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UND receives NASA research grant

NASA funds will be used to develop faster space communications technologies

UND has received a $650,000 grant to develop high-bandwidth communications networks to be used in space.

The grant was awarded by NASA through its Space Technology Research Grants Program, and was announced by Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., on Tuesday, Dec. 6. Funds from the award will be given out over the period of three years. Along with UND, nine universities across the nation have received funding to develop early-stage technologies with an eye toward future use. At UND, the research will take a multi-disciplinary approach involving the Engineering and Aerospace colleges.

“We’re very excited about this collaborative project between the College of Engineering & Mines and the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences,” said Brian Tande, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines. “This project will build upon a long history of space-related research at UND and further grow our capabilities to develop new technologies for space applications. It will also capitalize on the generous investment the North Dakota Legislature has recently provided for space research at UND and will certainly lead to even more opportunities.”

The research will be overseen by Ryan Adams, Associate Dean for National Security in the College of Engineering & Mines. Ronald Fevig, associate professor of Space Studies, is the co-principal investigator on the project and Sreejith Nair, research assistant professor of Aviation will also work on the project.

Said Adams: “This is a great opportunity for UND, the College of Engineering & Mines and the school of Aerospace to solve a very critical and timely problem for space exploration.”

Adams said the research will be used to create a communications network that can be used for general space applications, but one goal is to develop a system that could be used by astronauts who are on lunar missions.

NASA began its Artemis 1 mission on Nov. 16 with the launch of the Orion spacecraft. The uncrewed mission is the apace agency’s first step in returning astronauts to the moon. It is there, Adams said, that a reliable, low-latency—faster—communications system will become particularly necessary.

The NASA grant is among the most recent developments in space research at UND, including the development of the National Security Corridor in Harrington Hall. When completed, the facility will feature satellite design, engineering and fabrication laboratories and a digital engineering and Big Data lab, which can be used for group or individual projects.

In total, UND received a $14 million appropriation from the Legislature to redesign spaces on campus for space-related initiatives and add cutting-edge equipment and other resources.

Other space initiatives currently happening on the UND campus include:

  • The College of Arts & Sciences is working to establish a nanofoundry by 2023 to forge nanoscale devices of interest to the space community.
  • The Aerospace College is installing a new space operations center classroom for orbital mechanics and space situational awareness. The College is also creating new graduate courses on space propulsion and hypersonic technologies.
  • A materials characterization lab is under construction in Upson Hall I. When completed, the lab will allow the engineering college to develop and analyze advanced materials for use in space, air and ground applications to meet national security needs.