SERC Organization

The Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) is a creation of a number of faculty of the USC Department of Astronautical Engineering and the Information Sciences Institute (The faculty and their short profiles are listed below).  The Center cooperates with a variety of researchers from other USC schools and departments, as well as from government laboratories and space industry organizations.  Implementation of projects is through both faculty and research staff as well as students.


The SERC operates as an "engineering teaching hospital", that has at its core a set of professional engineering staff and faculty, with graduate students as "residents" and undergraduates as "interns".  This methodology combines sets of professional and student level skills to support multiple research opportunities and higher education in the area of spacecraft engineering.  The Center allows larger and more diverse research projects through use of the broad range of research interests of Astronautics and ISI experts, as well as joint and shared laboratories and physical spaces between the main campus and Marina del Rey locations.

The Space Engineering Research Center is headquartered at the Rapp Research Building on the USC main campus:

854B Downey Way, RRB 230
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1192
phone: (213) 821-5817


Director:      Joseph Kunc

Joseph KuncJoseph Kunc is Professor of Astronautics, Aerospace Engineering, Physics,  Astronomy, and Systems  Architecture and Engineering. He was the founder and Director of the SERC from 2006 until 2009.  He is Elected Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). His research interests are in dynamics of molecular and radiative processes, transport of energy and momentum in high-energy flows, electronic processes in propulsion engines, nonequilibrium phenomena in partially ionized plasmas, dynamics of particles in the interplanetary and interstellar medium, and statistical thermodynamics.  More information about Professor Kunc’s activities can be found at his web site: ; email:; phone:  (213) 821-5817.

Participating Faculty:

The SERC draws upon the experiences and skill set of several world class researchers.  These include;


Dan Erwin

Dan ErwinDan is Professor of Astronautics and Aerospace Engineering, and Chairman of the Astronautics and Space Technology Division. His research interests include spacecraft propulsion, optics and optical instruments, kinetics of gases and plasmas.  Dan is currently the chairman of the Astronautics division. More information about Erwin’s activities can be found at his web site: ; email:; phone: (213) 740-5358.


Sergey F. Gimelshein

Dr. Sergey F. Gimelshein earned a PhD in Fluid Mechanics from the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Russia, in 1995.  He has held research positions in George Washington University and Penn State.  Since August 2003 he is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California.  Dr. Gimelshein is the author and contributor to over 50 journal publications and about 100 conference proceedings.  His research insterests are in computational fluid dynamic and hypersonic aerodynamics, laminar separated flows, plume flows, plume interactions and surface contamination, physics of molecular energy transfer, chemical reactions in gas phase and on the surface, and upper atmosphere radiation processes.

Sergey Gimelshein, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
Astronautics and Space Technology Division
Universy of Southern California
RRB 230
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1192

Tel: 213-740-9211
Fax: 213-821-5819


Mike Gruntman

Mike GruntmanMike Gruntman is a space physicist, engineer, and educator. His research interests include astronautics, space physics, space instrumentation and space sensors, spacecraft and space mission design, propulsion, spacecraft technologies, astronautical education, and history of rocketry and space technology. He is currently Co-Investigator on two NASA missions, TWINS and IBEX. Professor Gruntman’s activities can be found at his web site: ; email:; phone: (213) 740-5536.


Gerald R. Hintz

Gerald HintzDr. Hintz was a technical manager and senior engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California for 37 years before his retirement in 2006. He worked on the development and flight operations of space missions, including Viking I and II (two orbiters and two landers to Mars), Mariner 9 (orbiter to Mars), Seasat (an earth orbiter), Voyager (for the Neptune encounter), Pioneer Venus (orbiter to Venus), Galileo (probe and orbiter to Jupiter), Ulysses (solar polar mission), Cassini-Huygens (orbiter to Saturn and lander to Titan), and Aquarius (a future earth orbiter). As a technical manager, he provided multi-mission navigation support via the Deep Space Network, developed a computer-based training and reference tool for the Orbit Determination Program, and provided a successful orbital design for an earth-orbital mission.  He is an Associate Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and a Fellow in the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering. His activities have included being the Chair of the San Gabriel Valley Section of the AIAA, a reviewer for the Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics, The Journal of the Astronautical Sciences, and the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, a member of the AIAA’s Astronautics Technical Committee at the national level.  More information about Dr. Hintz can be found at ; email:


Darrell Judge

Daryl JudgeDarrell Judge is the professor of Physics and Astronautics, and the director of Space Sciences Center at the Department of Physics and Astronomy.  He is a physicist with broad range of interests in astrophysical problems and laboratory atomic and molecular scienc.  He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and recipient of NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, NASA's Group Achievement Award to Pioneer 11 Saturn Mission Team, and NASA Public Service Group Achievement Award to Pioneer 10 Scientific Instrument Team.  Professor Judge was the principal investigator for the ultra violet photometric experiments on board Pioneers 10 and 11.  He is also the principal investigator for a sounding rocket program studying the influence of the time dependent extreme ultraviolet solar flux on the photo-chemistry of planetary atmospheres.  In addition to his space research, professor Judge conducts a major laboratory effort in which the fundamental properties of atomic and molecular systems are determined in the extreme ultraviolet and soft x-ray spectral regions.  More information about professor Judges work can be found at his web site:

