SDL Student Employee Takes First Place Prize at Space Conference

LOGAN, UTAH, February 8, 2017 – The Space Dynamics Laboratory announced today that Utah State University student employee Simon Shuster was recognized as providing the best student paper and presentation by the American Astronautical Society at their Guidance and Control Conference in Breckenridge, Colo.


Shuster’s paper, Uncertainty Analysis for Initial Relative Orbit Determination using Time Difference of Arrival Measurements explored the uncertainty of using conventional methods to determine initial relative orbits for satellites. Initial relative orbit determination is critical in understanding the location of satellites in order to avoid collisions. Shuster used a new method for initial relative orbit determination – using radio frequency signals emitted from spacecraft receivers.

“I’m honored to have been selected as the winner among the many great papers that were submitted this year,” said Shuster. “I wanted to show how, using an equation, satellite mission planners would calculate a more precise spacecraft orbit.”


Shuster said that the equations derived in his paper can also be used to rapidly analyze the effect different satellite formation have on solution uncertainty and to gain insights about which formations or measurement time intervals are unfavorable in determining orbits.


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“SDL employs more than 100 students from Utah State University each year who become integral members of our team,” said Niel Holt, director of the Space Dynamics Laboratory. “Our student employees work alongside a cadre of dedicated professionals and have the unique opportunity to work on real-world programs of national interest while obtaining their academic goals.”


Shuster was one of four USU students who attended the conference. Joining Shuster at the conference were SDL student employee Aaron Avery and USU engineering students Nick Ortolana and Rachit Bhatia. Together, the students presented three technical papers at the conference on the topics of optimal rendezvous trajectory planning, relative motion dynamics with respect to an uncontrolled spinning spacecraft, and space-based navigation using time-difference-of-arrival measurements. SDL employee and USU associate professor David Gellar serves as the faculty adviser to Schuster, Avery, Ortalana and Bhatia.


The American Astronautical Society provides forums for exchange of information related to research, development, production, and performance of techniques, devices, and systems concerning the guidance, control, navigation, and dynamics of space vehicles, missiles, and other aerospace products of interest.


A unit of the USU Research Foundation, SDL is one of 14 University Affiliated Research Centers in the nation. Charged with applying basic research to the technology challenges presented in the military and science arenas, SDL has developed revolutionary solutions that are changing the way the world collects and uses data. SDL’s core competencies are electro-optical sensor systems, calibration, thermal management, reconnaissance systems, and small satellite technologies.  For more information, visit

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