Time is of the essence. With every launch and every failed satellite, low Earth orbit is approaching the Kessler effect, the theory by Donald Kessler that satellite collisions could create a cascade of debris hampering the safety of future launches as depicted in the fictional 2013 Oscar-winning film “Gravity.”
“Think of the speed of these objects. We’re not talking about highway speed or even aircraft speed. They’re traveling at 17,000 mph,” Ma said.
Ma said space is a field dominated by government agencies for the purposes of exploration and discovery. But the field is at the cusp of commercialization, which promises a wealth of aerospace engineering jobs for graduates who want to pursue them.
“Eventually, the commercialization of space will be a big industry,” he said.
His research is helping to push the frontiers of knowledge that will pave the way for future space projects.
“We’re not developing an entire mission. We’re developing the underlying technology,” Ma said. “Once the technology is proven, NASA or a commercial company would take it to the next step.”
At a university where Neil Armstrong worked as an aerospace engineering professor, first steps can be big ones.