Curiosity-led exploration has fundamentally changed the progression of human society. The “urge for exploration” is a universal and distinctive trait in human beings. The desire for exploration has helped to explore the unknown of space, discover new worlds, improve life here on Earth, among other things so much so that we are potentially at the cusp of becoming a multiplanetary species as well as marching ahead to understand our origins. AAC is making small contributions to these grand endeavors of humankind.

AAC  concentrates on spacecraft and mission design concepts that may advance both robotic and human exploration of the Solar System in the next decades. AAC is led by Professor James M. Longuski and Professor Sarag Saikia in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University. AAC works closely with NASA H.Q., several NASA Centers, and industry on a variety of projects.

While we are working on a variety of advanced concepts projects and some of the ongoing projects, mentioned below, would give a glimpse of our work:

  • Mission architecture to establish permanent human presence on Mars.
  • Design of multi-planet multi-probe missions.
  • Advanced mobility concepts for the exploration of Solar System’s ocean worlds, like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan.
  • Aerocapture techniques, concepts, and technology forecasting.
  • Rapid conceptual planetary science mission design concurrent engineering methodologies (similar to JPL’s Team X).
  • Design of planetary atmospheric probes for the exploration of the giant planets.
  • Innovative and low-cost planetary exploration missions concepts using small satellites.
  • Mission concept formulation for the exploration of the Ice-Giant planets, Uranus and Neptune. Includes trajectory design; moon tours; entry probe design, and their interaction with science objectives.
  • Development of analytical planetary entry theories for conceptual design.
  • Analytic theory of spacecraft attitude dynamics and control.
  • Advanced software tool development for interplanetary mission and entry probe design.
  • Mission concepts for the exploration of small solar system bodies (minor planets, asteroids, comets, KBOs etc.).

Our alumni are pioneers and disruptors.
One was instrumental in starting the CubeSat revolution. Some are renowned professors, and many are working at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Centers, The Aerospace Corporation, and industry designing concepts, technologies, and missions to explore the Solar System. Our folks have worked on most outer planets Flagship missions, be it Galileo mission to Jupiter, Cassini-Huygens to the Saturnian system. Now, a few are working on the NASA’s Europa Clipper mission currently being designed at JPL to explore the Galilean moon Europa through a lander and a series of flybys while in orbit around Jupiter.

Recently, AAC worked with JPL on NASA’s Ice Giants Study, commissioned by NASA to take a fresh look at science priorities and concepts for missions to the Uranus and Neptune systems in preparation for the third Planetary Science Decadal Survey. This study was led by a Science Definition Team (SDT) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with participation from Langley Research Center, Ames Research Center, The Aerospace Corporation, and Purdue University. AAC specifically led the assessment of aerocapture technology for a mission to one of the ice giant planets, Uranus and Neptune. The second Planetary Science Decadal Survey recommends sending a mission to Uranus or Neptune, referring to the ice giants as “one of the great remaining unknowns in the Solar System, the only class of planet that has never been explored in detail.

Ocean Worlds, like Europa, Enceladus, and Titan, are widely believed to harbor global sub-surface oceans and the potential for habitable environments, which makes these ocean worlds of prime interest in the search for life beyond Earth. No current state-of-the-art (SOA) mobility system (e.g. Mars Curiosity Rover) can operate in the rugged terrains of the ocean worlds. Funded by NASA, we are now working on to  develop and test an innovative and game-changing mobility (rover) concept for the exploration of surfaces of the ocean worlds—Europa and Enceladus—which could potentially enable NASA in the investigation and (potential detection) of extant life and habitability at multiple sites of scientific interest.

We explore and we enable exploration.


Prof. James Longuski and Prof. Sarag Saikia awarded a contract by NASA to develop  Advanced Spacecraft Technologies to Explore the Ocean Worlds for the Detection of Extant Life. As a part of the effort, AAC will develop the next-generation rover concept that can operate in the rugged terrains of the ocean worlds and is relevant to a future mission to one of the ocean worlds—Europa and Enceladus. (June 2017)

Prof. Sarag Saikia as the Principal Investigator led the assessment of “Aerocapture” in support of the NASA’s Ice Giant Mission Studies. Aerocapture is a game-changing technology that could enable trip times to be shortened, delivered mass to be increased or both (reduced cost). The team comprised of Prof. Sarag Saikia, Prof. James Longuski, AAC students and collaborators at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (May 2017)