Press Release

Viability of using commercial rockets to transport cargo quickly focus of space force research

By SpaceRef Editor
March 30, 2022
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When a natural or humanitarian disaster occurs halfway around the world, the U.S. Space Force (USSF) aims to send a rocket filled with food, water and other essential supplies to the site in one hour. With the help of UCF researchers, they may be able to achieve this goal within the next decade. 

UCF is one of seven universities to receive funding through the USSF’s University Consortium Research Opportunity, which connects higher education institutions with the U.S. Department of Defense’s space-related research opportunities. Engineering researchers Michael Kinzel, Tarek Elgohary and Luis Rabelo were awarded the $350,000 grant, which makes them the first UCF researchers to receive funding from the USSF. 

“Although it puts pressure on us to succeed, it also gives us a chance to thrive and set a precedent for UCF with the USSF,” says Kinzel, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “I think it will open many new doors and partnerships, which is especially important due to our proximity to the Patrick Space Force Base and the entire Space Coast.”

This project falls under the U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Cargo program. USSF is part of the Air Force. The goal is to determine the viability of using commercial rockets to transport cargo quickly and efficiently across the globe. Ideally, the rockets would be deployed for disaster relief, shipping 100 tons of food, first-aid supplies and blood donations to any location in just one hour. 

To work out the logistics, UCF researchers will use their expertise to tackle different parts of the process. Kinzel, an expert in computational fluid dynamics, will use numerical analysis and aerodynamics modeling to ensure the cargo gets there safely and on time. Elgohary, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering, will use control theory and complex modeling techniques to make certain the rocket can land at its destination with precision. Rabelo, a professor of industrial engineering and management systems, will identify any potential bottlenecks in the process so the rockets can be packed and shipped within the shortest timeframe. 

Student involvement in research is one of the main goals of the USSF University Consortium, so the trio will rely on both graduate and undergraduate students to help them complete the mission. Graduate students will take the lead on modeling, and they’ll coach undergraduate capstone students as they work on related projects. 

“The graduate students will help guide two cohorts of Senior Design students who will aim to make the concepts function,” says Kinzel. “It’s really nice because we will engage around 100 students overall, creating a workforce relevant to USSF missions.”

Kinzel says the graduate students will also have opportunities to intern with the Air Force Research Laboratory as well as with the local branch of the Science Applications International Corporation, which support the educational and workforce development aspects of the project. 

The USSF University Consortium Research Opportunity is the third of three pilot programs designed to facilitate research opportunities between the Air Force Research and universities that can lead to the technological advancement of the USSF. 

About the Researchers

Kinzel received his doctorate in aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University and joined UCF in 2018. In addition to being a member of UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering, a part of UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, he also works with UCF’s Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research.

Elgohary received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the American University in Cairo and his master’s degree and doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University. Before joining UCF in 2016, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Texas A&M and a visiting scholar in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Irvine.

Rabelo received his doctorate in engineering management from the University of Missouri. He joined UCF in 2001 and has brought in more than $3 million in research funding since then. He also serves as the co-director of the Simulation Inoperability Lab. 

SpaceRef staff editor.