Sanfelice receives $2.5M to develop aerospace digital twin 

View of Earth from outer space with lower half of sphere fading into pitch black background.

Ricardo Sanfelice, director of the CITRIS Aviation initiative and head of the UC Santa Cruz Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a multi-institutional research team have received $2.5 million from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to model complex aerospace engineering problems. Their three-year project will investigate incorporating complex robotics into spacecraft to clean up space debris and repair, refuel and decommission other spacecraft.

One of the team’s prime objectives is to design a digital twin, a computer model that will use machine learning to replicate the spacecraft and its environment down to small details. Sanfelice’s lab will also focus on developing control algorithms to operate the digital twin, which will require extraordinary design complexity to accurately reflect the real-world system. This redefining model will allow the team to conduct experiments and test extreme scenarios to help optimize the technology before it is built.  

“Rather than performing those experiments which take a lot of time in the real world, with a digital twin you can do conceptual analysis and initial validation in the computer environment. This same logic extends to other complex and costly systems — it’s all about scale and reduction of production time, cost and risk while maintaining system performance and safety,” says Sanfelice.

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