Michael "Orbit" Nayak

Program Manager

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Dr. Michael “Orbit” Nayak joined DARPA as a program manager in May 2022. At DARPA, he is interested in inventive ways to apply techniques from the disciplines of astrophysics and planetary science to problems in space domain awareness (SDA); space control; very bright and compact X-ray imaging sources for medical and aerospace imaging, and preventing strategic surprise in cislunar space. 

His research interests include methods to remotely identify characteristic satellite frequencies, radically innovative solutions to modern optical detection problems, cutting-edge nanosatellite mission concepts, and problems facing the rapid proliferation of people and materials on the lunar surface.

Prior to DARPA, Nayak worked as a space shuttle engineer; flight director for multiple experimental spacecraft; a skydiving instructor; a planetary scientist at NASA Ames; research section chief for the DoD’s largest telescope; instructor flight test engineer and instructor pilot. He has flown an X-plane, worked flight test for the prototype T-7A trainer jet, deployed to the South Pole as a U.S. Antarctic Program principal investigator, managed air- and space-based special programs, and was a semi-finalist for the 2021 astronaut class. He is a USAF Test Pilot School graduate, Rotary National Award for Space Achievement recipient, and has 1,000+ hours of flight time in 40+ aircraft including the F-16, T-38, EA500 and BE-76.

He holds a doctorate degree in Planetary Science from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow. He holds additional graduate degrees in Earth Science (M.Sc, UCSC), aerospace engineering (M.Eng, ERAU) and flight test engineering (M.Sc, USAF TPS). 

Outside work, he is an FAA-certified CFI, CFII, MEI and IGI; a USPA-certified skydiving instructor (AFF-I) and IBA-certified wind tunnel instructor; wingsuit and freefly coach; and author (represented by Martin Literary Management, Los Angeles).