Release courtesy of New Mexico Space Grant Consortium
LAS CRUCES, NM – When Dr. Pat Hynes was recently notified that the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium at New Mexico State University (NMSU) was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a 2010 Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation, she predicted that this would help make New Mexico the magnet for commercial space in the nation and the world. At a press conference held August 19 at NMSU, Dr. Hynes noted that this highly competitive process for the $10 million dollar funding was an important win for New Mexico because it also marks the first time the federal government has made a major investment in the commercial space industry, and it was made in New Mexico.
“Robert Goddard and NMSU’s Physical Sciences Laboratory were pioneers in the space industry along with White Sands Missile Range, leadership in space research is our heritage at NMSU and in New Mexico” Dr. Hynes said. “As we begin the age of Spaceflight for Mankind, the State of New Mexico is once again leading the effort.”
The FAA has created the Center of Excellence (COE) program in partnership with the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) to help identify solutions of existing and anticipated space transportation issues. By teaming with the nation’s top academic research institutions, the COE will help ensure the protection of the public, property, and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States during commercial launch or reentry activities. NMSU will be the lead institution for the FAA, working with the following core university partners: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; Florida Institute of Technology; Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion; Stanford University; University of Colorado – Boulder; and the University of Texas – Medical Branch.
Initial funding for the COE is $2 million for the start-up phase, with and additional $4 million in agency funds over the first five years of operation, which will be matched by the partners to total $10 million in initial funding. Center Operations Cooperative Agreements will be issued to all seven research universities. Research funding will come from government contracts in addition to the operating funds in the form of IDIQ contracts.
Dr. Hynes explained what the COE will do for the FAA. “We will work on research for improved spaceport operations systems, and to find ways to improve airspace integration, for example.” She explains that vehicles traveling to space will transverse through present commercial air space, so changes to the air traffic control process will allow for frequent travel to and from space. “We will also characterize the business of commercial space, and define the related markets we expect it will create.” In addition, the COE will provide education services for all organizations involved in commercial space transportation.
Dr. Hynes is also the Director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium which is a member of the congressionally funded National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. This program is administered by NASA. The statewide consortium supports a wide range of space related research and education projects, including the Student Launch Program which provides annual access to space from Spaceport America for student experiments.