An amalgamation of engineering and artistry

Space@VT Experience


After leaving ACSL (Advanced Control Systems Lab) in December 2021 due to incompatibility with the professor, I started looking for a new lab to conduct my MS research work. I contacted a few professors in the Mechanical and AOE (Aerospace & Ocean Engineering) department whose research work I liked but they either didn't have the vacancy or the funding for assistantship. Although I was getting desperate to find a suitable lab, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I was able to find the place where I wanted to be. In February 2022, I approached the co-director of Space@VT stating my desire to work in space technology. I had attended almost all the Space@VT seminars in the previous semester (probably the only graduate student to do so), so I had a fair idea about the kind of research work going on there.

Leaving ASCL put me in a position where I wanted to find the right balance between my dreams of working in space technology and the availability of such a position, which would be a challenge given my status of being an international student. The senior leadership at Space@VT were really supportive and after a video call with Dr. Leon Harding, I was given a list of ongoing project works. I sent them a list of my choices in the order of preference and then I was told to approach Marco and Minzhen working in the SpaceDrones Lab in Randolph Hall 26. It was one of the few declassified labs under AOSD (Aerospace and Ocean Systems Division) of the National Security Institute and a part of Space@VT.

When I first entered the lab on February 21, Marco and Minzhen were watching a Falcon 9 launch on one of the monitors from earlier that morning and immediately, I felt at home. This was the place for me and these were the kind of people I wanted to be with. Working here has been a wonderful experience so far. There has been little oversight from the professor, given he was on sabbatical but this freedom also allowed me to chart my own course and decide on a research topic. The big vision of our lab is to develop technology for autonomous orbital servicing and assembly operations. I have decided to do my master's thesis on performing system ID and designing robust and optimal control system for the current free-floating hexacopter drone platform we are using to test our computer vision and neural network architecture.

Research Roadmap

Work Log

Week 18: 27th June - 3rd July

  • Get the current SpaceDrones complete code from Minzhen
  • Start flight testing
  • System ID
    • New drone building
  • Test control algorithms
    • Convexification
    • Optimal control
    • Adaptive control
    • MPC, RMPC, MRAC, H-infinity
  • System constraints
    • Fuel
    • Varying payload mass
    • Collision avoidance
    • Minimum drift - fighting minute atmospheric resistance
    • In conjunction with computer vision and neural network - object identification
  • Tie your research to the bigger goal of advancing the future of orbital servicing and assembly
  • Master's thesis template from Minzhen

Week 17: 20th June - 26th June

  • Resumed reading Danylo Malyuta's PhD thesis - chapter on Convexity and Optimal Control Theory

Week 16: 13th June - 19th June

  • Hiatus

Week 15: 6th June - 12th June

  • Hiatus

Week 14: 30th May - 5th June

  • Working on drone arm CAD model
  • Didn't submit the 3D orientation detection abstract to SciTech

Week 13: 23rd May - 29th May

  • Started learning Simulink
  • Read the paper on making your own drone
  • CAD modeling propeller arm for the new drone - Minzhen

Week 12: 16th May - 22nd May

  • Block CAD model KA26U (specsheet in work folder) - Minzhen
  • Drone characterizing parametric tool - Patrick
  • SciTech abstract submission - 1st June
  • Finish reading the research papers ASAP
  • Personal drone development

Week 12: 9th May - 15th May

  • Installed Z-Suite for 3D printing
  • Tested PX4 on mini-drone with QGroundControl
  • Played with USB camera using amcap (new).exe
  • Attended AOSD end-of-semester lunch at the Hume Center picnic spot

Week 11: 2nd May - 8th May

  • Exam Week

Week 10: 25th April - 1st May

  • No lab work this week
  • Finally submitted my Plan of Study
  • Visited Walter O'Brian ME Graduate Student Symposium - found few good and relevant projects
  • Bryant and Patrick doing testing for FASER lab in the lab space

Week 9: 18th April - 24th April

  • Flight tests

Week 8: 11th April - 17th April

  • Helped Dr. Schroeder with the drone code debugging
  • Demo Day on 15th at the VT Drone Park - Got reply from Dr. Black, introduced myself to Mr. Boswell
  • Familiarizing myself with SpaceDrone architecture and performing flight test
  • Started out on making my own drone

Week 7: 4th April - 10th April

  • Started reading Danylo's PhD thesis (UofW)
  • Thoughts started converging to 'Convex Optimization and Optimal Control'
  • Plan of Study - talked to Ms. Hill, mailed Dr. Black and Dr. Sandu
  • MDPI Journal paper editing and review

Week 6: 28th March - 3rd April

  • Meeting with ACL Lab from the University of Washington
  • Skye shared Miki Szmuk's PhD thesis for the drone controller architecture
  • Finding out about Prof. Ackimese
  • MDPI Journal Paper first submission shared

Week 5: 21st March - 27th March

  • Marco's PhD Defense (22nd March)
  • Marco wrote email to Dr. Black about the new SpaceDrones team members
  • Started collating research papers, resources, MS Thesis references

Week 4: 14th March - 20th March

  • Marco shared the Overleaf project on MDPI Journal paper
  • 2022 IEEE Conference Papers drive folder shared
  • Bryant shared the Adaptive Control notes and the book
  • Started thinking about the thesis topic moving forward
  • Mailed Dr. Black for Thesis Committee

Week 3: 7th March - 13th March

  • MCPTAM - Multi-Camera Parallel Tracking and Mapping git repositry shared.
  • Minzhen gave Nvidia Xavier to run MCPTAM on and experiment
  • Started reading the associated research paper
  • Spring Break (Marco and Minzhen went to Montana for conference)

Week 2: 28th Feb - 6th March

  • Minzhen suggested working on the truss pickup problem - optimizing the trajectory and path planning
  • vive.launch file auto-update from lighthouse calibration (see code)
  • Understood the lighthouse (HTC Vive) and OptiTrack motion capture configuration and calibration
  • Met Bryant and Patrick

Week 1: 21st Feb - 27th Feb

  • Met Marco and Minzhen
  • Installed UE5 and Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Ran the UE5 project and debugged the compatibility conflict with UE4
  • Marco shared the ICPR_CNN_Sat_Tracking folder on Google Drive