2003 Tycho Brahe Award

Presented to: Dr. John L. Junkins

Citation: For significant contributions through research and teaching, to the fields of navigation, guidance and control, and for the invention of novel navigation sensors.


Dr. John L. Junkins is a distinguished professor and holder of the George J. Eppright Endowed Chair and director of Center for Mechanics and Control Department of Aerospace Engineering at the Texas A&M University. Dr. Junkins has over 350 publications, including five texts, 130 archival papers, and several recent patents. His ideas have been implemented in over a dozen major aerospace and industrial systems, from the Apollo program to the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003. He has directed over 60 graduate students, leading to 33 completed Ph.D. students, 23 M.S. students, and 12 post-doctoral researchers. Recently, his work involves closure of theory, computation, and hardware implementation for a new class of intelligent autonomous navigation sensor systems. He has served as principal investigator for over 60 externally funded research projects, from NSF, NASA, DoD, AFOSR, ONR, ARO, and Sandia National Laboratories.

Specific contributions of Dr. Junkins in the area of navigation include the development of the first finite element gravity model for the earth's gravity field for use in the inertial guidance systems for the Polaris missile and his pioneering research on automating topographic mapping from satellite remote sensing. He also developed the first algorithm suitable for on-board, real-time star pattern identification for spacecraft pointing navigation. This algorithm and its variants have been adopted for numerous space missions, including the STS 107 Columbia StarNav I mission last year, and the StarNav II EO-3 GIFTS mission planned for 2008.

He holds a patent (2001, co-authored with T. Pollock and D. Mortari) on the split field of view star tracker that is the basis for the StarNav II star tracker. The hardware developed by Junkins and co-workers has the potential to reduce the cost of star trackers by 50 percent. He also holds a patent (2001, co-authored with D. Hughes and H. Schaub) on the novel sensor underlying VisNav for six degrees of freedom relative navigation of two spacecraft to enable autonomous rendezvous and docking. This technology has been licensed for aerial refueling of UAVs.

Dr. Junkins received his P.h.D. at UCLA (1969). He is active on several boards at the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council and provides editorial services for several professional journals.