The GNC lead works on cutting-edge controls and sensing software for the E-Space satellite constellation
As part of the Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) team at E-Space, Dr. Ahmad Ali Ansari is continuing to explore areas of science and technology he says have fascinated him from a young age. After achieving his undergraduate degree (summa cum laude) in aerospace at the Institute of Space Technology, Pakistan, he moved to the U.S. where he gained master's degrees in aerospace and electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. Since his interests had led him to the area of flight controls, he stayed at Michigan to pursue his Ph.D.
“I didn’t originally plan for a Ph.D, but I realized if you really want to be able to do amazing controls systems, you need to know a lot more math and software and get really in-depth with controls technology,” Ansari says. “I was fortunate to work with one of the top controls professors in the world at the University of Michigan, Dennis Bernstein.”
For his thesis, he researched and invented novel controls and estimation methods and applied them for flight controls applications. Alongside this, his work and expertise in the field have been featured in numerous journal and conference publications.
“I love challenges, and controls is a very challenging topic; I was eager to take those learnings to industry to advance existing technology,” he adds.
His first job was with a company developing a flying car with electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) capabilities.
“I had a lot of fun developing flight controls for an eVTOL aircraft, and I found that I really enjoyed working in the startup environment,” he says. “The culture of innovation in startup companies is just incredible.”
His path next led him to the drone industry for a company called Volansi (now part of Sierra Nevada Corporation).
“I was director of GNC there and I did all of the flight controls from the beginning with my team,” Ansari says. “I’m really proud of that work; we created an amazing aircraft.”
Next, he would bring his expertise to E-Space, where he has applied his knowledge of controls to different platforms — including satellites and spacecraft.
“E-Space provides a culture that empowers each team member to engage in a diverse range of thinking and tasks; we’ve achieved so much in a short time starting from scratch,” he says. “So much of what we’re doing here is highly unique and innovative, and much of the software has never been crafted before.”
Joining E-Space from outside the satellite industry has worked to his advantage.
“A lot of the technology is similar, yet we’re applying it using new approaches and novel techniques,” he says. “That’s really important when you’re focused on highly innovative solutions. To be successful here you must appreciate the ability to look at things from a completely different angle than what’s been done before.”
As the GNC team at E-Space continues to grow, Ansari says they’re seeking new team members who demonstrate and thrive in environments that encourage outside conventional ideas.
“E-Space has exciting constellation goals. We’re looking for people willing to set aside traditional thinking, are excited about expanding beyond their current knowledge set and are interested in continuous learning,” he says.
When Ansari's not working with colleagues, he enjoys spending time with his wife, who's a scientist.
“We have a lot of interesting discussions together, often as part of hiking and camping trips,” he says. “When we’re not out exploring the wild, we’re off discovering new cities and cultures, trying out new foods, seeing different buildings and learning about the history of places.”