Space Institute relocates to Research Park
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 17:07
The Florida Space Institute, a consortium of universities across the state dedicated to space research and development, relocated its headquarters this past week, taking up residence at the Partnership I Building in UCF’s Research Park. Researchers and faculty hope that the move will strengthen collaboration between students and faculty at UCF with NASA researchers by allowing more opportunities for student involvement and more funding for research projects.
The move comes barely a month after the institute announced that nearly $400,000 from the state of Florida was granted to the institute to fund nine research projects in fields such as physics, chemistry and electrical engineering. The money comes to the institute from the Space Research Initiative, a collaborative program between UCF and the University of Florida to support related research between the two universities. In addition to all of Florida’s state universities, schools such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the Florida Institute of Technology are members within the group.
Richard Eastes, a UCF physicist and assistant professor at FSI, thinks that the move is nothing but beneficial to UCF by making it easier for researchers and students to communicate and work with each other, instead of commuting to the institute’s former home in Cape Canaveral near the Kennedy Space Center.
“At 45 miles away, [Kennedy] is quite a trip,” Eastes said. “It’s not something people are eager to do. I think it’ll allow us to benefit, and help people from campus benefit, from our knowledge in space, engineering, data optics and other fields.”
Eastes’ project, which received $10,000 from the institute, uses satellites in Earth’s atmosphere to study various wavelengths of light that the satellites encounter, which can often cause interference with signals being relayed to and from Earth. The idea, he said, is to understand exactly how satellites are being affected by these wavelengths and develop an instrument that can detect them early on.
Although the satellites will be launched from Kennedy Space Center, Eastes doesn’t think the institute’s relocation will deter the project.
“Kennedy is an operational outfit, so their mission is to launch it and get into space. They don’t have big research activity, unlike other NASA spaceflight facilities, like Goddard [Space Flight Center] … that’s changing, but in its past history that’s been most of its activity. They don’t have much involvement once [a satellite] is in orbit,” Eastes said.
Eastes hopes that the results of his small and inexpensive experiment lead to future funding by NASA on a much larger and more expensive scale, a goal shared by many of the institute’s scientists. Daniel Britt, an associate professor in UCF’s physics department, is working on a project that will study asteroids and how they reflect light, which will enable scientists to determine their shape, how fast they rotate in space and whether they have smaller asteroids circling them.
“The basic idea is to do the initial research and get money from NASA to do a much bigger project,” Britt said. “Right now, we have about $25,000 to work with, which isn’t that much. Later on, we’re hoping for 10 times that much.”
But another goal of the institute is to provide opportunities for students in engineering, math and similar disciplines to obtain valuable experience with NASA’s space program in development and research. The institute partners with NASA to offer scholarships, internships and fellowships for graduate students via the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium, which is housed within FSI. Jaydeep Mukherjee, the director of the Space Grant Consortium, said that last year, the consortium directly supported 97 UCF students with internships and competitions for scholarships.
“The shuttle program is dying down, and new programs are taking its place,” Mukherjee said. “Being here in Central Florida, in Research Park, you can work with other organizations in Research Park, and the students don’t have to drive all the way to Kennedy to meet with us. It would’ve been a minus four or five years ago, but these days with Skype, I can meet the students directly now, and if I need to work with Kennedy, it’s only a 40-minute drive. I think it’s a plus all the way.”
Wesley Morton, a senior studying aerospace engineering, thinks that the opportunities the institute offers are unique, but UCF has always had an excellent relationship with the aeronautical industry that benefits its students.
“Some of the teaching staff come from NASA and Lockheed and Boeing, so when the professors are in the industry, it helps with the teaching and helps students network,” Morton said. “It’s easier to apply and get internships with the affiliation. At another school, they wouldn’t have an in with Lockheed and it’d be harder to get an internship or even an application.”
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