Strengthening Aerospace Toward Ecosystems and Solutions That Help Meet Global Challenges

At the 2024 AIAA SciTech Forum, AIAA’s new Domain Leads discussed how they plan to build and implement strategies to help the Institute accelerate aerospace innovation to meet global challenges. AIAA’s new Domain Leads – Russell Boyce, Aeronautics; Greg Zacharias, Aerospace R&D; and Brent Sherwood, Space – all have extensive backgrounds in their respective domains and have demonstrated a deep commitment to the aerospace community over the course of their careers. They are well respected for their ability to set a coherent vision, develop strategy that incorporates both innovation and high-performance culture at its heart, and drive that strategy to take organizations to – and even beyond – the vision.

This article expands on their comments during the discussion at the HUB during AIAA SciTech Forum, where they shared their visions for the future of their respective Domains, outlined issues they will address, and priorities they will embrace.

The Why

As the new AIAA Domain Leads, Russ, Greg, and Brent see their principal role as providing strategic thought leadership that assists AIAA, the aerospace community, and broader society across the globe. Why? The world is facing generational-scale challenges – societal, economic, environmental, security – in the context of rapidly evolving technical capabilities. Technology advances rapidly, and so do other disruptive changes. The aerospace sector can contribute important solutions to significant issues, but not just via the application of science and technology. Our community must embrace system-of-systems thinking, build understanding and collaboration across the whole ecosystem of stakeholders, and integrate efforts to solve our biggest challenges. To this end, AIAA has adopted the Domain approach: the Domain Leads are charged to work across our whole community to develop, articulate, and coordinate actionable strategies, whose implementation will rely on the leadership and contributions of our large community of global, multidisciplinary experts.

In Aeronautics, a major challenge is helping achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as we address the sustainability of planet Earth, while simultaneously advancing mobility solutions that take the world forward.

In Aerospace R&D, a critical challenge is integrating and accelerating digital design, development, test, and operations, while leveraging non-traditional emerging and enabling technologies.

In Space, the fundamental challenge is adapting to the rapidly evolving landscape of proliferated systems, new operating regimes, and independent actors.

Working on Technical and Beyond-Technical Priorities

Key topics that have been addressed to date in the Aeronautics Domain include advanced air mobility, sustainability, certification, and most recently, high-speed flight. These are all critical areas that span the domain, according to Russ. “They’re all very important, in different ways. Sustainability is a core challenge facing humanity. Advanced air mobility and high-speed flight are solutions built on disruptive technologies that can grow our economies and societies. Progress in certification – for example, certification approaches for new transformational systems – is a fundamental enabler for the industry. The important thing about those topic areas that I see is that they’re not just technical stovepipes. They include the customer, the user, the investor, the regulatory regime, ethical considerations, etc.

“To continue to mature the Aeronautics Domain we need to ask two questions: What are the global challenges and opportunities that aeronautics can help address? And how can we grow and combine various elements of technical and non-technical talent and approaches into the ecosystems that will help meet those challenges? Building the talent pool and bringing all these elements together so they inform and guide each other is an overarching goal for this and indeed all of the domains.”

Greg observed there is a wealth of emerging technology being developed and applied outside of our traditional aerospace focus areas, technology that could have a significant impact on how we do business in the future. On the “product” side, this might include bioinspired neuromorphic computing for better sensor systems and real-time situation assessment; cognitive state estimators for improved human-machine interactions; and post-lithium battery technologies for next-generation electric aircraft. On the “process” side, this will likely encompass fully threaded digital engineering, from concept exploration to operational monitoring; generative artificial intelligence (AI) for aiding design and testing; and full-stack AI-enabled modeling and simulation that embodies the detailed physics of the systems we develop. Machine learning-enabled tools will be crucial.

“What the Domain construct helps with is in combining technologies,” Greg noted. “We need to think beyond simply bringing on one technology to fill a process or performance gap, but think more broadly, and consider how multiple technologies can yield not just additive returns, but multiplicative ones. And to do this, we need to look for innovators inside and outside of the AIAA community, expanding our collective envelope of understanding and expertise.”

