Realizing 2001: A Space Odyssey

I grew up during the Apollo era but what really inspired me to get involved in the space business was Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. My dad took me and my brother to see it at the Cinerama theater in New York City the year it was released. It was a mind-blowing experience. When I went to MIT, my intent was to go into aerospace engineering but the collapse of the aerospace industry after the cancellation of Apollo and the ending of the Vietnam war motivated me to switch to electrical engineering, which is Course VI at MIT. There I would begin my exploration of the technologies that were found in 2001.

The first exposure was Professor Patrick Winston’s course 6.034 or “Artificial Intelligence.” Researchers at MIT were working to make HAL 9000 a reality. The course covered topics such as “Blocks World,” an AI system that could reason in the context of a world consisting of nothing but a pile of blocks. We learned Lisp, an early AI language. I did my research project on AI chess, an appropriate topic as I had written an end-game chess program in high school and HAL defeats Frank Poole in chess onboard the Discovery.

You can find images from the movie on IMDB.

After getting my SB (bachelors degree at MIT) I went to graduate school in Aernoautics and Astronautics, Course XVI, at MIT. My first spacecraft experience was working with Professor John McCarthy to design a small space station that could be lifted in one Space Shuttle launch. Professor McCarthy was a manager on the Apollo program before the Apollo I fire. He had a phenomenal amount of practical experience,

While I was at MIT fellow graduate student Dave Akin was working on space suits and astronaut in space work. MIT pioneered that idea that astronauts could do construction in space, something seen in the Discovery scenes in the movie.

After getting my Engineer of Aeronautics and Astronautics, I spent a year working on thrusters at MIT before going to the Draper Laboratory where I worked on the Space Shuttle. I learned the Shuttle programming language, HAL/S. It was named after Hal Laning. At least that is the official story. The Space Shuttle was NASA’s first approximation of the Orion Space Clipper. I also worked on several early NASA space station designs including Space Station Freedom. I looked into a space design design with rotating crew quarters though not a big wheel like Space Station V.

I then moved to New Jersey to work at GE Astro Space. I was there for 6 years where I worked on GPS IIR, Inmarsat 3 and several other spacecraft. That is where I gained experience of a wide variety of autonomous spacecraft.

I started Princeton Satellite Systems in 1992. We’ve worked on many different projects and are currently pursuing just about every element in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Our biggest project at the moment is Direct Fusion Drive, a nuclear fusion propulsion system. These are equivalent to the engines on the Discovery. We are teaming with Sam Cohen at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory on this technology and have a ARPA-E grant to demonstrate ion heating, a necessary first step on the path to a fusion engine. Discovery I’s engines were Cavradyne engines – gaseous core nuclear thermal engines. Many years later NASA recreated Discovery I using hypothetical fusion engines.

Under IR&D we are developing Space Rapid Transit (SRT), a two stage to orbit launch vehicle that takes off and lands horizontally. As it happens, the Orion spacecraft was two stage to orbit with a boost from an electromagnetic launcher. SRT has an air-breathing first stage and an LH2/LO2 propelled second stage. Orion used nuclear thermal engines for both stages – something that would not be popular today. The picture below was generated by a 2001 fan based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novel. SRT is right below it.

We also did a conceptual design of a reusable lunar lander with a nuclear thermal engine for shuttling to and from lunar orbit. It would use hydrogen from lunar water. It has a Lockheed Martin Orion spacecraft on top. The entire vehicle is one piece. This is much like the Aries 1B in 2001.

We are also advancing AI technology with or work on deep learning. We have a new book coming out on the subject. We’ve also written and flown autonomous control systems for three different missions. The software can’t play chess, but does function without humans in the loop, something that HAL would have liked!

Updates for the 2019 Aircraft Control Toolbox

We’ve added some new tools to the Aircraft Control Toolbox for our upcoming 2019 release. The first is a new GUI for creating aircraft models. You import a Wavefront OBJ files and then you point and click to define leading edges, wing areas, engine locations and so forth. This makes it easier to import the geometric data. The GUI is shown below. It illuminates the view that you need to use for a given geometric element in red. The inertia matrix is generated from the mass and the surface geometry.

The new Model Creation GUI

A new simulation function was added to use the data from this GUI. It has a flat Earth aircraft model with a plugins architecture. You can add your own lift, drag and thrust models or use the simple built-in models. It is much simpler than AC.m which is designed to be a comprehensive high-fidelity simulation. We’ve added a new animation GUI to show you the results of your simulations.

We expect 2019.1 to be available in June. You can get a demo with previews of the new functions now.

Direct Fusion Drive in the News

Here are some links to recent articles on Direct Fusion Drive. From the Federal Laboratory Consortium:

https://www.federallabs.org/successes/success-stories/princeton-plasma-physics-laboratory-licenses-fusion-technology-that-could

From Next Big Future

From the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory website

https://www.pppl.gov/news/press-releases/2019/03/pppl-physicist-receives-funding-research-improvements-unique-fusion

From Aerospace Testing International

Job Opening for a Plasma Physicist

We are looking for a plasma physicist to join our staff in support our new ARPA-E contract on the Princeton Field Reversed Configuration (PFRC) experiment.

