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About SFPL

Note (Summer 2020): Lab director David Spencer has accepted an exciting new position at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. SFPL is no longer accepting new students.

The Space Flight Projects Laboratory (SFPL) was founded in 2017 at Purdue University with the goal of creating a world-class research and educational organization dedicated to the design, development, and operation of advanced space systems.  Through involving students in the full lifecycle of space flight projects, SFPL addresses an immediate need within the aerospace community for the development of the next generation of space system engineers.

SFPL integrates a diverse spectrum of space-related efforts at Purdue, enabling multi-disciplinary collaboration toward targeted research themes.  Through these collaborations, and through relationships with partners and stakeholders in industry, government and academia, SFPL is positioned to conceive, enable and implement innovative missions to advance Earth and planetary science.

Core capabilities of SFPL span mission design and analysis, space system engineering, technology innovation, spaceflight hardware development and mission operations. SFPL research focuses on five strategic themes:

  • Astrodynamics Theory and Applications: orbital relative motion, formation control, interplanetary trajectory design, planetary entry
  • Aeroassist Technologies: aerobraking, aerocapture, entry, descent and landing
  • Solar Sail and Drag Sail Technology: deployable thin-membrane sails for in-space propulsion and orbit debris removal
  • Automated Mission Operations: architectures and algorithm development to advance in-flight capabilities for robotic and human exploration
  • Space Flight Project Implementation: design, integration, testing, and operation of flight systems for space science and technology demonstration

Through its emphasis on space flight projects and technology advancement, SFPL provides undergraduates and graduate students with hands-on experience and real-world application of principles learned in the classroom and laboratory environments.  From the initial mission concept development through detailed subsystem design, system-level testing and mission operations and data analysis, students are exposed to the full lifecycle of space flight projects.  This experience positions the students to develop into system engineering leaders in the aerospace community.

The Space Flight Projects Laboratory is located in Armstrong Hall at Purdue University. Image Credit: Purdue University.