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

The US Space Command has selected the University of Arizona as a founding member of its new Academic Engagement Enterprise, designed to educate the future workforce and foster 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 US Space Command and contribute to many areas of research, operations and student engagement support,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “It is an honor to have been selected as the agency’s first academic partner.”

On September 1, Space Command, a Department of Defense command that coordinates the various branches of the military in space, established its Academic Engagement Enterprise. The project aims to help shape the future workforce, advance its space-related research and innovation programs, expand space-related 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 work together to address urgent challenges in human security, exploration, development and colonization of space, officials said.

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“US Space Command recognizes the incredible opportunities for collaboration and mutually beneficial partnerships that the University of Arizona offers to our command and staff,” said Col. Doug Drake, the agency’s director of education and training. “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 resources, including GPS, weather forecasting and communications satellites, to power essential day-to-day activities, said Jekan Thanga, 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 service facilities in orbit between the Earth and the Moon. If not managed properly, the increased traffic could stifle future growth prospects and limit access to space.

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“The anticipated further expansion into space will require mastery of living and working in cislunar space,” Thanga said of the region between Earth and the moon. “Through years of experience spanning space missions, technology and habitats, the university will develop a multi-pronged educational program and skills that will enable personnel (of Space Command) to address these challenges.”

Thanga will coordinate with the university’s various space-related units to establish a formal graduate program in space exploration.

“The University of Arizona has a rich history with NASA dating back to the 1960s, in which it took on some of the country’s toughest space challenges and provided NASA with proven results,” Thanga said. “With that in mind, we aspire to be problem solvers for the next wave of challenges that will inevitably accompany further expansion into space.”

UA Provost Liesl Folks delivered the keynote address at the Space Command Academic Fair in West Point, NY last week

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“Space exploration plays an important role at the University of Arizona and we strive to contribute to groundbreaking advances in space,” said Folks. “Space exploration at the University of Arizona is about students and faculty working at the frontiers, making eye-opening new discoveries and inventing new space technologies that can take us to the four corners of the solar system and pave the way for the future. “

Several other space research and education efforts are ongoing at the university, including research into the detection, characterization, and tracking of objects between the Earth and the Moon; a NASA-funded ASTEROIDS laboratory that combines 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 natural sciences and NASA-funded activities.

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