To research, develop, build and fly satellite and space platforms that:
- Provide transformative impacts on current and future space applications;
- Enable universities to play significant, critical roles in innovation, creativity and technology transfer for next generation space advances;
- Create effective and globally competitive scientists and engineers with knowledge and skills to lead the cutting edge of space science and technology.
SERC aims to impact five major domains in dramatic ways in space. Specifically:
- Global access: Create applications that democratize the space domain and enable new national and international markets and capabilities
- R&D: Create disruptive, revolutionary engineering advances
- Education: Deliver hands-on, experiential skillsets for the second-generation space workforce
- Industry: Challenge traditional platform development and manufacturing processes, enabling orders-of-magnitude cost reductions
- Space science and exploration: Enable previously unattainable capabilities through advanced engineering and innovation
Next-Gen Space Research
What comes next? What breakthroughs will enable the move to colonies in space? Solar Power Stations? Starships...?
The SERC is constantly looking for research amongst the "white space"; the area under or over the curve of traditional technological performance where we can make a big difference. A large focus is on fundamental details associated with "building in space". Current research areas include rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO), contact dynamics, interconnect quality between various electro mechanical systems, close proximity maneuvering around non-linear growing elements, etc. These are all being looked at with traditional and new technologies.
But the big breakthroughs will come through integration and mergence with non space areas. How do we "grow" a spacecraft? Possibly merge the best of genomic biology and DNA sequencing of plants and vegetation with next generation space materials. How do we build really "big" platforms? Possibly through aggregation of hundreds of small self locking "satlets" that constantly upgrade their internal control and dynamics via software.
It's these questions that drive us...will you join?
Space, as a viable discipline for graduates to enter has become a highly robust and rich industry. The advent of small satellites have come of age in a very big way, and new applications on-orbit for larger platforms such as servicing are being actively pursued by Governments and industry. The undergraduate and graduate student now has potentially a greater opportunity in “new space” than ever before. Against this new resurgence of space industry developments lies two forces at work which offer both opportunity and challenge for new graduates, and in turn to Universities that support “space education”.
First the large established aerospace companies are retiring a high percentage of their very experienced space workforce through normal attrition, within the next 5 years. While they are hiring new engineers, within the companies the deep seated detailed experience of seasoned space professionals is not easily transferred nor a set protocol put in place that is constant through each company. Second, space “startups” now offer the in-experienced person opportunities to enter the space field, without having any previous flight experience. While exciting and with some showing success, the level of complexity of those systems with new technology do not leverage the decades of experience in larger platforms, thus may limit the growth of the “new space” industry into new revenue and more complex markets. (This of course warrants potential debate given ubiquity of new technology and ease of use.)
These interesting dynamics beg the question; can a specific university business model offer a way to capitalize on the opportunity and challenge from these two opposing and overlapping trends?
Here at USC our answer is a unique research center that has been operating since 2006 which uses a model akin to an “engineering teaching hospital”. The concept is to provide a mechanism to introduce students into active “industry like” spacecraft and satellite projects and have them work side by side with professionals, similar to the Resident/Doctor relationship that occurs in a traditional teaching hospital. The mechanism is to “teach by touch”, and provide a mechanism that can offer students during their normal academic term introduction to actual spacecraft and satellite engineering. The goal is to augment the “knowledge transfer” from practicing engineers in the academic setting with practical experience. An ulterior benefit of what SERC does is allowance/acceptance/encouragement of new techniques, new technologies, new components …thus introducing the student into the “new space” paradigm, whilst being grounded in the traditional methodologies.