Tethered to a High Frontier: Meet Nestor Voronka '90

Nestor Voronka is helping to develop the cylindrical antenna shown connected to a

Nestor Voronka is helping to unspool cutting-edge concepts for snaring satellites that have outlived their usefulness and for linking satellites to generate electrical power as they orbit the Earth.

These are two applications for the coiled cables of varying length and diameter he works to send spaceward at Tethers Unlimited, Inc., the firm in Washington State where he's vice president and chief technology officer.

A family advocate for studying at NJIT as well as his inclination toward technology put Voronka on the path to a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a role in the development of space tethers. Voronka's father, Roman ’62, ’64, taught at NJIT for many years and is today professor emeritus of mathematical sciences.

Voronka was among the first Albert Dorman honors scholars, and although his major was electrical engineering he had opportunities to take part in diverse research activities as an undergraduate. He assisted Murray Turoff, NJIT computing pioneer and distinguished professor emeritus, at the Computerized Conferencing and Communications Center. He also explored biomedical engineering, which included spending summers in the cardiothoracic surgery lab at Cornell University Medical Center.

Voronka’s eclectic interests took him to the University of Michigan’s space physics research lab for graduate study, where he earned dual master’s degrees in electrical engineering. “I have the dubious honor,” he wryly explains, “of having two master’s from the same department in two different areas – signals and systems, and electromagnetics.”

Working with space tethers followed from Voronka’s electromagnetics research at Michigan. When he completed his second master’s in 1994, the university hired him to help with the Tethered Satellite System (TSS) experiment that flew on the Space Shuttle STS-75. The goal was to deploy a satellite on a conductive tether at a distance of some 12 miles from the Shuttle to determine how much electrical energy could be generated along the tether as it moved through the Earth’s magnetic field.

Funding for this research waned after STS-75 and Voronka moved on to Cybernet Systems, a University of Michigan spinoff focused on technological solutions in fields such as computer networking, robotics, artificial intelligence, medicine, and human/ computer interaction. “But

I wanted to get back into the space business,” Voronka says, which he did in 2003 by reconnecting with the principals at Tethers Unlimited whom he had met while working on the TSS program.

“We excel at coming up with novel and creative solutions for hard technical problems, most of which are centered on space,” Voronka says of the company where he manages projects that receive funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other groups in the Department of Defense. While tether technology remains a major focus, the company is also developing innovative technologies for pico- and nano-satellites, including deployable antennas, solar arrays, software-defined radios and propulsion, which can be deployed very economically for atmospheric studies, communications, low-orbit imaging and other purposes.

In large measure, Voronka attributes his success in a field that requires creative thinking based on a wide range of disciplines to the perspective he gained at NJIT. “I’m in a job that challenges the imagination in many technical areas and the capabilities of a small company like Tethers Unlimited. I think being able to succeed in this environment goes back to my NJIT experiences, where I was able to explore computer science, electrical engineering and biomedical engineering. I was prepared to look even further afield in graduate school, into signal processing and electromagnetics. An NJIT education really suited a person like me.”

(from the NJIT Magazine)