His e-mail is:, and phone: (213) 740-6340

 Andrew Ketsdever

Andrew Ketsdever is an Associate Research Professor in the Astronautics and Space Technology Division.  From 2004 to 2007, he was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Astronautics at the United States Air Force Academy.  His primary appointment is with the Propulsion Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  He is currently the group leader of the Non-Equilibrium Flows Group which conducts basic research in rocket exhaust plume flows, signatures, and effects.  Andrew has worked in the areas of rarefied gas dynamics, microfluidics, micropropulsion and spacecraft-thruster interactions since starting at AFRL in 1992.  He holds two patents in the areas of micropropulsion and nano-ignition of propellants.  Andrew received his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1995 where he is currently a Research Professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.  While at USC, he has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses in rarified gas dynamics, planetary atmospheres, microspacecraft design, and spacecraft-environment interactions.

Andrew has served on the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Thermophysics Technical Committee where he was the chairman of the Education Subcommittee.  He has also been involved with The AIAA Working Group in Microfluidics.  Dr. Ketsdever has authored or co-authored more than 80 technical papers.  He also co-edited an AIAA Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics series book entitled Micropropulsion for Small Spacecraft, and is an associate editor for the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.

Details of his activities and publications can be found at His e-mail is:

Donald Rapp

Donald Rapp has 48 years of post-doctoral experience as a professor of theoretical physics and chemistry, technology guru and space program manager. He is the author of numerous articles plus five books, including recently completed in-depth books on Human Missions to Mars, and Climate Change. He was affiliated with JPL for 29 years, including a lengthy stint as Chief Technologist of the Mechanical and Chemical Systems Division (includes 100 PhDs). His original back ground was in atomic and molecular physics, but more recently has moved on to space mission design and climate change. He was proposal manager for two successful competitive space missions: Genesis and Deep Impact, totaling over $500M.
Telephone: 323-257-7217; email:

Peter Will

Peter WillPeter M. Will received a B.Sc. degree in electrical engineering with First Class Honors in 1958 and the Ph.D. degree in nonlinear control systems in 1960, both from the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, U.K.  He is a Fellow at the University of Southern California (USC)/Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey, CA.  He is a Research Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Material Science and Research Professor in Astronautics and Space Technology and is a co-founder of USC’s Laboratory for Molecular Robotics. He spent 16 years with IBM’s Yorktown Research Laboratory where he led IBM’s robotics group that culminated in a robot product, 7 years with Schlumberger where he Directed the Schlumberger-Doll Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and 5 years with Hewlett-Packard Laboratories as Director of the Measurement and Manufacturing Center and Director of Design Strategy at the Corporate HQ. He was a founding member of DARPA’s ISAT study group. He has served as chair of three NSF advisory committees, was a two-term member of the NRC Computer Science and Technology Board, was Chair of the National Research Council Study on Information Technology in Manufacturing in 1994-95 and served for 4 years on the Assessment Board of NIST. He was awarded the Joseph E. Engelberger Prize in Robotics in 1990, the USC Faculty Research Recognition Award from Phi Kappa Phi in 2003, IBM Outstanding Contribution and Outstanding Innovation Awards, and Four IBM Invention Plateau Awards.  More information about Professor Will’s activities can be found at his web site:, his e-mail is; phone: (310) 448-8796.

David Barnhart (Non-Active)

David BarnhartDavid Barnhart is a Research Professor in the Department of Astronautical Engineering at USC, and has over 23 years of direct spacecraft and space mission project management experience.  His experience in the U.S. Government has spanned spacecraft and technology development, upper stage build, and launching spacecraft on a number of different vehicles including Delta-II, Pegasus and Scout.  He was the architect for a blue force tracking mission using small satellites for the US Government,  a Manager on the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Modular Bus IDIQ contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory which completed a PDR level design for a small satellite bus in 3 months, and Technical Manager and Executive Board Member for an international commercial satellite mission out of Europe.  He helped to create and lead the XSS Small-Satellite Project Series for the Air Force and both the XSS-10 & XSS-11 vehicles successfully flew and fulfilled all their objectives.  As a junior engineer he helped to build and operate a unique national test capability that served to perfect and field today’s National Theater Missile Defense system.  His project management experience has taken him across the globe to direct and manage efforts in the former Soviet Republic, Europe, and the Middle East.  As Chief of the Air Force Phillips Laboratory Spacecraft Development Branch, Mr Barnhart was the key Project Engineer and Program Manager to foster the build and launch of three independent spacecraft within 3 years under the $100 Million MSTI project series.   He and his team were also honored at the 25th Anniversary of Apollo 11 for a unique and dramatic demonstration of a miniature lunar lander vehicle that was modified from a high energy weapon system.  He is an Associate Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), has served on the Space Systems Technical Committee and is currently serving on the Space Logistics Technical Committee for AIAA.  David can be contacted at email:; phone :  310-448-8644.