Grad student selected to smallsat mission design school

2/27/2024 Debra Levey Larson

Written by Debra Levey Larson

Nitya Jagadam
Nitya Jagadam 

Graduate student Nitya Jagadam admits to having an unconventional entry into aerospace, but she’s making up for lost time with distinction. She was selected to participate in a 5-week summer program with Cornell University’s SmallSat Mission Design School.

AE Professor and Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois Michael Lembeck said his lab has been working with Cornell on the preliminary design of a lunar radio astronomy mission called HADES. “We are looking forward to Nitya collaborating further with the principal investigator there to mature the concept for presentation to industry experts at the end of the program this summer.”

Jagadam earned a bachelor’s degree in technology in Computers and Communication Engineering from Manipal University and began working on her master’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2023.

“Attending Cornell's SmallSat Mission Design School offers an unparalleled opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies of spacecraft mission planning and design,” Jagadam said. “It will be pivotal for my success. I’ll have a chance to come back to Illinois equipped with enormous amounts of knowledge that will give me an edge in developing something that can be monumental to our plans for space. Participating in the summer program will not just enhance my technical skills, which is something I need considering my lack of structured background in aerospace engineering but will also provide me with invaluable networking opportunities and exposure to cutting-edge research in the field of space exploration.”

Nitya Jagadam working in the Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois.
Nitya Jagadam working in the Laboratory for Advanced Space Systems at Illinois.

Jagadam describes herself as having “an obsessive interest in space engineering.” Because her undergrad years spanned the pandemic, she used that extra time in physical isolation to take initiative and become virtually connected to space organizations. She joined the Space Generation Advisory Council and participated in several project groups.

“The first and most pivotal project I worked on was Moon Society's Moon Base Design Competition,” she said. “My main focus on the engineering aspects included the human landers and power systems for base operation. The final power system, after many trade-offs, included a primarily solar-based system with battery backup, calculations of the outputs and required wattage, and incorporation of fail-safe features, earthing, etc.”

Jagadam’s team went on to win first place in the competition, giving her the opportunity to present it at the 2021 Lunar Development Conference. In addition, she has a publication in the Committee on Space Research Advances of Space Sciences journal on machine learning for Earth observation and multiple papers at the International Astronautical Congress.

The Cornell program includes weekly virtual lectures and homework, followed by one week in person at Cornell.

“I am excited about the prospect of collaborating with experts and peers to tackle real-world challenges and contribute to the advancement of space science and technology,” Jagadam said. 

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This story was published February 27, 2024.