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J. (Bob) Balaram


4800 Oak Grove Drive
M/S 198-219

Pasadena, CA 91109





Member of:

3471 - Section Staff

J. (Bob) Balaram

Principal Member of Technical Staff


Bob Balaram is a Principal Member of Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in Computer & Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1985 where his doctoral thesis addressed the control of highly non-linear systems. He has been at JPL ever since and works in the area of Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL), Modeling & Simulation, Telerobotics Technology, and Mobility Concept Development.

Currently Bob is researching precision landing methods for Mars as well as advanced simulation techniques for planetary EDL. He led the team that developed a high-fidelity EDL simulator that recently received a NASA Group Achievement Award and has been adopted for use by the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory mission. He is also the co-developer of a simulator used for planetary rover simulation. Bob has led design teams for developing Mars aerobot (aerial robot) perception systems, a deep-diving Venus balloon gondola concept, and balloon-carried imaging sondes for deployment at Venus. He was also a co-developer of the Rocky-7 rover platform ' a prototype and precursor to the new generation of rovers such as those on the MER mission.

His work in rovers spans machine vision for rover hazard detection, improved methods for rover position determination, rover system re-configuration, and software system architectures for rover development. Previously Bob was the lead engineer for machine intelligence on the JPL Telerobot Testbed where he led a team responsible for coordinating multiple robotic manipulators and vision-based sensing to achieve automation of servicing operations such as module change-out and assembly. He subsequently worked on the Remote Surface Inspection for the Space Station in the area of real-time, vision-based flaw detection of damage caused to the Space Station over its lifetime in orbit.

Dr. Balaram is the recipient of 2 NASA Awards and 8 New Technology awards. He is a member of the IEEE and Sigma Xi.


Ph.D Computer & Systems Engineering. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1985.
Thesis: Suboptimal Control of Nonlinear Systems
M.S. Computer & Systems Engineering. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1982.
Thesis: Analysis of Boiling Water Nuclear Reactor Stability Margins
B.Tech. Mechanical Engineering. Indian Institute of Technology, 1980.

Professional Experience


  • Principal Member Technical Staff. Mobility & Robotics Section. JPL. Current.

  • Technical Group Leader. Tele/Autonomous Systems Group,
    JPL. 1988-1991.

  • Instructor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY,

Research & Systems Development Experience

  • Beyond Monte-Carlo - Statistical Verification and Validation of Space Systems. Principal Investigator,
    DRDF, JPL. Current.

    Developing methods using the Perron-Frobenius operator to determine the probability distribution functions arising from parametric uncertainty.

  • Lunar Navigation Study Lead. Sept 2008-Feb 2009.

    Led a team investigating new technologies required for Lunar navigation, especially as related to global surface operations.

  • Sherpa System Principal Investigator,
    Mars Base Technology Program NRA, JPL, May 2004 - July 2008.

    Developed novel concept for precision delivery of Scout-class
    payloads to Mars.

  • EDL Modeling & Simulation Task Lead,
    Mars Technology Development Program, JPL, September 2000-June 2008.

    Led a team of engineers to develop a real-time spacecraft simulator
    for use in Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory mission operations, and for technology related to precision landing.

  • Dynamics Simulation Task Lead, Develop New Products (DNP)
    Process, JPL, 2000-2003}

    Led a team of engineers to develop a generic planetary Entry, Descent,
    and Landing (EDL) simulator for use by various JPL planetary missions.

  • Simulation System Engineer, Spacecraft Simulation, JPL,
    1999 - Present

    Implementing real-time, high-fidelity simulation algorithms for
    rovers and spacecraft, including configuration kinematics of rover in
    contact with terrain; distributed spacecraft system simulations architectures;
    and aerodynamics/systems modeling for spacecraft entry, descent and landing.

