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UCF Researcher Is Developing Algorithms to Further Space, Sea Exploration

The work will help protect spacecraft from colliding with objects like asteroids and satellites.
By: Marisa Ramiccio | May 15, 2024
There’s increasing interest in observing, tracking and predicting the orbit of objects in cislunar space. Image credit: Adobe Stock

Cislunar space, which stretches from the Earth to just beyond the moon’s orbit, is about to become heavily trafficked over the next 10 years. With NASA’s planned Artemis missions and other countries joining in the cislunar space race, there’s an interest in observing, tracking and predicting the orbit of objects like asteroids and satellites so they don’t collide with spacecraft.

But the process of detecting and observing space objects, known as space domain awareness (SDA), faces challenges with the extensive volume of cislunar space.

“Cislunar space is vast,” says Tarek Elgohary, an associate professor of aerospace engineering. “The current SDA infrastructure, which is mostly Earth-based, is not equipped to provide the needed coverage in cislunar space. There is a need for fast and accurate solutions to quantify uncertainties to improve predictions and provide SDA information in the absence of continuous coverage.”

Elgohary and his team will develop those solutions with the support of a $350,000 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Dynamic Data and Information Processing Program. They will create a computational framework to rapidly and accurately track space objects in real time, onboard spacecraft or satellites like the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Oracle, which is designed to increase SDA capabilities in cislunar space. The algorithms will allow Oracle and other spacecraft to operate autonomously without intervention from Earth.

Tarek Elgohary


Those same algorithms could also have an impact on maritime domain awareness (MDA). Just as spacecraft might need to identify space junk or track the orbit of a satellite, watercraft need to identify other vessels, predict target trajectories and detect suspicious behavior in real-time.

“Space and maritime domains share a lot of similarities in terms of the lack of continuous coverage of spacecraft or vessels, the large size of the search domain, and the need for the capability to predict maneuvers,” Elgohary says. “Maritime domain awareness may require shorter time scales; however, with the expansion of space missions, space domain awareness operations have been reduced from weeks and days to hours and minutes.”

Elgohary will use his expertise in space to develop a similar computational framework for the sea. The algorithms developed for uncertainty quantifications will advance MDA and allow sea vessels to detect objects in real time and predict their future location.

This work is funded through a $150,000 grant from Lockheed Martin.

About the Researcher

Tarek Elgohary joined UCF in 2016 as an assistant professor. He manages the Astrodynamics, Space and Robotics Laboratory (ASRL) in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the American University in Cairo and a master’s degree and doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University.

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