NASA’s decision to develop new destinations in space announced on December 2 is an exciting time in history and UCF is right in the middle of it.
UCF is a member of the academic coalition supporting Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef project to build a commercially owned and operated space station to reside in low earth orbit. It should start operating in the second half of this decade.
Orbital Reef’s team includes Boeing, Redwire Space, Genesis Engineering, with Arizona State University leading a coalition of universities, including UCF. Orbital Reef’s human-centered space architecture is designed to be a âmixed-use space activity parkâ that provides the essential infrastructure necessary to support all types of human spaceflight activities in low earth orbit and can be adapted to serve new markets.
But the advice is just UCF’s latest contribution to the future of space exploration. For more than a decade, UCF has housed the Microgravity research and teaching center, who conducted research on microgravity environments and the formation of planets. The UCF experiments have flown aboard several commercial spacecraft, including several Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights.
UCF carried out experiments on the International Space Station. In addition to studying scientific questions such as the origins of planets, UCF experiments explore the behavior of dust particles on and near the surface of the moon and asteroids. These tiny particles can create big problems for astronauts and their equipment, and UCF’s experiments are helping us learn how to minimize these risks.
âWhat we learn helps us unravel the mystery of how planets were formed,â says physics professor Joshua Colwell, who heads the center. âIt can also help us find ways to keep our astronauts safe while they explore. Knowledge will be essential for successful interactions with destinations in space, whether they are on an asteroid, a planet or a new spaceport. “
UCF is also home to the Florida Space Institute (FSI), which has several researchers working on payloads with commercial space companies. The Florida Space Grant, run by FSI and UCF, also funds Edu-Payloads – payloads built primarily by students with mentorship from faculty.
âThese are exciting times and UCF is well positioned,â says Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president of research for UCF. âThe center has already put payloads on other major destinations such as the ISS and on suborbital flights. These new platforms put online over the next decade offer even more opportunities for synergies in research with our partners that will have a real impact on our future as a species.
Last month, UCF’s board of directors approved the centre’s name change in honor of Stephen W. Hawking, who early recognized the importance of microgravity research. Space Florida, which organized Hawking’s flight aboard a weightless flight and hooked it up to UCF, will hold a final vote on the center’s designation later this month.