AFRL officer wins prestigious essay contest

Capt. Michael Nayak is a scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing site. He was a winner of the 2017 Gen. Bernard A. Schriever Memorial Essay Contest.

Capt. Michael Nayak is a scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing site. He was a winner of the 2017 Gen. Bernard A. Schriever Memorial Essay Contest.

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Capt. Michael “Mikey” Nayak of the Air Force Research Laboratory Directed Energy Directorate has been recognized as a winner of the 2017 Gen. Bernard A. Schriever Memorial Essay Contest. 

Nayak’s essay, titled “Deterring Aggressive Space Actions with Cube Satellite Proximity Operations: A New Frontier in Defensive Space Control,” was the winning essay in the Open Division.

The purpose of the contest is to stimulate thought, discussion, and debate on matters relating to how the Air Force and Air Force Space Command provide space and cyberspace capabilities for our armed services and the nation.

Nayak is a planetary scientist and aerospace engineer by background with a doctorate in earth and planetary science from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He works for AFRL’s Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing site located in Hawaii. 

His winning essay is about space superiority. “The United States has enjoyed two generations of unrivaled dominion in space, but that time is quickly drawing to an end,” he said. “Launching cube satellites is easy: so easy university students do it every day, around the world. That means cubesats are far easier for nations with less sophisticated space programs to design, build and launch.”

Cube satellites, or cubesats, are very small satellites made up of several “cube” sized units Nayak explained. “A standard 1-unit (1U) cubesat measures 10 cm x 10 cm x 10cm.  A larger cubesat might measure 10x10x30 cm and would be called a 3U cubesat.”

“A new era is dawning, one where our adversaries see that a blow to our capabilities in space can cripple us on the ground – and cube satellites present an easy path to achieve that effect. The essay, in part, is about recognizing what maneuverable cube satellites could contribute to an adversary’s arsenal. If not matched, adversaries may become emboldened, moving past proximity surveillance to offensive actions.”  

Nayak is confident the U.S. can fight fire with fire, which is what the rest of his essay discusses. “Cube satellites can be more than a threat: they can be a solution, as well,” he said. “This would be a new frontier in defensive space control: deterring aggressive space actions with cube satellites capable of proximity operations.”

“My essay attempts to build the case for such systems as a tool of national security, from a deterrence point of view,” he said. “The discussion about such “small satellites” as a tool in our arsenal is just beginning, but we need to be thinking ahead strategically.”

Nayak’s essay was published in the “Air and Space Power Journal”, Winter edition, 2017 and may be found at this link: http://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-31_Issue-4/ASPJ-Winter-2017.pdf