Brent sees three fundamental changes in the Space Domain that the Institute must address: 1) Rapid proliferation of simultaneously operating assets, such as constellations in low Earth orbit; 2) Opening new regions of space to routine operations by multiple actors, especially cislunar space and the lunar surface; and 3) Emergence of the independent space sector and implementation of new public-private partnership models. Two task forces are already at work addressing Space Traffic Coordination and development of the Cislunar Ecosystem. Brent added that new synergies will be essential to rapidly evolve the space industry. “We’ve always had academia, government, and industry active within AIAA,” he said, “And they were all tied together. But the emergence of the independent space sector, which brings its own resources, capabilities, and goals, changes this landscape. It’s important that AIAA surf this wave, rather than being overtaken by it, because adaptation is key to relevance.”

Disruptive Transformation

Russ commented on how AIAA forums are advancing the Domain transformation. “I believe the 2024 AIAA SciTech Forum enabled a very large collection of smart people who can do some horizon scanning and look forward and see what technologies, indeed what transformational disruptions, are coming over the horizon and how might they affect aeronautics and space, and the crossover between the two. That’s where we get to think about those transformational technologies and try to ask: How is that going to affect the customer? How is that going to affect the application? What should the industry be worried about? How are we going to bring those together and not be disrupted by them but use them to be the disruptor? How do we prepare young professionals for this dynamic future?”

Domain Synergy is Moving Priorities Forward

Domain synergy is critical. Solutions implemented in the Aeronautics and Space Domains will both complement each other and depend upon and motivate the Aerospace R&D Domain for their transformational underpinnings. The Domain leads will help focus all of AIAA’s capabilities – committees, sections, task forces, and other tactical initiatives – so the Institute can address today’s and tomorrow’s key challenges. Going forward, all of the Institute’s infrastructure (e.g., our almost 100 Technical Committees and Integration/Outreach Committees, and all the sections worldwide) will be vital to success. AIAA is a unique global resource that can serve as an honest broker across the community, including all stakeholders, to articulate unbiased findings and recommendations that shape the future of aerospace.

Brent summed it up: “Because many of our existing committees cross Domains already, some critical intersections are already built into the technical fabric of AIAA. We have talked a lot about how the changes we see in each of our Domains affect the others. We’re excited about synergy going forward.”

Action Item: Do you have a good idea that one of the Domain leads should hear about? Get in touch to discuss:
Aerospace R&D:

(L to R) Russ Boyce, Aeronautics; Greg Zacharias, Aerospace R&D; and Brent Sherwood, Space.

Russell Boyce, Aeronautics
“I built a team that pushed hypersonics flight experiment boundaries, then built the first end-to-end (and successful) domestic space program in Australia, and was instrumental in translating those efforts into the establishment and success of three spin-off companies. It’s the building of people and organizations, as fundamental building blocks of approaches to solve global problems, that gets me fired up. In aerospace, the Domain construct helps provide the ‘why.’ Why is it that we are doing what we’re doing?”

Greg Zacharias, Aerospace R&D
“I got my start with NASA, designing the Space Shuttle re-entry flight control system back when it was a paper airplane. That led to a start-up, which let me build a 30+ year career focused on human-system R&D for NASA and DOD. I returned to government to serve as the Chief Scientist for the Air Force, then for the OSD Office of Test and Evaluation. Both positions put me at the nexus of the R&D and mission-focused communities, experience that I hope to bring to bear in this new position with AIAA.”

Brent Sherwood, Space
“I’m a space architect by passion, training, and experience: space futures systems configuration design and business development at Boeing, retooling formulation and winning multiple planetary science missions at JPL, and building teams for lunar return, lunar resource technologies, cislunar mobility, and commercial LEO development at Blue Origin. Space holds the key to the unlimited future of human civilization in the cosmos. Humility, ambition, and collaboration should motivate everything we do.”

Strengthening Aerospace Toward Ecosystems and Solutions That Help Meet Global Challenges