UCF is one of seven universities to receive funding through the USSF’s University Consortium Research Opportunity, which connects higher education institutions with the Department of Defense’s space-related research opportunities. Engineering researchers Michael Kinzel, Tarek Elgohary and Luis Rabelo were awarded the $350,000 grant, which makes them the first UCF researchers to receive funding from the USSF.

“Although it puts pressure on us to succeed, it also gives us a chance to thrive and set a precedent for UCF with the USSF,” says Kinzel, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “I think it will open many new doors and partnerships, which is especially important due to our proximity to the Patrick Space Force Base and the entire Space Coast.”

This project supports the U.S. Air Force’s Rocket Cargo program, which is led by the Air Force Research Laboratory for the USSF. The USSF is part of the Air Force.  The goal is to determine the viability of using commercial rockets to transport cargo quickly and efficiently across the globe. Ideally, the rockets would be deployed for disaster relief, shipping 100 tons of food, first aid supplies and blood donations to any location in just one hour.

To work out the logistics, UCF researchers will use their expertise to tackle different parts of the process. Kinzel, an expert in computational fluid dynamics, will use numerical analysis and aerodynamics modeling to ensure the cargo gets there safely and on time. Elgohary, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering, will use control theory and complex modeling techniques to make certain the rocket can land at its destination with precision. Rabelo, a professor of industrial engineering and management systems, will identify any potential bottlenecks in the process so the rockets can be packed and shipped within the shortest timeframe.

Student involvement in research is a primary goal of the USSF University Consortium Research Opportunity, so the trio will rely on graduate students to help them complete the mission. Graduate students will take the lead on modeling, and they will also have opportunities to intern with the Air Force Research Laboratory as well as with the local branch of the Science Applications International Corporation, which support the educational and work-force development aspects of the project.

The USSF University Consortium Research Opportunity was established to tap into university research and innovation to solve critical USSF technical problems and to engage students and postdoctoral fellows in space-based research and development to increase the number and diversity of future space professionals.

About the Researchers

Kinzel received his doctorate in aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University and joined UCF in 2018. In addition to being a member of UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering, a part of UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, he also works with UCF’s Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research.

Elgohary received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the American University in Cairo and his master’s degree and doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University. Before joining UCF in 2016, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Texas A&M and a visiting scholar in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Irvine.

Rabelo received his doctorate in engineering management from the University of Missouri. He joined UCF in 2001 and has brought in more than $3 million in research funding since then. He also serves as the co-director of the Simulation Inoperability Lab.