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Student-Professor Duo Conducts NASA-Funded Satellite Research

Published on August 17, 2017

Student-Professor Duo Conducts NASA-Funded Satellite Research

Eastern Connecticut State University student Michael Beckstein ’18 joined Economics Professor Brendan Cunningham this summer to work on a research project titled “The Efficient Use of Space Orbit.” The project, which investigates the usage of Earth’s orbit by satellites in circulation, was funded by a $28,000 grant from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC).

The research project aimed to evaluate the economic efficiency of satellites and the choices made by their operators. In turn, the goal was to discover how to improve satellite services.

Beckstein, who double majors in economics and music, was responsible for sorting through all of the satellites listed in NASA’s online database. He analyzed different variables such as the satellite’s purpose, which country launched the satellite and which launch vehicle took it into space.

“The most interesting thing I found in my research,” he said, “was the vast amount of detail and work that goes into every satellite launch, as well as the wide array of purposes that satellites have.”

He and Cunningham noted that there are still conclusions that have yet to be fully developed. According to Cunningham, the team did confirm that there are conditions under which satellite launchers behave inefficiently.

Two potential inefficiencies in orbit include the presence of debris and the overcrowding of satellites. Operators may not remove the satellite after it’s reached the end of its useful life, which may block other operators from replacing their satellites with active ones.

“They have incentives to keep poorly functioning satellites in orbit in order to prevent entry by competitors,” explained Cunningham. “We refer to this as ‘warehousing.'”

The two Eastern researchers were joined by three additional researchers, economists Peter Alexander and Daniel Shiman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Nodir Adilov of Indiana University-Purdue University. The research team has been invited to present their findings at the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles in May of 2018.

The NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) is a federally mandated grant, internship and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. There are Space Grant Consortia in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Eligible full-time undergraduate/graduate students of a consortium university/college may apply for the fellowship program, in which students are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

Written by Jordan Corey