Dr. Robert D. Braun has over 25 years experience performing design and analysis of planetary exploration systems as a member of the technical staff of the NASA Langley Research Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research has focused on systems’ aspects of planetary exploration, where he contributed to the design, development, test and operation of several robotic space flight systems.
He has also served as a leader and senior manager for a number of large, diverse engineering organizations at NASA. In 2010-2011, he served as the first NASA Chief Technologist in more than a decade. In this capacity, he served as the senior Agency executive for technology and innovation policy and programs. He created and led the initial implementation of a spectrum of broadly applicable technology programs designed to build the capabilities required for our nation’s future space missions. This activity spanned all ten NASA Centers, industry and academia, and included building technology partnerships between NASA and other government agencies. Dr. Braun successfully advocated for an increased NASA technology budget in a time in which the fiscal environment required the overall Agency budget to decrease. He also created, staffed and managed the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist and worked to improve NASA’s organizational culture towards one that values technology development and high-risk, high-reward research.
Dr. Braun co-founded and serves as Chief Technology Officer of Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC, a small business providing atmospheric reentry services to enhance safety and promote the utilization of space. TVA offers small spaceflight systems designed to provide unprecedented data on the physics of reentry breakup, and for the safe return of small payloads from space.
Dr. Braun joined the Georgia Institute of Technology as the David and Andrew Lewis Associate Professor of Space Technology in 2003. He was promoted to the rank of Professor in 2009. He leads an active research and educational program focused on the design of advanced flight systems and technologies for planetary exploration. This research integrates aspects of conceptual design and analysis, technology development, computational modeling and simulation and experimental validation. Recent research projects include the development of entry, descent and landing technologies for human Mars exploration, design and analyses of inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, pinpoint landing technology assessment for planetary exploration systems, and engineering strategies for asteroid deflection and orbital debris prediction. He is responsible for undergraduate and graduate instruction in space systems design, astrodynamics and planetary entry.
Dr. Braun has led the design and technology maturation of multiple space systems. He was a member of the Mars Pathfinder design and landing operations team from 1992 to 1997 and has been part of development teams for the Mars Microprobe, Mars Sample Return and Mars Surveyor 2001 projects. From 1998-2000, he managed the development of the Mars Sample Return Earth Entry Vehicle, an innovative, risk-based entry system design. From 2001-2003, he served as the Mission Architect and Atmospheric Flight System Manager for the Aerial Regional scale Environmental Survey Mars Scout mission, a proposed scientific survey using a Mars airplane. In this capacity, he managed the Mars airplane development including the successful ground-based and high-altitude flight test program. Since 2005, he has focused on the technology maturation of a wide range of entry, descent and landing technologies, including single-stage entry systems, pinpoint-landing guidance strategies, inflatable aerodynamic decelerators and supersonic retropropulsion.
He has been an active participant in the development of advanced methods for multidisciplinary design and optimization. Dr. Braun developed the Collaborative Optimization architecture while at Stanford from 1991-1996. This architecture was shown to have significant computational and operational benefits in the optimization of large, distributed design problems. Since completing the initial research in this area, several university and industry groups have applied this technique in solving a diverse set of engineering challenges. From 2000-2001, he led and integrated NASA’s advanced engineering environment development program.
Dr. Braun has provided independent assessment and served on NASA review boards for Mars Polar Lander, Mars Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rover, Phoenix Mars Scout, Genesis, Mars Science Laboratory, Mars 2020, and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. He has also served on multiple NRC Committees.
Dr. Braun was invited to serve as a Moore Distinguished Scholar at the California Institute of Technology from January through June 2015. He has both teaching and research responsibilities while at Caltech. While in Pasadena, he is also collaborating with engineers and scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Dr. Braun received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State in 1987, M.S. in Astronautics from the George Washington University in 1989, and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University in 1996. He has received the inaugural AAS Space Technology Award (2014), 2012 Alvin Seiff Memorial Award, the 2011 AIAA von Karman Astronautics Award, 1999 AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals, two NASA Inventions and Contributions Team Awards, and nine NASA Group Achievement Awards. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, Vice Chair of the NRC Space Studies Board, Editor-In-Chief of the AIAA Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, an AIAA Fellow, and the author or co-author of over 275 technical publications in the fields of atmospheric flight dynamics, planetary exploration, multidisciplinary design optimization, and systems engineering. He presently serves on Advisory Boards for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Space Systems Sector of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and the Planetary Society. He is married to Karen G. Braun, is the proud father of Zack, Allie and Jessica Braun, and resides on a small farm in Newnan Georgia.