Dr. Robert D. Braun has nearly 30 years experience as a space systems engineer, technologist, and organizational leader. He is a recognized authority in the development of planetary exploration systems and the advancement of space technology. He has worked at the NASA Langley Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Headquarters, the NASA Ames Research Center, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology. He has contributed to the formulation, development, and operation of multiple space flight missions.
Dr. Braun joined the Georgia Institute of Technology as the David and Andrew Lewis Associate Professor of Space Technology in 2003 and became a Full Professor in 2009. His research integrates conceptual design and analysis, technology development, computational modeling, and experimental validation towards the advancement of planetary exploration systems. He is responsible for undergraduate and graduate instruction in space systems design, astrodynamics, and planetary entry. He founded the Georgia Tech Center for Space Technology and Research, an interdisciplinary research center that integrates Georgia Tech’s space science and space technology research activities, bringing together a wide range of faculty, staff, and students across the Colleges of Science, Engineering, Computing, Liberal Arts, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute. As Georgia Tech’s lead for growth of the space industry in Georgia, he interfaces regularly with national, state, and local legislative and economic development officials.
From January to June 2015, Dr. Braun served as the Moore Distinguished Scholar at Caltech. In this capacity, he introduced and taught a new graduate level course on atmospheric entry, initiated a significant collaboration between JPL and SpaceX, supported the formulation of an Ocean Worlds Exploration program and Europa lander mission concept, and laid the groundwork for future research collaborations with Caltech, JPL, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. He began a two-year appointment as a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in September 2015.
Dr. Braun has led multiple, large engineering organizations at NASA. In 2010-2011, he served as the first NASA Chief Technologist in more than a decade. In this capacity, he was responsible for the Agency’s technology and innovation policy and programs, reporting directly to the NASA Administrator. He created and led the implementation of a spectrum of NASA technology programs designed to build the capabilities required for our nation’s future space missions. This activity spanned all 10 NASA Centers, industry and academia, and included the establishment of technology partnerships between NASA and other government agencies, most notably DARPA, NOAA, NSF and the DoD. In this capacity, Dr. Braun worked closely with the White House Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, members of Congress and their staff. He successfully advocated for increased NASA technology funding in a time in which the federal budget was contracting. He created, staffed, and managed the Office of the Chief Technologist, which ultimately became a new NASA mission directorate. He worked to improve NASA’s organizational culture towards one that values technology development and high-risk, high-reward research.
Dr. Braun has led the design and maturation of multiple space systems. He was a core member of the Mars Pathfinder design and landing operations team from 1992 to 1997. From 1998-2000, he managed the development of the Mars Sample Return Earth Entry Vehicle, an innovative, risk-based entry system design. In 2001-2003, he served as Mission Architect 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. In 2011-2012, he was a member of the Titan Mare Explorer proposal team.
Dr. Braun served on the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board from 2012-2014 and presently serves on Advisory Boards for JPL, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Planet Labs Inc., and the Planetary Society. In 2012, Dr. Braun co-founded Terminal Velocity Aerospace, (TVA), a small business focused on developing a suite of re-entry devices to provide unprecedented data on the physics of reentry breakup, and for the safe return of small payloads from space. He served as the Chief Technology Officer of TVA until August 2015.
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.
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 received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State, M.S. in Astronautics from the George Washington University, and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University. He has received numerous recognitions from the space community, including the 2014 AAS Space Technology Award, 2012 Alvin Seiff Memorial Award, 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 National Academies 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 300 technical publications in the fields of atmospheric flight dynamics, planetary exploration, multidisciplinary design optimization, and systems engineering. He has testified before the U.S. Congress on multiple occasions and is a frequent public speaker on the economic and national security benefits of U.S. science and technology investments and the value of engineering in today’s 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.