Colleges partner with NASA on projects crucial for future STEM workforce

Eight U.S. universities have been selected to participate in NASA's 2024 Mission Concept program. Photo courtesy of NASA

March 28 (UPI) -- NASA and its military partners have selected teams from eight universities for the 2024 Mission Concept program, designed to give students a chance to launch their own career in the space industry while improving satellite expertise at the nation's universities.

The summer seminar will help the teams with their applications to NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative and the military's University Nanosatellite Program.

"The CubeSat Launch Initiative is one of many ways NASA is attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines," NASA says on its CSLI webpage. "This strengthens NASA's and the nation's future workforce. Further, the initiative promotes and develops innovative technology partnerships among NASA, U.S. industry, and other sectors for the benefit of agency programs and projects."

The program also aims to give the students a chance to ultimately have their technology used in the development of spacecraft, the administration said.

The CSLI is a partnership between the Air Force and U.S. Space Force Mission Concept Program.

"Air Force, and contractor personnel reviewed the proposals, selecting universities based on the educational impact, university program impact and development, minority outreach and support, and relevance to NASA or the Department of Defense," NASA said in a statement. "Three of this year's awardees -- University of Central Florida, Florida Atlantic University, and Tarleton State University -- are Minority Serving Institutions."

This year's selections are:

  • University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla.

  • University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.

  • Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Fla.

  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D.

  • Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind.

  • Northeastern University, Boston

  • West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va.

  • Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas

The students will spend seven weeks at the Air Force's University Nanosatellite Program facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., where three students will serve as interns with the Space Dynamics Laboratory.

"During the program, the students will work with small satellite experts for continuous feedback and guidance to help improve university proposals and increase those teams' potential of being selected to fly to space as part of NASA's CSLI or the Air Force's nanosatellite opportunities," NASA said.

The space administration said using the CSLI to attract and retain students in STEM strengthens the future workforce, both at NASA and throughout the country.

A CubeSat is among a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites are about 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm and typically weigh less than 2 kg.

This story has been updated to clarify the program the universities were selected for.