Fabien Royer: Creating novel structures in space

Fabien Royer
  • New Faculty Year: 2022

Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Academic focus: I’m an aerospace engineer working on space structures. My research lies at the intersection of spacecraft engineering, solid mechanics and structural engineering.

Research summary: My research focuses on creating novel structures in space to dramatically increase the capabilities of satellites and infrastructures on orbit. I am particularly motivated by the role novel spacecraft architectures can play in addressing major societal issues such as climate change. For instance, large aperture systems can form better space radars for climate monitoring, and space-based solar power satellites which can collect sunlight continuously throughout the day, convert it into microwaves and send it directly where it is needed on Earth. Similar large space architectures can foster the next generation of robotic and human space exploration. Besides very large space structures, lighter and larger apertures can be integrated in small satellites, paving the way for highly capable constellations and new high impact applications on Earth. To create these new systems, my work leverages extremely thin fiber composite laminates (thinner than your hair) to form ultra-lightweight and very large structures (max dimension > 50 m). In particular, my research investigates how to predict and overcome these structures’ fundamental limitations, often driven by instabilities such as buckling, and how to use these instabilities to create active morphing structures, and new in-space manufacturing and assembly processes. This would allow to overcome current launch limits imposed by rockets and enable a more self-sufficient exploration of our solar system.

What inspired you to pursue a career in this field? I have always been fascinated by exploration since I was a kid. I started exploring nearby forests and mountains, but I quickly realized that space was the ultimate form of exploration. I have been constantly obsessed with our solar system, our galaxy, and our universe since then. However, my interest in structures comes from my passion for snowboarding and its lesser know cousin, mountainboarding. While growing up, I had the chance to work with a manufacturer which would create boards for me to test. Through my involvement in the design process, I became fascinated with fiber composite materials and structures in general. My current research is the combination of my two passions, space and structures.

What are you most looking forward to as a Cornell Engineering faculty member? I’m extremely excited by how collaborative and interdisciplinary the MAE department is. In particular, MAE is conducting leading research in space engineering, mechanical engineering and materials. Since my research is at the interface between these disciplines, it is hard for me to imagine a better place to create my research group. I cannot wait to learn from my colleagues and see how my research will benefit from all the breakthroughs happening in the same building and beyond! I’m also looking forward to working with the passionate and highly motivated students MAE has the chance to have!

What do you like to do when you’re not working?  I love being outdoor, and I enjoy rock climbing, hiking, kayaking snowboarding, and more. I am also practicing a very unknown sport called mountainboarding, which consists in riding dirt or grass slopes and jumps on a large skateboard with all-terrain wheels. It is a sort of summer analog of snowboarding!

Fabien Royer faculty page

Cornell Space Structures website

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