USAO student presents original research for 2023 Reasearch Day at the Capitol

A photo of student Nick Harwood with his research presentation beside professor of physics and research advisor Dr. J.C. Sanders at the Oklahoma Capitol
Nick Harwood’s research focused on orbital dynamics related to space travel

Nick Harwood, a senior physics major from Bixby, Okla., represented the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma at the 2023 Research Day at the Capitol.

Harwood presented original research entitled “From Earth to the Moon: Orbital Transfer Simulations.”

“Orbital dynamics calculations are vital to satellite placement, exploration of our solar system and planetary defense against asteroids,” said Harwood. “It costs several thousand dollars per kilogram just to send a payload into low earth orbit. Accurate orbital transfer models are essential to minimize costs and ensure the success of future missions.”

Using the computer program Mathematica, Harwood wrote code simulating the gravitational forces of the sun, earth and moon to accurately model a real mission: the launch of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Harwood’s simulation had an error rate of less than two one-thousandths of a percent compared to the mission data from the orbiter’s actual locations. While there are more sophisticated methods for simulating orbital transfers, Harwood’s model requires minimal computational resources, is conceptually straightforward, and can be adapted for other missions.

“Nick successfully navigated several challenging issues along the way,” said Dr. J.C. Sanders, professor of physics and Harwood’s research advisor. “His choice of the LRO mission was more complex than I would have initially preferred as it involved a complicated polar orbit setup and multiple transfer burns. Nick rose to the challenge and exceeded even my lofty expectations.”

Harwood was among 21 undergraduate students presenting competitive scientific research posters to the State Legislature and the public during the annual event sponsored by Oklahoma NSF EPSCoR, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the National Science Foundation. The event is designed to raise awareness of the outstanding research that is taking place at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities.

Nick Harwood at USAO from University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma on Vimeo.

For more information, contact Sanders at 405-574-1258 or

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