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Aksoy Wins Prestigious NASA Early Career Research Award

Mustafa Aksoy is one of nine winners of NASA's Early Career Award, which he will use to improve the agency's nanosatellite capabilities. (Illustration by Montana State University, used by permission)
CubeSats – a class of spacecraft known as nanosatellites – can be used to measure everything from moisture in soil on Earth to surface temperatures on the Moon. (Photo by NASA Ames, public domain)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 26, 2019) – Whether it is smart sensors or satellites, our ability to gather data for analysis provides opportunities to improve our understanding of the world we live in. Now, NASA is partnering with universities around the country to explore technologies – such as sensor constellations – that hold the potential to enhance our space capabilities.

Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mustafa Aksoy has been selected through the agency’s Space Technology Research Grants program as part of a prestigious group of nine researchers to lend their expertise and help identify and improve NASA’s current technological capabilities.

Aksoy’s project, “Adaptive Calibration of CubeSat Radiometer Constellations,” involves finding easier ways to calibrate large constellations of CubeSats – a class of spacecraft known as nanosatellites – that can be used to measure everything from moisture in soil on Earth to surface temperatures on the Moon. Aksoy will use machine-learning algorithms to improve CubeSat capabilities.

"New space technologies aren’t developed in a bubble – we engage the best and brightest across all sectors, including academia,” said Prasun Desai, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington when announcing the award recipients. “These outstanding early career faculty help drive innovation and we look forward to their insights on solutions for very challenging aspects of space exploration.”

UAlbany researcher Mustafa Aksoy
Assistant Professor of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Mustafa Aksoy (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

The program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), which is tasked with developing the technologies required to support future space missions. Aksoy’s work research could potentially advance NASA’s next era of exploration – the Artemis program – which is tasked with advancing technologies, developing new systems, and testing capabilities that will be critical for crewed missions to Mars.

“Dr. Aksoy’s research in the development of novel, sophisticated approaches to calibrating large constellations of sensors is critical to unlocking the enormous potential of CubeSat-based remote sensing,” said College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Kim. L. Boyer. “We are extremely proud to see that NASA has recognized the quality and potential of his work with its Early Career Faculty Award – one of just nine for 2019. Coming on the heels of his National Science Foundation grant, this award cements Dr. Aksoy’s place among the nation’s brightest young scientists and engineers – and once again underscores the College mission of ‘Science in Service to Society.’”

Aksoy was recently awarded $337,000 from the National Science Foundation to study Antarctic firn – partially compacted granular snow in an intermediate stage between snow and glacier ice – using remote sensing from space.

He envisions utilizing CubeSat technology in this project as well. Given that Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent (more than twice the size of Australia) CubeSats are ideal measurement tools, as they are capable of collecting data across a wide area for a relatively low cost.

“Sensors on polar-orbiting satellites can observe the entire Antarctic continent every few days during their years-long lifetime,” said Aksoy. “Consequently, the approaches developed in this study, when coupled with the advancing technologies of small and low-cost CubeSats aim to contribute to Antarctic science and lead to cost-effective, convenient, and accurate long-term analyses of Antarctica while reducing the human footprint on the continent.”

Aksoy received his PhD in 2015 from the Ohio State University, where he worked as a graduate research associate at the ElectroScience Laboratory. Prior to joining the University, Aksoy was a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Geophysical Union.

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