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Making sure spacecraft don’t crash into each other or into space junk is at the center of Assistant Professor Tarek A. Elgohary’s research at UCF’s Astrodynamics and Space Robotics Laboratory.

Using analytical and computational methods in addition to machine learning techniques, Elgohary and his team of students calculate the probability of collision between resident space objects (RSOs) to get a sense of what’s actually out there and where these bodies move as time passes. His work has been funded by both the Federal Aviation Administration and Lockheed Martin Space.

The assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering says sustainable access to space is key to Earth’s future and is why he and his students study astrodynamics, space-flight guidance, navigation and control. The more we understand about the debris and RSOs in space, the better we can plan for future generations to have a sustainable space environment that opens doors for endless scientific, commercial and national-security benefits, he says.

Tarek Elgohary
Tarek Elgohary

From Spacecraft to Space Junk

The spacecraft that orbit in space and transmit useful messages to earth are maintained through research of this kind. For example, weather prediction and climate studies have benefited tremendously from Earth-orbiting satellites used to gather data for robust models and accurate predictions. Communication and global access to the internet via Earth-orbiting constellations, as well, would be greatly affected in an unsustainable atmosphere.

The work is demanding but imperative, he says, and because it is challenging, students get to acclimate to the discipline and grow continually.

“Dr. Elgohary motivates me to tackle challenges and come up with results, while also being considerate towards me,” says Pugazhenthi Sivasankar, a graduate student and in Elgohary’s lab. “He’s always excited to tackle a new challenge and it drives me.”

Elgohary says he remembers what it was like to be a student and tries to encourage and support all his lab team members. Several of his students have won grants and awards for their work.

Elgohary earned a bachelor’s degree from American University in Cairo and said he always knew he wanted to pursue a career in aerospace engineering research. That passion led to a master’s degree and a doctorate in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering Texas A&M University. He joined UCF in 2016.

“Space has always been our portal to innovation and ingenuity in all fields of science and engineering,” says Elgohary, “Space is our gateway to understanding our universe and our planet. Having sustainable access to space has always been key to innovation and ingenuity in all fields of study.