2020 AFRL Fellow advances nation’s space technology

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) commander, Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, recently announced the sought-after annual AFRL Fellow and AFRL Science and Engineering Early Career awards.

This year, the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate on Kirtland Air Force Base, is proud to recognize Dr. Michael Starks as a 2020 AFRL Fellow.

Initiated in 1987, the program recognizes AFRL’s most outstanding scientists and engineers for exceptional career accomplishments in either research, technology development and transition, or program and organizational leadership. Individuals selected for this honor represent the top tier of the agency’s professional technical staff.

Starks grew up in western Nebraska and went east to receive his formal education, receiving bachelor and master degrees from Boston University and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all in electrical engineering.

“AFRL Fellow is a career honor, and I will be joining a group that includes many of the mentors who helped me along the road to this moment,” said Starks, who serves as the lead for radiation belt remediation technologies in the Geospace Technologies Division.

“Those men and women impressed upon me the importance of hard work and dedication, but they also showed by example the responsibility to lead with honesty and integrity, and to mentor those around you,” he said.

“Personally, I don’t view this honor as the culmination of my AFRL career, but rather as an encouragement to keep at it and more importantly, to continue working to enable the next class of laboratory Fellows to achieve great things for our Nation.”

Starks went on to say everything that earned him this accolade is built upon the hard work and amazing accomplishments of scientists and engineers, program managers, and the support agencies on the AFRL team.

“This is a shared recognition for all of us, and I am grateful for their dedication to the mission and especially their indulgence of this particular engineer in their midst.”

The Space Vehicles Directorate nominated Starks as a Fellow for his program and organizational leadership. He has been involved in four major flight experiments valued at over $600 million, and has led several AFRL research investments – all of which address top U.S. Space Force priorities. In addition, Starks has been a leader of the DoD Space Weather Enterprise, working constantly to connect research to operations and promote cooperation between the military and civil communities.

“Michael is a brilliant engineer and an amazing leader and mentor,” said Col. Eric Felt, the director of the Space Vehicles Directorate. “I am so proud to have him on our team. His never-give-up spirit and scientific triumphs ensure AFRL continues to out-innovate our competitors and deliver amazing game-changing technology to our Air and Space warfighters.”

Starks says he enjoys his work at AFRL, and believes that AFRL’s greatest strength is the combination of deep in-house expertise seated squarely at the interface between the unclassified academic world and the classified operational world.

“We are uniquely suited to bridge that gap and draw on the Nation’s innovative might to keep the U.S. ahead of its adversaries,” Starks said. “To work at AFRL means interacting daily with incredible people making cutting-edge developments in the basic and applied research communities with an eye toward promoting them into the defense systems of the future.”

Starks explained that the velocity of the state-of-the-art innovation, and AFRL’s investments in the next game-changing capabilities make every day on the job something new.

“You get to do all of that while working with an operational community that in my experience, always welcomes our interest in helping them to do today’s mission and to invent tomorrow’s,” he said.

When asked about a career highlight from his illustrious 24 years’ of government service, Starks was forthcoming.

Starks said he has two satellites in space right now, the Demonstration and Science Experiments or DSX, and the Very Low Frequency Propagation Mapper or VPM, working to develop technology to eliminate the radiation threat to satellites from a high-altitude nuclear explosion.

“I started working on this project near the beginning of my AFRL career, and I am just one of many who tirelessly built the models and simulations, designed the space systems, secured and defended the resources, marshalled academia and industry in support, and conducted experimentation and data analysis,” Starks said. “Today we are writing the final chapter in this remarkable basic research-to-technology development story, and AFRL’s relentless pursuit of this game-changing technology for almost 20 years is something we can all be proud of,” he said. “No one else could have done it; no one else would have done it.”

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Air Force Research Laboratory senior engineer Dr. Michael Starks is a recipient of the 2020 AFRL Fellow award. Starks has supported the U. S. space program as a government civil servant for over 24 years. He sees this recognition as an encouragement to keep at it and to continue working to enable future Fellows to achieve great things for our Nation. (U.S. Air Force photo)