USC Education

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.