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Siddhesh Naik , A passion for aerospace engineering

How did you choose an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career such as  Aerospace?

When I was a child, my mother colored his imagination with ancient myths about Roman eponyms of the sky. Those fascinations remained with me through childhood and ultimately led me to CU-Boulder to study aerospace engineering.

During the four years that i spent at the University of Mumbai, India, studying mechanical engineering, i became fixated with the European space mission Rosetta and the craft’s programmed orbit of 11 years that guided it toward Comet 67P.

“How did they know exactly what was going to happen?” Naik wondered. “That spacecraft is going to sleep for a certain period and then it’s going to wake up. I wanted to know how that works.”

What is your educational background?

Naik graduated and moved to Boulder in 2013 to gain a true understanding of the mechanics driving that mission’s design. He joined CU’s aerospace engineering graduate program and LASP to work on the Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), a 4-year project funded by NASA to develop a nano-satellite, or CubeSat, measuring that will launch in late 2015 to study the sun’s solar flares.

“This was the ideal thread for me to do what I wanted to do,“ said Naik. “I came to CU’s astrodynamics program because CU is one of the leaders in astrodynamics and satellite navigation,” he explained.

Were you involved in any space projects?

After Naik spent his first fall and spring semester with the team, MinXSS’s seasoned solar physicist and project manager Tom Woods hired him as the mechanical lead over summer 2014.

“After being on the project for two semesters, I loved it so much that I stayed on for a third semester,” Naik said.

He collaborated with LASP mentors and other students to design and construct the satellite.

“The best thing is that you have to work in a team of 12 people, with different backgrounds and technical skill sets,” said Naik. “It’s just a great experience.”

At the beginning of his second year in the program, Naik became inspired to study GPS navigation. The work of Kristine Larson, a CU-Boulder professor of satellite navigation and remote sensing, caught his eye. Larson studies high-precision tracking systems that use Global Navigation Satellite Systems Reflectometry, a process of measuring the reflections of navigation signals sent from satellites to Earth as they bounce off of a desired landscape, to detect spontaneous volcanic ash plumes known to disrupt aircraft control. Naik joined Larson’s lab to analyze those measurements. He is using data generated from GPS receivers presently stationed near volcanoes to develop new algorithms that can be used to locate volcanic plumes.

“I had a look at data from Mount Redoubt in Alaska. Now, I’m looking at Mount Etna in Italy,” said Naik. He may also assess volcanic activity in New Zealand, Iceland and Japan.

Naik’s enthusiasm for GNSS-R and Larson’s research grew, so he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of remote sensing. After the dissertation, Naik added, he envisions opening his own business by developing an innovative tracking system, like one that locates a lost set of keys.

Advice to students?

“When I decided to do aerospace in the U.S., everybody back in India said I was stupid,” recalled Naik. “They said you’re never going to find a job, so you’re never going to be funded.”

But Naik overcame such odds—and he wants to share his secrets with prospective international students.

“Be willing to take that risk,” he said. “Something will work out…if you’re willing to take that one step forward.”