Two from AeroAstro named to Aviation Week's “20 Twenties” for 2018

By | January 17, 2018

MIT aeronautics and astronautics graduate students Alexa Aguilar and Arthur J. Brown have been selected as recipients of Aviation Week Network’s 2018 “Tomorrow’s Technology Leaders: The 20 Twenties” awards.

The awards recognize 20 students nominated by universities for academic performance, civic contributions, research, or design projects. The program is part of an effort to create and awareness by technology hiring managers, students, and faculty of elements that contribute to business and academic success.

Aguilar works in AeroAstro’s Space Telecommunications, Astronomy, and Radiation Laboratory (STAR Lab) on Cubesat Lasercommunication Infrared CrosslinK, a cubesat mission collaboration including NASA’s Ames Research Center, the University of Florida, and MIT. A mission objective is to demonstrate a laser crosslink between two spacecraft at 20 megabits per second.

“I’m responsible for managing the optical link budgets, performing a trade study on receivers using a time-to-digital converter versus a traditional analog-to-digital converter, and potentially designing a novel optical receiver to replace commercial off-the-shelf components,” Aguilar says. “For this mission, I helped with the engineering model assembly that identified problem areas in the initial design, which were later fixed for the flight mode.”

Professor and STAR Lab Director Kerri Cahoy says Aguilar “has been supporting our nanosatellite laser communications project sponsored by NASA, and she continues to support other MIT projects that she worked on in the past.”

Cahoy praises Aguilar for her “sharp intellect, high productivity, cheerful energy, and outreach and advocacy for space exploration and innovation, which have made an impact on our group and the department.”

Brown’s research focuses on on-demand aviation — specifically, an air taxi service using small, autonomous, vertical-takeoff-and-landing, battery-powered electric aircraft.

“The proposed service offers numerous advantages over existing transport solutions, including greatly reduced commute times, by avoiding gridlock; lower energy costs, due to the use of electricity instead of gasoline; reduced environmental impact in terms of noise, greenhouse gases, lead, and other emissions, and due to the use of electric propulsion; and lower or no pilot operating costs, due to autonomy,” Brown says.

Brown is an officer of MIT’s Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers and a member of the Graduate Student Council’s Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee.

“In my opinion, Arthur’s work exceeds all published investigation and produces tools to make industry-grade decisions for on-demand aviation,” says AeroAstro Professor Wesley Harris, Brown’s thesis advisor.

Harris also praises Brown’s involvement with organizations focusing on underrepresented students. “He’s influenced the MIT administration to structure programs and activities that enable advancement of underrepresented students, and done so with a positive, firm approach,” he says.

Aviation Week Network president Greg Hamilton says 20 Twenties recognition is built on “three pillars of what the aerospace industry values most: learning, civic service, and high-value research. This year’s winners reflect these pillars, while bringing to the fore the innovation and creativity that are hallmarks for this generation.”

Aguilar and Brown will be honored at Aviation Week’s Annual Laureates Awards on March 1 in Washington.

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