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Engineering
Phone:
(023) 8059 2453
Email:
a.wittig@soton.ac.uk

Dr Alexander Wittig 

Associate Professor in Astronautics

Dr Alexander Wittig's photo

I am interested in interdisciplinary research, supported by my broad background as a physicist and mathematician. I apply dynamical systems theory through innovative numerical methods, such as high-order Differential Algebra methods, numerical optimization, and high performance computing, to a variety of problems in physics, astronomy, and astronautics.

I am fascinated by evolving systems of all sizes, from protons in particle accelerators, satellites in space, to entire planetary systems, and light around black holes. All of these can be studied using modern numerics, dynamical systems theory, and high-performance computing.

I am currently a lecturer in astronautics at the University of Southampton. Before that, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Advanced Concepts Team at the European Space Agency, and in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Politecnico di Milano where I was an experienced researcher in the AstroNet-II Marie-Curie network.

I received a dual PhD in Mathematics and Physics in 2011 and an MSc in Physics in 2007 from Michigan State University.

Research interests

My research interests all focus on the study of complex, non-linear dynamical systems in various interdisciplinary fields such as astronautics, engineering, and physics.

I do so through the application of modern numerical methods, such as high-order differential algebra techniques and HPC, together with mathematical concepts from modern dynamical systems theory.

I have successfully applied these methods to problems in the fields of Applied Mission Design and Analysis, Solar System Dynamics, Gravitational Physics, and even Computer Science. Some of these research projects are listed below, and most of them have led to journal publications.

Current PhD students:

  • Jack Tyler: Exploitation of Multi-body Dynamics in Space Mission Design
  • Kashinath Saddul: Mission Design and Analysis for all Printed Electric Propulsion (Cube-de-ALPS)

Former PhD students:

  • Peter Bartram: Pushing the Envelope of Exoplanet Evolution Modelling
A.Wittig research interests

Research projects:

Selected current and past research projects in various research areas include:

Numerical and Dynamical Systems Methods in Astronautics

  • Understanding the dynamical structure of phase space in astrodynamics problems to automatically identify qualitatively different orbits for novel mission design. Efficient and accurate computation of Lagrangian Coherent Structures using Differential Algebra methods. Application to planetary Ballistic Capture orbits.
  • Improving Differential Algebra based Orbital Propagators for application to space debris clouds (supported by the Royal Society).
  • Asteroid retrieval missions using manifold dynamics in three body problem. HPC on Soton’s IRIDIS cluster with numerical optimization using the MIDACO multi-objective global optimizer.

Applied Mission Design and Analysis

  • Cube-de-ALPS project on development of an all-printed electric propulsion system to deorbit cubesats. Applied mission design and analysis for coupled orbital and attitude motion of under-actuated systems with high degrees of control uncertainty and limited state knowledge (supported by ESA).
  • XR Orbital Visualization Toolkit development for visualization of orbital data using Microsoft HoloLens technology (supported by UK Space Agency).
  • On-board high order state estimation for relative satellite attitude using high-order DA Kalman filter. Implementation on a breadboard model (Beaglebone Black) to demonstrate feasibility of real-time performance on restricted computing platforms.
  • Guaranteed robust low-thrust trajectory design and on-board closed-loop autonomous control under large state uncertainties using Lyapunov guidance laws.

Astronomy

  • Planetary system formation simulation via direct n-body gravitational dynamics modelling and propagation for very long term integrations (109 orbits) at machine precision. Development of Terrestial Exoplanet Simulator (TES) solar system simulator, integration into several standard software packages in the field such as REBOUND (Prof Hanno Rein, University of Toronto) and AMUSE (Prof Simon Portegies Zwart, Leiden Observatory).

Gravitational Physics

  • Black hole raytracing around black holes / wormholes using GPUs to predict what looking at a black hole would look like. Development of the ESA ACT Black Hole Simulator for public outreach.
  • Study of underlying dynamical system to describe black hole shadows as the shadow of the invariant manifolds.

Computer Science

  • Implementation and maintenance of a modern Differential Algebra library (DA Core Engine, DACE), available as open source on GitHub.
  • Reliable computing hardware through fuzzing applied to European space rated LEON-3 CPUs to identify un-documented behaviour in the CPU instruction set. 

Research group

Astronautics

I am the Aeronautics and Astronautics foreign exchange coordinator. In this role I oversee the academic aspects of our exchange program with our partner universities in Europe and the US.

Students interested in participating in our exchange program, or current exchange students looking for further information, please see the Study Abroad section on the Aero Astro Program page on Blackboard for further details.

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My teaching activity focuses on delivering outstanding quality teaching in the Southampton undergraduate Astronautics MEng/BEng program, as well as on the graduate Space Systems Engineering MSc program.

I regularly offer innovative IP, GDP, and MSc research projects in astrodynamics and mission design and analysis to 3rd and 4th year students, often in collaboration with other colleagues. Some of these have led to conference presentations and journal publications. If you are an outstanding first class student interested in research in astrodynamics, numerics, or dynamical systems please get in touch to discuss potential projects.

Some past projects include:

  • Asteroid Retrieval using the CR3BP – design of an asteroid retrieval mission using invariant manifold dynamics
  • Robust low-thrust control – use of Lyapunov guidance laws for near-optimal autonomous low-thrust trajectory guidance
  • Visiting Venus without thrust – use of ballistic capture orbits to design a mission to Venus
  • Space Tracker – design, build, and test of a telescope to track space debris objects
  • Space XR – Visualization of complex orbital data on a Microsoft HoloLens
  • Asteroid space mining poker – a game theoretical turn-based study of the economic feasibility of asteroid mining

I am module lead for the 4th year Orbital Mechanics (SESA6076) module. In this module we cover orbital mechanics and attitude control concepts, which are then directly applied to a mission design and analysis computer lab using NASA’s GMAT and an associated case-study coursework.

I also lecture in Advanced Astronautics (SESA3039) where we introduce basic Keplerian motion and associated mathematical and physical concepts with applications to space system design and engineering.

I also contribute to other modules such as Astronautics (SESA2024) and Space Systems Engineering (SESA3041/SESA6036). 

Dr Alexander Wittig
Engineering, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton. SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

Room Number : 176/2035/B1

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