November 21, 2014

Colloquium Speaker: Mason Peck

Dr. Peck is an Associate Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University and the Director of Cornell's Space Systems Design Studio. His research interests include space-systems architecture and satellite dynamics and control. From late 2011 through 2013 he served as NASA's Chief Technologist in Washington, DC. In that role, he acted as the agency's chief strategist for technology investment and prioritization and chief advocate for innovation in aeronautics and space technology. Dr. Peck received an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, a Master's degree in English at the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at UCLA. From 1994 to 2001 he was a systems engineer and attitude-control specialist at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (the former Hughes Space and Communications) in El Segundo, California. From 2001 to 2004 he was a Principal Fellow at Honeywell in Phoenix, Arizona, where he directed research related to agile satellites and control-moment gyroscopes. Since 2004 he has been on the Faculty at Cornell University, where he is jointly appointed to the Systems Engineering program and the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His lab currently leads three small-sat spaceflight technology demonstrations, the most recent of which is Kicksat, a crowd-funded technology demonstrator for satellites-on-a-chip.  More information on this research is available at and

Colloquium Topic: Making Space: Opportunities to Transform Space Science and Exploration Thanks to the Commoditization of Spacecraft

A number of exciting trends in technology have us all thinking about the future of space and our place in it. Entrepreneurial space companies are building rockets, earth-observation satellites, satellite-servicing platforms, and asteroid-mining robots. There are private plans to send people into orbit, to the Moon, and to Mars in the coming decade, most of which will happen with the support of venture capital, not the more familiar government funding. At the same time, NASA has returned to its innovation roots, sponsoring the development of new technologies to push the boundaries of science and exploration. And it's now commonplace for universities, even some high-school students, to build small satellites for research and education.  Add to the mix that individuals--members of the so-called Maker community--are passionately taking ownership of technology development, and we find that using 3D printers and other cutting-edge additive-manufacturing technologies can accelerate the pace of putting hardware into orbit. In this new world, universities use spacecraft systems-engineering paradigms borrowed from consumer electronics to reject the decades-old principles that drive cost and schedule for spacecraft engineering. We can personalize exploration to produce research results with broad intellectual and societal impact that will change the face of our planet and beyond if we embrace the opportunities that small, agile space projects bring. This talk describes some fundamentals of space-system architecture that will make this change happen: design principles for very small spacecraft, the use of in-space resources to build exploration infrastructure across the solar system, and how crowdsourcing can help us explore in ways we have never done before.