Candidates should be interested in both theoretical and experimental work in plasma physics related to nuclear fusion power generation. Familiarity with low- and high-temperature plasma diagnostics is desirable. Background on any magnetic fusion device is also desirable. The position includes:

  • Help run experiments on the PFRC-2 (located at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory) and analyze data.
  • Analytical and numerical work, including MHD simulations and PiC simulations.
  • Numerical modeling of plasmas.
  • Work in other areas at PSS including control, estimation, machine learning and orbit dynamics.
  • Programming in MATLAB, Python and C/C++.
  • Write proposals and come up with new topics for proposals including SBIR and STTR proposals.

Requirements include:

  • Ph.D in plasma physics (may be a recent or 2019 grad)
  • Must be a US citizen.

If you are interested, send your resumé to info@psatellite.com

Machine Learning Recipes: 2nd Edition

Apress has released a second edition of our textbook, MATLAB Machine Learning Recipes! New chapters include Fuzzy Logic and Expert Systems. We have also expanded our discussions of Neural Networks and Multiple Hypothesis Testing. The book provides a broad overview of machine learning including topics from adaptive control and estimation. Examples include learning control of aircraft and automobile target tracking.

Our book is available from Amazon or directly from Apress!

https://www.apress.com/us/book/9781484239155

The software is available on GitHub: https://github.com/Apress/matlab-machine-learning-recipes, or you can download it from our support site:

http://support.psatellite.com/files/MachineLearning.mltbx

The software is packaged as a MATLAB toolbox, so it is easy to install and uninstall!

Super Technologies at ICSS

Laxmi Prakash of Super Technologies, our distributor in India, attended the International Conference on Small Satellites in Hyperbad India on February 8, 2019

https://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Telangana/2019-02-08/International-Conference-on-Small-Satellites-and-Systems/490540

Here he is at his booth. Super Technologies represents several high technology aerospace companies.

ARPA-E Award for Compact Nuclear Fusion Power

Princeton Fusion Systems, a fully owned subsidiary of Princeton Satellite Systems, has been awarded $1.25 Million from ARPA-E for Low-Radioactivity Compact Fusion Devices

Today ARPA-E announced announced that PFS has received a competitive $1.25 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), as part of the Energy cohort of OPEN 2018.

Princeton Fusion Systems seeks to develop technologies to enable future commercial fusion power. Our team’s concept is a small, clean, and portable design based on a field-reversed-configuration plasma. The concept uses an innovative method called odd-parity rotating magnetic field (RMF) to drive electrical current and heat the plasma to fusion temperatures. Under this award, the team will pursue improved electron and ion temperatures through RMF, as well as identify the modeling needed to elucidate the key heating and loss mechanisms for the fusion reactor concept. The team’s ultimate power plant design seeks a very small footprint for a compact, potentially transportable, distributed energy resource that is fully dispatchable and emissions-free.
PFS received this competitive award from ARPA-E’s OPEN 2018 program, in which teams develop innovative technologies to transform the nation’s energy system. OPEN solicitations are an open call to scientists and engineers for technologies across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission.

This work complements three NASA grants for the development of this technology for nuclear fusion rockets for human and robotic space exploration. This includes the NASA Phase II NIAC Grant, “Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander,” and a NASA Phase II STTR, “Superconducting Coils for Small Nuclear Fusion Rocket Engines“, and a Phase I STTR, “High Efficiency RF Heating for Small Nuclear Fusion Rocket Engines.”. These contracts build on over 20 years of collaborative work between Princeton Fusion Systems and the Princeton University Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. This unique nuclear fusion concept was invented by Dr. Samuel Cohen of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Princeton Satellite Systems was founded by Mr. Michael Paluszek in 1992 to develop advanced space and terrestrial technology. It has developed a wide range of space and terrestrial technology including advanced spacecraft control and navigation systems, formation flying systems and terrestrial energy systems including solar, wind and nuclear fusion.

Interstellar Documentary and New Novel for Fusion Fans

So fusion fans, there are two new ways to see DFD explored as fusion propulsion in the popular media:

  1. The Living Universe documentary series now on Curiosity Stream
  2. The Enceladus Mission” novel now in English from Amazon

The Living Universe is both a feature film for IMAX theaters and now a four-part documentary series. We blogged about our interviews in January and the series is now available on Curiosity Stream, a service dedicated to documentaries! Episode 2,”The Explorers” features a segment on DFD narrated by PSS engineer Stephanie Thomas, in addition to discussing plasma and antimatter propulsion. Here is an article about the series from Broadway World. You need to sign up for an account on Curiosity Stream to watch, which is free for 7 days and then $3 per month.

“The Encedalus Mission” by internationally best-selling hard science fiction author Brandon Q. Morris was originally written in German, and features the DFD as the propulsion technology on a mission to study newly detected life in the Saturn system; an array of six DFDs power the spaceship.  Early reviews are favorable! The book is available in paperback or for Kindle.

Send us a comment and tell us what you think if you watch the show or read the book!

Princeton University Science and Technology Job Fair 2018

Princeton Satellite Systems had a table at the Princeton University Science and Technology Job Fair on Friday, October 12. Many companies attended including the IBM Thomas J. Watson Laboratory, Facebook and Siemens.

We had on display hardware and software that involved the work of interns at PSS. The exhibits were of great interest to the many students who came by our table.

From left to right is an iPhone App for talking with a reconnaissance satellite, a lunar landing simulation on the LCD monitor, parts of an optical navigation system, a Class E RF amplifier, a reaction wheel and a frame for a small satellite. Many students who came by were very knowledgeable about our work.

Here I am talking with one of the students.

It was great event! We look forward to talking with the students when we interview for summer and full time jobs in January.