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UA partners with U.S. Space Command to create space-ready work force

UA partners with U.S. Space Command to create space-ready work force

  • Projects like the James Webb Space Telescope's Near Infrared Camera has put the University of Arizona at the forefront of space research, leading with a new partnership with U.S. Space Command.
    University of ArizonaProjects like the James Webb Space Telescope's Near Infrared Camera has put the University of Arizona at the forefront of space research, leading with a new partnership with U.S. Space Command.

U.S. Space Command has selected the University of Arizona as the inaugural member of its new Academic Engagement Enterprise, designed to train a future workforce and increase research and innovation related to space and national security.

"With our long and well-established leadership and expertise in planetary science, astronomy, astrophysics and space technology, the University of Arizona is perfectly positioned to partner with and support the U.S. Space Command in many areas of research, operations and student engagement," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "It is an honor to be selected as the agency's first academic partner."

On Sept. 1, Space Command, a Defense Department command that coordinates the different branches of the military in outer space, established its Academic Engagement Enterprise. The project is meant to help mold the future workforce, advance its space-applied research and innovation programming, expand space-focused academic partnerships, and increase dialogue between the agency and academia.

The university's relationship with Space Command will provide a forum for students, faculty and university partners to collaboratively address pressing challenges in human security, exploration, development and settlement of space, officials said.

"U.S. Space Command recognizes the incredible collaborative and mutually beneficial partnership opportunities the University of Arizona presents to our command and workforce," said Col. Doug Drake, chief of training and education for the agency. "With the full spectrum of space-science programs and degrees, the University of Arizona and its faculty provide an academic standard for others to emulate." 

The United States relies heavily on its space assets, including GPS, weather forecasting and communication satellites to permit essential day-to-day activity, said Jekan Thanga, a UA associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering. The volume of space traffic is expected to increase with the introduction of "mega-constellations" – new space stations and on-orbit servicing facilities between Earth and the moon. If not properly managed, the increased traffic could stifle future growth prospects and limit access to space.

"The expected wider expansion into space will require mastery in living and working within cislunar space," Thanga said of the region between the Earth and Moon. "The university, through long experience-spanning space missions, technology and habitats, will be developing a multi-prong education program and skillset that will equip (Space Command) personnel tackle these challenges."

Thanga will coordinate with the university's various space-related entities to establish a formal, graduate-level program in space research.

"The University of Arizona has a rich history with NASA dating back to the 1960s, in which it has taken on some of the nation's toughest space challenges and delivered proven results to NASA," Thanga said. "In that same spirit, we seek to be problem solvers for the next wave of challenges that inevitably come with wider expansion into space."

UA Provost Liesl Folks delivered the keynote address last week at the Space Command Academic Fair at West Point, N.Y.

"Space research has an important role at the University of Arizona and we strive to contribute to trailblazing progress in space," Folks said. "Space research at the University of Arizona is about students and faculty working on the frontiers, making eye-opening new discoveries, and inventing new space technologies that can propel us to the four corners of the solar system and paving the way for the future."

Several other space research and education efforts are underway at the university, including research on detecting, characterizing, and tracking objects between Earth and the moon; a NASA-funded ASTEROIDS laboratory integrating research with education to build a well-prepared science, engineering and technology workforce; and the National Science Foundation Center for Quantum Networks.

The National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development survey ranks UA first in astronomy and astrophysics and fifth in the physical sciences and NASA-funded activity.

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