  • Perception System Engineer}, Rover Technology Program, JPL. 1995-2000

    Designed and implemented real-time perception system for Long Range Science Rover (Rocky-7) including
    novel state estimation method for improved rover odometry, real-time stereo-vision for obstacle detection,
    goal/landmark verification, range map analysis for manipulation hazard avoidance,
    and soil/rock detection for science instrument placement.
    Developed predictive state, constraint estimation methods, and
    a traction/stability metric for reconfigurable robots used in all-terrain

  • Study Lead, Venus Geoscience Aerobot Study (VEGAS). JPL, 1997-1998.

    Led development by a multi-disciplinary team of a gondola concept for a Venus
    Geoscience Aerobot.

  • Study Lead, Gondola and Science
    Instruments System, Mars 2001 Aerobot/Balloon Study (MABS), JPL, 1996.

    Led development by a multi-disciplinary team of a 2001 Mars aerobot mission
    gondola concept.

  • Cognizant Engineer, Planetary Aerobot Sensing/Perception System, JPL, 1996-1998.

    Led team to build on-board navigation and perception system for the Planetary
    Aerobot Testbed. Designed aerobot localization methods involving combination of
    inertial, imaging, celestial, ranging and radio-metric sensors,
    and corresponding sensing strategies to operate on Venus and Mars.
    Designed and led team in implementation of inertial sensor suite for
    aerobot platform tilt and inertial motion estimation, image-based
    ground-track motion estimation algorithms and software.

  • Cognizant Engineer, Remote Surface Inspection System, JPL, 1991-1995}

    Led development of robotic system for supervised inspection of space
    structures using a sensor rich package mounted on a multi-arm robotic
    platform. Overall cognizance of design, integration and test of system,
    operator tele-presence
    workstation, automated inspection system, and multi-arm controller.
    Designed sensor system, machine-vision algorithms and software, and
    VME Pipelined Processor hardware system
    for robotic inspection using imaging cameras, active lighting,
    and differencing/registration methods for change detection.
    Integrated eddy current sensing for surface crack detection.

  • Cognizant Engineer, Run-Time Control Subsystem, Telerobot Testbed, JPL, 1985-1991.

    Led a team that designed and implemented the run-time sequence planning
    and control subsystem for a multi-arm robotic system targeted for
    space platform servicing applications.
    Subsystem capabilities included 3-D world-modeling of objects, fast
    collision checking,
    multi-arm path-planning using hypercube multi-processor, sensor-based
    force/motion trajectory parameter synthesis, coordination of machine-vision
    and motion control, and interfaces to AI task planners and diagnosticians.

Research Interests

  • high-fidelity physics-based modeling & simulation
  • advanced Monte-Carlo and related methods for verification and validation of space systems
  • entry, descent and landing
  • applying simulation technology for EDL, rovers, autonomy validation and advanced design environments
  • methods for rover and aerobot (aerial robot) navigation
  • telerobotic systems

