PhD student wins best paper award at international space conference

Aerospace engineering student Derek Bourabah is investigating ways to effectively remove space debris.

Published May 25, 2022


Derek Bourabah, a PhD student in aerospace engineering, won the best student paper award at the Third International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Conference on Space Situational Awareness (ICSSA).

Bourabah’s paper seeks to develop a solution to address the growing problem of space debris removal. Specifically, it looks at a method for controlling the debris after it is captured to prevent possible collision and generation of additional debris as a result.

“This is particularly challenging as debris is often unresponsive and it is difficult to control an object without knowledge of its properties,” said Bourabah. “This research works to estimate the principal moments of inertia of the object so that its rotation can be found for the effective implementation of control.”

Titled “Estimation of Uncooperative Space Debris Inertial Parameters after Tether Capture,” the paper was co-authored with undergraduate student Liam Field (BS, Aerospace Engineering) and Dr. Elenora Botta, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Bourabah presented the research to members of academia, industry and government during the conference, which was held in Madrid, Spain, from April 4-6, 2022. He said the work presented at the ICSSA was just the preliminary attempt at tackling this problem.

“As this was the initial work, it required assumptions that would not necessarily be realistic,” he said. “We are currently working on relaxing these assumptions to make it more realistic to what would actually happen during a mission.”

A leading conference dedicated to space situational awareness, ICSSA covers broad-ranging technical and policy-related aspects associated with the knowledge and management of the space environment, including active spacecraft, space debris and asteroids. It was held in Madrid, Spain, from April 4-6, 2022.