Engineering students compete in Global Trajectory Optimization Competition
Graduate students Weijun Huang, Drew Nolle and Joe Dinardo in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Missouri are competing with professionals worldwide as Mizzou’s first team to participate in the fourth annual Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales(CNES) Global Trajectory Optimization Competition.
The competition challenges aerospace engineers from companies and universities across the globe to submit a solution to a proposed trajectory optimization problem by means of optimization methods, along with their own experience and knowledge of the problem.
This year, the trajectory problem was disclosed on March 2, giving competitors four weeks to race to prepare their solutions. Participants were challenged to calculate the best sequence to optimize a satellite’s use of fuel to ultimately visit the most asteroids.
“There are millions of possibilities. You can’t test every option so you just keep trying to improve,” Dinardo said.
The team began by researching other methods and approaches to past prompts in an effort to establish a foundation for their own method.
“We used a couple of papers from journals and researched scientific techniques,” Huang said.
The team used MatLab to program their solution.
After submitting their solution to CNES, the team discovered that they had placed 21st out of 47 teams having optimized their fuel to make visits to a total of 15 asteroids.
“It was really cool to compete and try to do better than the commercial companies,” Huang said.
A one-day workshop hosted by the CNES is scheduled to take place in France in September, where selected teams will be invited to present their methods and results. The Mizzou group is still waiting to see if they will be selected to attend.
Other participants included the Aerospace Corporation, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Moscow Aviation Institute, DLR German Space Operations Centre, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Texas A & M.
“We were pretty satisfied with our results since this was the first time we competed. And we beat Texas A & M,” Nolle said.
The experience proved to be exceptionally beneficial for Huang, Dinardo and Nolle.
“I really gained a lot of confidence. We were just three regular guys who found out about this and decided to go for it. Now we know we can do more and compete with these big institutions that have a lot of funding. We just used the free software from the University and did pretty well,” Dinardo said.