Edmonson Receives NSF Award for ASTREC

August 20, 2008

Dr. William Edmonson, ECE Department, NC State University
Dr. William Edmonson, ECE Department, NC State University

William Edmonson has been awarded $224,000 by the National Science Foundation for the establishment of the Advanced Space Technologies Research and Engineering Center.

The award will run from August 1st, 2008 to June 30th, 2013.

Research Abstract - The landscape of today's space industry is an increasingly global one, with even more countries developing space technology capabilities. The pre-eminence of the U.S. in the aerospace industry can no longer be assumed, as was illustrated in the final report of the President's Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry (The Aerospace Commission, 2002), The Commission's urgent purpose is to call attention to how the critical underpinnings of this nation's aerospace industry are showing signs of faltering and to raise the alarm.

Responding to this call, current U.S. National Space Policy needs are dictating that smaller and more agile space assets (i.e., small satellites) will be the primary focus for space agencies, not totally excluding larger spacecraft as may be necessary, but these will be the exception. New technologies and integrated systems that enable small satellites having stringent power, volume and mass constraints will actually increase space science opportunities because agencies can thus afford more of them, which is also the technologies for enabling this new direction. These small satellites will be of lower cost and function operationally-responsive space systems. This will allow the industry not to continue with countless cost overruns and schedule delays that have plagued many government space satellite programs, e.g. science-driven (NASA, NSF), weather (NOAA), and national defense (DoD) purposes. It has been further recognized by national space policy experts, that small satellites can complement the services provided by existing larger satellites, by providing cost effective solutions to specialist communications, remote sensing, and rapid response science and military missions.

Research focus/Intellectual merit - Small satellites are an enabling technology for addressing the current U.S. National Space Policy needs of a lower-cost, more-responsive space systems. Transitioning to small satellite systems introduces technical challenges not only for the fundamental spacecraft subsystems due to stringent low power, low volume/mass constraints, but also on the supporting infrastructure of space operations. This proposal is to request to establish a new collaborative NSF I/UCRC between educational partner University of Florida (UF) and North Carolina State University (NCSU). The center, to be known as the Advanced Small Satellite Technologies Research and Engineering Center (ASTREC), will have as its objective technological developments that produces improvements in time to orbit, cost, and performance of U.S satellite systems. Through these efforts, the pre-eminence of the U.S. space industry can be regained. In order to accomplish this objective, the Center will perform multidisciplinary research in the areas of small satellite technologies. The Center will utilize a design-build-fly (DBF) philosophy (similar to that utilized by the UAV community) to accomplish rapid transitions from low technology readiness levels to actual flight test. The emphasis will be on small satellite systems (particularly pico and nano-class) because they (i) provide rapid access to space, (ii) are technology drivers (mass, volume, power constraints) and (iii) are economically feasible.

Broader impact - To be good stewards of our space environment, the ASTREC is cognizant of the potential impact of its DBF approach to the problems of space debris. In this regards, it is expected that one of the first demonstrators to be developed and evaluated by ASTREC will address on-orbit services such as debris removal though autonomous rendezvous and docking. Furthermore, it is imperative that this recovery capability becomes routine to the space industry, otherwise the community will not migrate towards Risk Tolerance because of the fear failure. However, with a capability for recovery, the fear of failure can be reduced, and in fact, the lessons learned from the failure can be utilized in a positive manner to develop a better product.