Dr. Michael Steffens is a Research Engineer at the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory in the School of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He works in the Defense and Space Division leading research teams focused on autonomous systems, modeling and simulation, including hardware-in-the-loop, systems of systems, and space systems. Some of the projects he has led include communications constrained path planning for autonomous systems, guidance and navigation in GPS denied conditions for autonomous aerial systems, design processes for unconventional unmanned aerial vehicles, and cislunar architecting for position navigation and timing.

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Aerospace Engineering, 2016, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA - USA
  • Master of Science, Aerospace Engineering, 2014, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA - USA
  • Bachelor of Arts, 2010, Engineering Physics, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL - USA

Cis-lunar Position Navigation and Timing Architecture

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Study, develop, and optimize space architectures to support cis-lunar position navigation and timing

Autonomous In-Flight Path Planning

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed and implemented a method to use disparate sensors to inform path planning in a contested environment; incorporated risk as a parametric variable in path planning approach.

Satellite Design

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed a satellite design space exploration framework to rapidly trade requirements in early conceptual design; framework was designed to be modular to support higher fidelity analyses as needed.

Maritime Autonomous Robotics

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Design, develop, test, and deploy maritime autonomous robotic systems; mainly focused on two surface systems, one underwater system, and several quadcopters. Activities include method development (navigation, control, decision making, autonomy), building and testing, modeling and simulation, and physical deployment (in competitions or for research).

Long Term Autonomy for Maritime Systems

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Identify methods to support long term autonomy for maritime systems.

Mission Planning and Package Selection

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed and implemented a method to consider rotorcraft mission planning and equipment selection simultaneously; explored different path planning methods in the context of uncertainty (including Reinforcement Learning).

System of Systems Technology and Acquisition Support

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Investigated and established a method to support technology trades and inform acquisition decisions at a system-of-systems level for large scale naval fleets; focused on modeling and simulation support for the larger team.

Design and Implementation of Communications-Constrained Path Planning Algorithm for Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles Operating in Littoral Environments

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed communications-constrained path planning algorithms for autonomous maritime systems

Air Combat Asset Management and Tactic Development

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Explored the application of Reinforcement Learning (RL) to tactic development for beyond visual range combat engagements; expanded the initial scenario to include decision making for quantity of assets and timing of engagements

Terrain Aided Navigation Trade Study

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Performed a trade-space exploration to select optimal particle filter design parameters to support terrain-aided navigation in GPS-denied or contested environments.

Decision Support using Analytical Hierarchy Process

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed, built, and released a tool design to support decision making using AHP with input from multiple SMEs.

Vehicle Design for Long Term Autonomy

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed a simulation framework to support decision making for the design of long term autonomous systems, specifically focusing on reliability analysis and failure mitigation; demonstrated results from simulation using a cargo quadcopter designed to operate continuously for one week.

GPS-Denied Navigation Trade Space Exploration

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Developed a trade space exploration framework for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operating with limited or no GPS information; compared the performance of a set of 4 inertial measurement units (IMUs) operating in varying GPS conditions with a variety of aiding sensors (e.g. airspeed monitor, altimeters, …); established a trade space exploration approach to trade off different sensor options for the UAV
  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Established an optimization approach for a fleet level response to an emerging event of interest and developed a genetic algorithm based optimizer to synthesize a task force from a fleet to meet emerging capability needs while maintaining fleet level presence in areas of interest; results of the study led to a presentation to a broad audience at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock (NSWCCD) as well as continued tool development and utilization at NSWCCD.

Analysis and Optimization of Aircraft Sustainability Operations

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Explored modeling capabilities for aircraft sustainment operations, including flight ops, maintenance/repair/upgrades; designed and executed a trade space exploration study to determine the most relevant factors to improve aircraft availability and reduce cost.

Collaborative Autonomy Development for Missile Defense

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Explored the effects and potential benefits of autonomous collaborative behavior for missile defense applications.

Optimal Aircraft Maneuvers for Threat Avoidance

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Explored reaction and evasion options to quantify aircraft survivability in the presence of a threat.

Novel Flight System Developmen

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Designed, executed performance analysis, and prototyped a novel unconventional autonomous flight system intended to be portable and operable in constrained environments.

BOEING AFSIM software upgrade

  • Role: Co-Investigator
  • Project overview: Executed upgrade AFSIM software to include rotating-earth dynamics in flight trajectories.

Conference Papers

  1. Chu, Sarah, et al. Applying Acausal Physics-Based Modeling and Model-Based Systems Engineering to Improve System Model Scalability and Reusability, IMDC, 2022.
  2. Patel, Rohan, et al. Maritime Autonomous System Design Methods and Technology Forecasting, IMDC 2022.
  3. Chu, Sarah, et al. A Model Based Approach for Digital Testbed Development supporting Virtual Experimentation of an Unmanned Surface Vehicle, AIAA SCITECH 2022 Forum. 2022.
  4. Braafladt, Alexander, Michael J. Steffens, and Dimitri N. Mavris. Tradespace Exploration and Analysis Using Mission Effectiveness in Aircraft Conceptual Design, AIAA Scitech 2020 Forum. 2020.
  5. Rameshbabu, Rahul, Michael Steffens, and Dimitri Mavris. System Identification Using the Modeling through Iterative Smoothing Algorithm, Global Oceans 2020: Singapore–US Gulf Coast. IEEE, 2020.
  6. Mackenzie Lau, Michael J. Steffens, and Dimitri N. Mavris. Closed-Loop Control in Active Target Defense Using Machine Learning, AIAA Scitech 2019 Forum, AIAA SciTech Forum, (AIAA 2019-0143)
  7. Mackenzie Lau, Michael Steffens, and Dimitri N. Mavris. Evaluating the Performance Impact of Cooperative Navigation for Unmanned Aerial Systems in GPS-Denied Environments, 2018 Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference, AIAA AVIATION Forum, (AIAA 2018-3890)
  8. Michael J. Steffens, Stephen J. Edwards, Dimitri N. Mavris, Patrick Dees, and Manuel Diaz.  A Method for Launch Vehicle Performance Analysis via Surrogate Modeling, AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference, AIAA SciTech Forum, (AIAA 2016-0677)
  9. Stephen J. Edwards, Michael J. Steffens, and Dimitri N. Mavris.  A Review of Launch Vehicle Ascent Performance Modeling Approaches, AIAA SPACE 2015 Conference and Exposition, AIAA SPACE Forum, (AIAA 2015-4678)
  10. Michael J. Steffens, Dimitri N. Mavris, and Stephen J. Edwards.  Capturing the Global Feasible Design Space for Launch Vehicle Ascent Trajectories, AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference, AIAA SciTech Forum, (AIAA 2015-1910)
  11. Michael J. Steffens and Dimitri N. Mavris.  Launch Vehicle Performance Analysis using Extreme Value Theory", AIAA SPACE 2015 Conference and Exposition, AIAA SPACE Forum, (AIAA 2015-4679)


  1. Michael Steffens, Trajectory-based launch vehicle performance analysis for design-space exploration in conceptual design, Ph.D. Thesis, School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, August 2016
  2. Michael Steffens, A combined global and local methodology for launch vehicle trajectory design-space exploration and optimization, Masters Thesis, School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, August 2014

  • Member, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)