UND becomes first university in new U.S. Space Force program

Gen. John Raymond and UND President Andrew Armacost sign historic agreement

On Monday in Robin Hall, University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost (right) and United States Space Force Gen. John Raymond signed a memorandum of understanding making UND the first participant in the space agency’s new University Partnership Program  Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

With a signing of documents, a shake of hands and an exchange of salutes, Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond and UND President Andrew Armacost on Aug. 9 made the University of North Dakota the first member of the new U.S. Space Force University Partnership Program (UPP).

Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, and Armacost, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between their organizations that opens the door for opportunities in research and workforce development. The signing of the historic agreement was held in Robin Hall at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, which was attended by government representatives, business leaders, military personnel and UND leadership.

U.S. Space Force patch

Universities were selected based on four criteria: the quality of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree offerings and space-related research laboratories and initiatives; a robust ROTC program; a diverse student population; and degrees and programming designed to support military, veterans and their families in pursing higher education.

“When I see the four goals of this program – research and workforce development; collaborating in research with other universities; establishing educational opportunities for students and ROTC cadets; and developing diverse, STEM-capable graduates for the Space Force – I can say with confidence that UND is well positioned for all of them,” Armacost said.

Drawing a line in space

Raymond stressed the importance of the Space Force mission, noting that many aspects of the U.S. economy and communications are dependent on satellite technology. However, while space operations have largely been benign to this point, he said America’s adversaries have been developing capabilities to attack its space assets. Raymond explained that although nations have developed policies for encounters on land, in the air and at sea, this has yet to occur in space.

Raymond noted that it was almost exactly 35 years ago to the day that he showed up for his first assignment as a second lieutenant at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. He married a UND graduate and urged faculty members not to forget the roles they play in shaping young lives.

Present at the ceremony were North Dakota’s two U.S. Senators – John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer – and Janna Ness, representing U.S. Congressman Kelly Armstrong. Armacost thanked the state’s congressional delegation for their support of UND’s space and national defense initiatives.

North Dakota’s two U.S. senators, Kevin Cramer (left) and John Hoeven (center), took part in a news conference after the signing ceremony. Armacost and UND Aerospace Dean Robert Kraus (right) also answered reporters’ questions. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Attracting industry development

Cramer stressed that the Space Force program creates opportunities that extend beyond research and workforce development, including potentially attracting industry development.

Armacost also recognized state senators Ray Holmberg and Curt Kreun of Grand Forks, noting that the North Dakota Legislature had approved $4 million in funding for UND space-related research activities.

During a roundtable discussion, Raymond was also briefed on UND’s plans to invest $9 million over six years to expand the University’s strengths to pursue projects with federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. John Mihelich, vice president for research and economic development; Robert Kraus, dean of aerospace; Ryan Adams, chair of the School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science; and Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences discussed efforts to hire new faculty and build infrastructure for the strategic R&D initiative.

Space Force’s rapid expansion

Armacost pointed out that when Raymond first visited UND in January 2020 as commander of the newly created U.S. Space Force, he was the unit’s only member. Now, it has more than 5,400 active-duty Guardians – as they’re known – and perhaps as many civilians. The numbers are expected to keep growing at a rate of hundreds more annually.

“The Space Force faces some of the toughest challenges in engineering, science, and technology,” said Raymond. “Space is hard. We need our nation’s brightest minds working to help us tackle these problems.

U.S. Space Force commander Gen. John Raymond (left) watches as UND President Andy Armacost signs a memorandum of understanding that opens the door for research and workforce development opportunities between the University and the Space Force. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“That is why we have established the University Partnership Program to harness the innovation at universities across our country,” he continued. “Today, I’m excited to welcome the University of North Dakota as our first official UPP member, with ten more schools to follow in the coming months.”

Other universities on track to join the partnership program in fiscal year 2021 are:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Howard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
  • Purdue University
  • University of Colorado System (beginning with Boulder and Colorado Springs)
  • University of Texas System (beginning with Austin and El Paso)
  • University of Southern California

Q&A with Gen. Raymond

Gen. Raymond answered questions submitted by UND Today about Space Force’s University Partnership Program.

Why is the University Partnership Program important to the U.S. Space Force?

The United States Space Force (USSF) University Partnership Program (UPP) is a key part of the Space Force Human Capital Strategy. USSF is establishing creative and innovative initiatives to motivate and develop space professionals by collaborating with industry and academia. UPP enables the space force to collaborate with our nation’s premier universities on basic and applied research, inclusive workforce development, and advanced educational opportunities.

Why were these 10 universities selected to participate in the University Partnership Program?

The USSF assessed numerous schools across the country and selected 10 universities to develop partnerships with in FY21. Ten additional schools will be added in FY22.  These institutions were chosen based on the following considerations: strength of their diversity focus; high quality of STEM degree and research programs; established ROTC program; and tuition and military assistance.  The universities asked to join the UPP encompass all four factors to fully support the program’s goals and objectives.

How do you envision the knowledge gained from working with these universities being put into use by the U.S. Space Force?

The knowledge gained will afford Guardians opportunities for hands-on experimental learning and the ability to participate in state-of-the-art research and development, and test and evaluation initiatives, ultimately advancing USSF’s toughest space and technological challenges, both long and short term.  Additionally, collaborative research partnerships between USSF and academia engages a diverse pool of students and scientists, providing a consistent pipeline of talented Guardians for the future.