matches the images in its database. To overcome this challenge, Anthony Fragoso, Lecturer in Aerospace; Staff Scientist, Connor Lee, Graduate student in Aerospace, Austin McCoy, Undergraduate, and Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems and research scientist at JPL, turned to deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to remove seasonal content that hinders current VTRN systems. [Caltech story]
Simon Toedtli Receives 2021 Richard B. Chapman Memorial Award
Simon Toedtli, a graduate student working with Professor Beverley McKeon, is the recipient of the 2021 Richard B. Chapman Memorial Award. His doctoral research combined direct numerical simulations and modal analyses to investigate the physics of closed-loop wall transpiration in a turbulent channel flow and to build low-order flow models for controller design. Both aspects contribute towards the development of drag-reducing control schemes for engineering applications, and will help make future transportation vessels more sustainable. Simon is continuing his studies in fluid mechanics as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, where he will work on data assimilation for turbulent flows. The Richard B. Chapman Memorial Award is given to an EAS graduate student in hydrodynamics who has distinguished himself or herself in research.
Luis Pabon Madrid Receives 2021 Henry Ford II Scholar Award
Mechanical Engineering student Luis Pabon Madrid, advised by Sergio Pellegrino, Joyce and Kent Kresa Professor of Aerospace and Civil Engineering; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Senior Research Scientist; Co-Director, Space-Based Solar Power Project, is one of four recipients of the 2021 Henry Ford II Scholar Award. Luis is interested in the intersection of robotics and aerospace with a focus on space exploration. Luis does research on aerial manipulation for a Mars science rotorcraft with Joel W. Burdick, Richard L. and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Research Scientist. He has previously worked as a Research and Development intern at Honeywell Aerospace and contributed to Caltech and JPL’s efforts for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. He founded the Caltech AIAA Student Branch, which was selected as finalist for the NASA BIG Idea Challenge and awarded a grant to develop lunar dust mitigation technologies under the advisement of Soon-Jo Chung, Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems; Jet Propulsion Laboratory Research Scientist. This summer, he will be working as a SURF fellow under Professor Chung, to continue his work on the challenge and explore the control of multirotor swarms. After graduation, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. The Henry Ford II Scholar Award is funded under an endowment provided by the Ford Motor Company Fund. The award is made annually to engineering students with the best academic record at the end of the third year of undergraduate study.
Henry Ford II Scholar Award
Luis Pabon Madrid
EAS New Horizons Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award
The Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences seeks nominations to recognize and honor individuals within the EAS community who have actively contributed to EAS’s goal to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive engineering community. The award is available to members of the EAS community, including current students, postdoctoral scholars, staff, and faculty. Nominations are due Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and are accepted from anyone in the EAS community, EAS alumni and members of the Caltech community. Click here for full description of how to make a nomination.
Hungry Fruit Flies are Extreme Ultramarathon Fliers
Michael Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering and Aeronautics; Executive Officer for Biology and Biological Engineering, has discovered that fruit flies can fly up to 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) in a single journey—6 million times their body length, or the equivalent of over 10,000 kilometers for the average human. "The dispersal capability of these little fruit flies has been vastly underestimated. They can travel as far or farther than most migratory birds in a single flight. These flies are the standard laboratory model organism, but they are almost never studied outside of the laboratory and so we had little idea what their flight capabilities were," Dickinson says. [Caltech story]