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Faculty member lands funding from NASA to investigate Martian mission descent

A human mission to Mars requires precision—not just to get there, but to make a designated pinpoint landing at near-zero speed at the end of a supersonic flight. All while minimizing fuel consumption.

DaiDaiStepping up to the challenge is Assistant Professor Ran Dai, who has received a three-year Early Career Faculty for Space Technology Research Grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to investigate precision planetary landing.

The nearly $600,000 grant will be used to develop an optimized spacecraft landing approach with powered descent. Entitled “Optimized Entry and Powered Descent Guidance for Precision Planetary Landing”, the project will build on Dai’s expertise in developing theoretical and computational techniques to advance the understanding and applications of control and optimization methodologies of space vehicles.

“The supersonic retro-propulsion system to decelerate the vehicle at supersonic speed consumes significant amount of propellant,” said Dai. “It becomes a challenging task to achieve a high-precision landing while conserving fuel during the descent phase.”

In pursuit of the research goal, Dai will create computational models, optimized algorithms and virtual simulations of the mission, as well as conduct experimental verification.

The NetJets Assistant Professor will complete the project by planning a proposed end-to-end mission strategy, applicable to multiphase space tasks. This additional investigation will provide beneficial insight to onboard planning of challenging space missions.

According to NASA, Dai’s project is one of 11 university-led proposals selected for the study of innovative, early-stage technologies that address high-priority needs of America's space program. The program enables early career faculty to focus their specific expertise on selected NASA challenges to accelerate potential disruptive solutions for the agency.