SmallSat Student Winners: Where are They Now?

This year will be the 25th Frank J. Redd Student Competition at SmallSat. This competition is an amazing opportunity for students to share their work on small satellite concepts and missions. At the same time, it puts these ambitious students in the spotlight with current industry professionals (and potential employers!).

In the first 24 years of the competition, many of the winners have gone on to distinguish themselves in their profession. We caught up with a few of them to see where they have landed. This is the third post in a series.

BRIAN ENGBERG, from Stanford University

1995: 3rd place (shared). 1999: Honorable Mention.

About his projects:

I worked on the Stanford OPAL (Orbiting Picosat Automated Launcher) project as part of a team. It was an important ancestor to cubesat technology and ideology. It launched in 2000. The other was for a formation flying orbit transfer study related to the Orion mission, which never flew.  However it was supported by Air Force Research Laboratory as the “Nanosat-1” mission. This program evolved into the University Nanosat Program that AFRL runs today.

Artist’s rendering of OPAL in space

What he’s doing now:

I received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and a B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1994 and a M.S. degree from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University in 1996; while in the PhD program at Stanford, I managed two student satellite projects, participated in the design and construction of two others, and managed ground station operations.  I left the PhD program at Stanford in 2001 to bring my satellite systems engineering experience to the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, NM.  I am also a continuing advisor and reviewer for the University Nanosat Program.  My personal research areas of interest include small satellite utility analysis, risk management process planning in an R&D environment, and systems engineering process development in an R&D environment.

Previously, I was systems engineer for a variety of innovative technologies, including a large-scale power collection system, and space-based multiple-access lasercom technology and then the SSAIG program lead from 2009-2015.

I am now the Branch Chief for Air Force Research Laboratory/RVSW “Space Electronics Technology Branch”, which primarily focuses on Air Force satellite payload technologies. Efforts in my branch include rad-hard electronics, communications, and space-based sensor programs.

Advice for current students:

From my perspective, the competition didn’t really change my life, and, way back then, the prizes were a small fraction of what they are today. The excitement was in having a dedicated stage for young minds and fresh ideas. If you look at the trajectory of support for the student competition over the last 20+ years, it is very clear how much the community values these commodities. It is also clear how the participants of yesteryear have influenced today’s national and international space technology, operations, and policy.  Don’t be shy about contributing to the next chapter in that legacy.

We’re looking forward to this year’s SmallSat conference student competition! We hope to see many future industry leaders there.

College students from across the globe compete for awards made possible through generous donations from organizations and individuals within the small satellite community. If you’d like to help us reach this year’s goal of $50,000 by contributing to the endowment fund, please donate here.

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