Research News

Technologies for Present and Future Space Exploration Challenges

November 29, 2020

By Dr. Sean Swei


The UAE and Italian scientific communities have both experienced unprecedented success in space exploration and earth observation in recent years, systematically promoting space technology through incremental research and development and radical innovation.


The second in a series of webinars aiming to strengthen the opportunities for bilateral cooperation between Italy and the United Arab Emirates saw speakers discuss novel ideas and collaboration topics in technology development to support international space missions in different domains. Khalifa University recently launched the KU Space Technology and Innovation Lab (KUSTIL), in June 2020, of which I am the Director.


I joined this webinar to discuss the areas of research KUSTIL is focusing on.


Dr. Sean Swei


One such area is space robotics, investigated by Prof. Lakmal Seneviratne and Prof. Jorge Dias from the KU Center for Autonomous Robotics Systems (KUCARS). The recent growth in low cost unmanned systems provides opportunities for new and cost-effective unmanned rovers for space exploration and space observations. This allows the continuous monitoring of assets deployed in space and to other planets via autonomous vehicles operating cooperatively to provide flexible and persistent surveillance solutions. Researchers in this area are looking at dealing with communications delays for remotely controlled rovers. Robots in space are a long way from teams on Earth, resulting in a delay in communications between them and so solutions that balance autonomy with long-distance command and control are required to conduct scouting missions on distant planets.


Another area is Next Generation Antenna (NGA) systems, investigated by Dr. Mohammed Abou-Khousa, Dr. Prashanth Marpu, and Dr. Khaled Al-Wahedi at KU. With the advent of small and nano satellites, deep space vehicles, and high speed networks, there is an increasing demand for low-volume and lightweight antennas that can function optimally under harsh space conditions, wherever the mission may take them. In this project, new antenna systems founded on novel design concepts will be developed to address these needs. Specifically, 3D metal printing and machine learning algorithms will be used to realize new optimized antennas.


We are also considering sustainable astronomy in the era of large satellite constellations. Low-orbit broadband satellite constellations are growing dramatically, and due to their relative proximity to Earth, they appear extremely bright, posing a serious threat to observational astronomy. Dr. Elena Fantino is leading a team of researchers to develop an automated system to accurately predict satellite transits across the field of view from Earth and then developed scheduling solutions that mitigate the negative impact on observations. Astronomers foresee a swarm of 40,000 low-Earth orbit satellites in the near future, and unless successful mitigation actions are adopted, the scientific capabilities of current and future observatories will be severely compromised.


Finally, Dr. Yahya Zweiri and Dr. Jorge Dias join me in proposing work on robotic in-space assembly of large space structures. In order to support long-term human presence in the solar system, large flexible space infrastructure needs to provide basic operational and functional needs in space, such as communication antennas, observatories, and solar power stations. Materials made of a large number of physical components but with a small number of distinctive part types can offer highly repetitive patterns in size, dimension, and shape that make them viable solutions for autonomous robotic in-space assembly. Our project will demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of building an ultra-large space infrastructure through collaborative robotic in-space assembly techniques. This research will have significant impact on future human expansion on the Moon, Mars and beyond.


At Khalifa University, we’re proud to showcase our faculty expertise, especially in space exploration and Earth observation.


Innov-Italy UAE aims at improving the opportunities for bilateral cooperation between the UAE and Italy in six high-innovation sectors, including cybersecurity, space, smart cities and sustainable mobility, life sciences, food technologies, and renewable energy.


Dr. Sean Swei is a Professor of Practice in Aerospace Engineering and Director of the KU Space Technology and Innovation Lab at Khalifa University.