Flight Project and Research Task Involvement

Flight Projects
Phoenix EDL Targeting and Simulation


  1. J. Balaram, "Kinematic Observers For Articulated Rovers," 2000 IEEE Conference on Robotics & Automation, San Francisco, USA, April 2000., 17 September 2020.
  2. J. Balaram, "Kinematic State Estimation for a Mars Rover," Robotica, 18, 251-262, (2000)., 17 September 2020.
  3. J. Yen, A. Jain and J. Balaram, "ROAMS : Rover Analysis, Modeling and Simulation Software," Fifth International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence and Automation in Space, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, 1-3 June 1999, 17 September 2020.
  4. James A. Cutts, Viktor Kerzhanovich, J. Balaram, Bruce Campbell, Robert Gershman, Ronald Greeley, Jeffrey L. Hall, Jonathan Cameron, Kenneth Klaasen and David M. Hansen, "Venus Aerobot Multisonde Mission," AIAA Intl. Balloon Technology Conf., 1999, Norfolk, Virginia., 17 September 2020.
  5. J. Balaram, Jonathan M. Cameron, James W. Cutts and Kerry T. Nock, "Autonomous Mobility, Navigation, and Control for Venus Aerobots," I-SAIRAS 97, July 14-15, Tokyo, Japan., 17 September 2020.
  6. Kerry T. Nock, J. Balaram, Matthew K. Heun, I. Steve Smith and Terry Gamber, "Mars 2001 Aerobot/Balloon System Overview," AIAA Intl. Balloon Technology Conf., AIAA 97-1447, June 3-5, 1997, San Francisco, CA., 17 September 2020.
  7. J. A. Cutts, K. T. Nock, J. A. Jones, G. Rodriguez and J. Balaram, "Planetary Exploration by Robotic AeroVehicles," Autonomous Robots, 2, 261-282 (1995)., 17 September 2020.
  8. J. Balaram and S. Hayati, "A Supervisory Telerobotics Testbed for Unstructured Environments," Journal of Robotic Systems,, Vol. 9-2, pp. 261-280, 1992., 17 September 2020.
  1. J. Balaram, R. Mukherjee, "Attitude Dynamics and Control of Moving Mass Multibody Aeromaneuver Vehicle," AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference. AIAA-2008-6390., 01 August 2008.
  1. S. A. Striepe, D. W. Way, A. M. Dwyer; J. Balaram, "Mars Science Laboratory Simulations for Entry, Descent, and Landing," Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, vol.43 no.2, 311-323, 01 January 2006.
  1. A. Jain, J. Balaram, J. Cameron, J. Guineau, C. Lim, M. Pomerantz, G. Sohl, "Recent Developments in the ROAMS Planetary Rover Simulation Environment," IEEE 2004 Aerospace Conf., Big Sky, Montana, March 6-13, 2004, 06 March 2004.
  1. S. Striepe, J. Balaram, "Mars Smart Lander Simulations for Entry, Descent, and Landing," AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conf., Monetery, California, 5-8 August, 2002., 01 May 2002.
  2. B. Martin, J. Balaram, D. Henriquez, G. Sohl, C. Miller, M. Pomerantz, "System Engineering Challenges of Real-Time Simulation for Mars Smart Lander Entry, Descent, and Landing," AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conf., Monterery, California, 5-8 August, 2002., 01 May 2002.
  3. J. Balaram, R. Austin, P. Banerjee, T. Bentley, D. Henriquez, B. Martin, E. McMahon, G. Sohl, "DSENDS - A High-Fidelity Dynamics and Spacecraft Simulator for Entry, Descent and Surface Landing," IEEE 2002 Aerospace Conf., Big Sky, Montana, 09 March 2002.
  1. 25. P. S. Schenker, P. Pirjanian, B. Balaram, K. S. Ali, A. Trebi-Ollennu, T. L. Huntsberger, H. Aghazarian, B. A. Kennedy and E. T. Baumgartner, Jet Propulsion Laboratory; K. Iagnemma, A. Rzepniewski, and S. Dubowsky, P. C. Leger and D. Apostolopoulos,G. T. McKee, "Reconfigurable robots for all terrain exploration," in Proc. SPIE Vol. 4196, Sensor Fusion and Decentralized Control in Robotic Systems III, Boston, MA, Nov. 5-8, 2000, 01 January 2000.
  1. S. Hayati, J. Balaram, H. Seraji, W. S. Kim, and K. Tso, "Remote surface inspection system," International Journal of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 45-59, 01 May 1993.
  1. J. Balaram and H. Stone, "Automated Assembly in the JPL Telerobot Testbed," Intelligent Robotic Systems for Space Exploration, Chapter 8, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Norwell, MA, pp.297-342,, 01 January 1992.
  1. G. N. Saridis and J. Balaram, "Suboptimal Control for Nonlinear Systems," Control-Theory and Advanced Technology, Vol.2, No.3, 547-562, 01 January 1986.
  1. C.N. Shen, R. Lahey and J. Balaram, "A State Variable Formulation of Density-Wave Oscillation in Boiling Water Reactors," ANS Transactions, 36, 01 January 1981.