NASA Announces University-Led Space Technology Research Institutes
Chandra Lye posted on March 01, 2017 |

NASA has given its support to develop two multi-disciplinary research institutes that will work on developing technologies for further solar system exploration and discovery.

These new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) will combine the expertise of researchers from different universities and disciplines, who will work together to further technologies in the space infrastructure and bio-manufacturing arenas. The goal of these institutes will be to make exploration mission capable devices that are able to function in space without assistance.

This presents great opportunities for engineering students to work with these teams in researching, developing and manufacturing technologies and materials to further U.S. space exploration.

NASA’s associate administrator for their Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, Steve Jurczyk, said the STRIs will have the potential to revolutionize future aerospace capabilities.

“These university-led, multi-disciplinary research programs promote the synthesis of science, engineering and other disciplines to achieve specific research objectives with credible expected outcomes within five years. At the same time, these institutes will expand the U.S. talent base in areas of research and development with broader applications beyond aerospace,” Jurczyk said.

NASA announced the two STRIs, which will be the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES) and the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP).


Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES)

Advanced biological engineering techniques are rapidly emerging that can lead to innovative approaches for in situ biological manufacturing techniques using microbes and plants, and provide the means to create sustainable technologies for both future space exploration and terrestrial applications.  (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Advanced biological engineering techniques are rapidly emerging that can lead to innovative approaches for in situ biological manufacturing techniques using microbes and plants, and provide the means to create sustainable technologies for both future space exploration and terrestrial applications. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

The agency said they were interested in the work of CUBES because they have been looking at developing technologies that would allow for crews to create the items they need, instead of relying on resupply missions from Earth.

CUBES’ role will be to expand research on integrated, multi-function, multi-organism bio-manufacturing systems that can produce fuel, material, pharmaceuticals and food. Although the organization’s focus has been to enable deep-space exploration, their developments will also have beneficial uses on Earth.  

Work done on using carbon dioxide as the base component in manufacturing materials, for example, has a role on Earth in carbon dioxide management.

The CUBES team will be led by University of California Berkeley, along with Utah State University, the University of California Davis, Stanford University, Autodesk and Physical Sciences, Inc.


Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational-Design (US-COMP)

High performance materials and structures are needed for safe and affordable next generation exploration systems such as transit vehicles, habitats, and power systems.  (Image courtesy of NASA.)

High performance materials and structures are needed for safe and affordable next generation exploration systems such as transit vehicles, habitats, and power systems. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

The second STRI NASA will be investing in, US-COMP, has focused its work on developing lightweight materials. They anticipate they will be able to develop and begin using a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength aerospace material in the next five years.

The team at US-COMP has been working with industry partners, as well, and expects that lab advances may help improve manufacturing facilities. This in turn would help create a substantial supply of material that NASA could use on missions.

They also expect that their research will benefit the U.S. manufacturing sector.

The team at US-COMP consists of 22 members led by Michigan Technological University, along with Florida State University, University of Utah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Florida A&M University, John Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado and Virginia Commonwealth University. Others partners include Nanocomp Technologies and Solvay, along with the U.S. Air Force Research Lab.

Each institute will be receiving up to $15 million over the next five years. The funding will be provided by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. This is the branch of the agency that works on cross-cutting new technologies and capabilities to aid the agency in its missions.

For more information, visit NASA.gov.

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