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Dominic Dirkx, PhD Cum Laude!

Submitter: Leonid Gurvits
Description: On 22 October 2015, the Delft University of Technology offered the stage of its Aula to Dominic Dirkx of the Space Science and Innovative Applications Group of JIVE. The reason was both charged and pleasant: the defence of his PhD thesis Interplanetary Laser Ranging. Dominic worked on this challenging topic for the past four years, under the auspices of the EC FP7 project ESPaCE.

Laser ranging is a promising technique which addresses the need for ever more precise determination of the spacecraft state vector, i.e. its position and velocity etc within the Solar system. In order to meet the requirements of prospective planetary science missions, Dominic has developed novel relativistic approaches for describing the laser light propagation over interplanetary distances, and its handling at an Earth-based station and on-board a spacecraft. The methods developed in the thesis are directly applicable to planetary missions like the ESA's Jupiter Icy Satellite Explorer (JUICE), scheduled for launch in 2022.

One might wonder about the communality between the topic of Dominic's thesis and VLBI, the core business of JIVE. The thesis has proved the intuitive feeling that there is a substantial overlap in the interpretation of measurements by laser ranging and by VLBI tracking of deep-space probes. Moreover, both techniques are highly synergistic in addressing a broad variety of science areas. Planetary science missions of the coming decades will exploit both laser ranging and VLBI tracking, implemented as Planetary Radio Interferometry and Doppler Experiment (PRIDE).

The committee was impressed by Dominic's work, and duly awarded a Doctoral degree with the distinction cum laude. Well done Dominic, congratulations!
Copyright: Photos: The Dirkx family and L. Gurvits
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