On Thursday, November 15, CSAIL members enjoyed a virtual trip into space thanks to Dr. Andrew Howard, the first Dertouzos Lecturer of CSAIL’s 2012-2013 series. Howard chronicled Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) flights into space as the first commercial provider of shuttle services to the International Space Station for NASA.
Howard is the Senior Guidance, Navigation and Control Engineer at SpaceX and designer of the DragonEye proximity navigation system. Previously, he was a Senior Member of Technical Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he worked on vision-based navigation for a wide variety of projects, including Boston Dynamics' BigDog and the DARPA Crusher UGCV. Prior to joining JPL, Howard was a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California Robotics Research Laboratory. Howard is a graduate of the University of Melbourne, with a degree in theoretical physics and PhD in computer science.
During his talk, Howard explained that the mission of SpaceX is to “revolutionize access to space,” by decreasing the cost of traveling into space and increasing the safety of such missions. Additionally, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is committed to building technologies that will allow humans to travel to other planets and eventually colonize Mars.
With such a grand mission in mind, SpaceX is currently undertaking 12 flights for NASA, and just completed its first resupply mission to the International Space Station in October 2012. For the SpaceX missions, Howard is focused on the optical navigation system for the Dragon spacecraft. He explained to the crowd gathered at the Stata Center for his talk, that the “challenge for (implementing) a vision system is getting it to work the first time,” a necessity for a spaceflight where this is no room for error.
The company is currently focused on developing a recoverable spacecraft, as Musk believes that the key to reducing costs for space travel lies in being able to reuse the vehicle so it does not have to be thrown away and rebuilt after every mission. According to Howard, SpaceX is currently testing a launch vehicle that can hover and return to earth as a prototype for a future model that would hopefully return to earth once it has launched the spacecraft on its trajectory.
For more information on CSAIL’s Dertouzos Lecturer Series, please visit: http://www.csail.mit.edu/events/eventcalendar/calendar.php?show=series&id=198.
Abby Abazorius, CSAIL
Abby Abazorius, CSAIL