University receives $805,000 for new space science initiative

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 17, 2005 – Virginia Tech has been awarded $805,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an interdisciplinary center for space research in the College of Engineering. Wayne Scales, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering, and Joseph Wang, associate professor in aerospace and ocean engineering, are the leaders of this new initiative for Virginia Tech.

The space science research program will begin with the hiring of a new faculty member in electrical and computer engineering with expertise in ground-based and/or space-based science instrument development. The faculty member will develop research and teaching programs specifically in radio science, upper atmospheric physics, and aeronomy that complement Virginia Tech’s existing efforts in these scientific areas.

Virginia Tech has two faculty members with research efforts in theoretical studies and numerical modeling of upper atmospheric space physics and space environmental effects. Adding a new faculty member to this effort will provide a critical mass of faculty working in the space science area, greatly strengthening existing research efforts.

Plans also are underway for the creation of a space science instrument laboratory. With this new facility, Virginia Tech will be able to compete much more effectively for funding in space science and future space exploration missions, significantly increasing research opportunities in both space science and space technology at Virginia Tech.

The new space science program also will support Virginia Tech’s nationally known programs in wireless telecommunications, power systems engineering, remote sensing, advanced space propulsion, and spacecraft dynamics and control -- all of which utilize space science. This effort will be complemented by the creation of a Ph.D. specialization in space science in electrical and computer engineering and aerospace and ocean engineering, which will increase the number of graduate students available to conduct research in space science.

Several new courses will be developed in collaboration with the new faculty member in order to have a clearly defined space science track within electrical and computer engineering and aerospace and ocean engineering. The new courses being planned include: Fundamentals of Space Science, Numerical Methods for Space Physics, Space Science Instrumentation, and Spacecraft Environment Interactions. This initiative is well timed and strongly supported by the College of Engineering and the university given the recent affiliation with the National Institute of Aerospace, a consortium of universities established in 2002 to develop excellence in research and education in a spectrum of aerospace related areas of study, including space science. Other member universities include Georgia Tech, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, North Carolina State, Hampton University, and North Carolina A&T State.

To further support the new program, Virginia Tech has long standing relationships with the Space Plasma Physics Branch at the Naval Research Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Langley Research Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The relatively close proximity of the university to a number of these leading government space science research laboratories will help strengthen new collaborative efforts in space science.