Mars spacecraft research lands University of Exeter student top international fellowship

Mid Devon Star: ANUSHA Mujumdar, who has been awarded the Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship ANUSHA Mujumdar, who has been awarded the Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship

A STUDENT at the University of Exeter has been honoured with a prestigious international award, designed to promote female excellence in the pioneering sphere of aerospace research.

Anusha Mujumdar has been selected to receive a Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellowship – one of only 35 students worldwide to be bestowed with the coveted award.

The third year PhD student in Applied Mathematics, from Bangalore, received the award to assist in her pioneering research, which will be used to help develop space craft control for the proposed Mars Sample Return mission, scheduled to take place in the 2020s.

Anusha described the award as “one of the most thrilling and momentous moments” of her academic career. She said: “This Fellowship brings with it so many opportunities and significant prestige, and I am absolutely delighted to have been selected.

“To follow in the footsteps of so many illustrious female aerospace pioneers is such an honour, and I hope that my research can provide some small contribution to what is an exciting, and landmark, space project.”

The Mars Sample Return (MSR), a European Space Agency mission, aims to collect soil samples from Mars and return them to Earth for scientific research.

Part of the mission will rely on ‘rendezvous and capture’ technology, which will allow a canister to be retrieved by a chaser spacecraft in deep space once the samples have been collected.

Anusha’s research relates to the sophisticated ‘integrated Guidance, Navigation and Control’ (iGNC) algorithms that allow this retrieval to take place, by predicting potential difficulties the mission may incur.

This work is carried out in collaboration with GMV and Thales Alenia Space France, and is contracted by the European Space Agency.

She is also currently working with European Launch Vehicle, Rome for analyzing the performance of their Vega launchers.

Anusha said: “Working with scientists at the forefront of the space program, not just in Europe but worldwide, has given me valuable insight into the issues faced in translating mathematical concepts to real-world implementations.

“My long-term goal is to contribute towards making space travel and exploration much safer, and more accessible to a larger section of humanity.

"I wish to work in the interface between academia and the industry, and to balance state-of-the-art research with insights into real-world spacecraft systems.”

She added: “I'm extremely fortunate to have worked on these real life spacecraft models - it is difficult to come across research groups with such a high level of interaction and collaboration with the space industry.

"The opportunities I have had here at Exeter are certainly equal to, if not greater than, those in any internationally top-ranking program. Not least, my research supervisor and colleagues are extremely supportive and fun to work with.”

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