Press Release

Johns Hopkins University APL Engineer First Recipient of New Heinlein Award

By SpaceRef Editor
October 2, 2014
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The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust (HPT) has recognized Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory engineer Daniel J. O’Shaughnessy as the first recipient of the Heinlein Award for his development of space-tested technology that can benefit commercial space activities.

O’Shaughnessy is being honored for developing aspacecraft-control technique that employs solar panels as solar sails. The technique makes use of solar-radiation pressure – or the force generated by sunlight hitting the solar panels – to guide a spacecraft without using its rocket propulsion system. Thistechnique was successfully demonstrated in 2008, when the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft was accurately targeted for its first flyby of the planet Mercury.

O’Shaughnessy, serving as MESSENGER’s Guidance and Control Lead Engineer, used the technique to fine-tune the spacecraft’s trajectory toward Mercury, by controlling the angle of the panels so the solar force would move the spacecraft in the required direction. This allowed the spacecraft to adjust its trajectory more precisely than, and without the risk inherent in, using a propulsive maneuver. Using radiation pressure to make small course corrections also conserved propellant,helping to extend the life of the mission.

“The Heinlein Award recognizes demonstration in space of important technical accomplishments that benefit commercial activities,” said HPT Trustee Arthur M. Dula. “The winner will receive a diploma and monetary award at a recognition dinner the Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. on Nov. 21.”

For more information or to suggest a nomination for future Heinlein Award recipients contact or visit

About the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of the Johns Hopkins University that meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology, manages the MESSENGER mission for NASA. APL also built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft, which began its historic orbit around Mercury in March 2011. For more information, visit or

About the Heinlein Prize Trust

The Heinlein Prize Trust is a non-profit foundation which promotes the commercial uses of space. It provides financial prizes to commercial space entrepreneurs, enhances public awareness of commercial space, and uses space to inspire students about opportunities of the next frontier. For more information, see

SpaceRef staff editor.