Cal Poly Pomona has been awarded $1.2 million in combined grants from NASA to support three space-related research projects that will provide students with first-hand experience developing technology that will further national space exploration research and exploration goals.
CubeSat Technology Exploration Program (CubeSTEP)
Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor Navid Nakhjiri and Assistant Professor Marco Maggia received a Minority University Research and Education (MUREP) Space Technology Artemis Research (M-STAR) grant totaling $898,872 to support three years of operations for the CubeSat Technology Exploration Program (CubeSTEP), a collaboration between the university and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Its main objective: build a 3U CubeSat bus to accommodate payloads from NASA and other industry partners.
CubeSats are miniature satellites no larger than a loaf of bread weighing less than 5lbs, typically used for remote sensing and communications in space. A CubeSat bus is the hardware infrastructure that power and provide communications, thermal stability and technology services a CubeSat needs to function in low-Earth orbit.
CubeSTEP will work with JPL to integrate thermal technology based on oscillating heat pipes (OHPs) that can accommodate high-power payloads, such as those planned for the Artemis program and future crewed missions. Additive manufacturing — the process of fabricating a physical object from a 3D digital model — will form the basis of this technology, which will be used in the design and fabrication of a CubeSat bus.
Students will play an essential role in the research, design, fabrication, testing and integration of the entire CubeSat and its payload with guidance from Cal Poly Pomona and JPL mentors. The project will have four phases: design (September 2023-August 2024); development (May-October 2024); testing and integration (November 2024-December 2025); and follow-up project (January-August 2026). The bus design will be reusable for future payloads and technology demonstrations.
Nakhjiri said the M-STAR award not only supports technology development, but also helps create a workforce pipeline for NASA as students receive training on NASA technologies and have opportunities to participate in paid internships with the agency and in summer research programs at the university.
“CPP is the No. 1 polytechnic university in the country for diversity and social mobility,” Nakhjiri said. “With excellent programs to reach out and engage students in undergraduate research, CubeSTEP contributes to training a diverse workforce for NASA by allowing them to engage in technology development under NASA’s mentorship.”
Bacteria Behavior in Spacecraft Facilities
Can bacteria survive in spacecraft assembly facilities where environments are cleaned and disinfected to prevent contamination?
Biological Chemistry Professor Rakesh Mogul was awarded a $265,000 grant from NASA’s Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES), a program under the agency’s Planetary Protection Research portfolio.
Research in Mogul’s laboratory focuses on bacteria that are isolated from cleanroom facilities — controlled environments that filter out dust, airborne microbes and aerosol particles — where Mars spacecraft for NASA are assembled.
“Our lab is working towards understanding how the spacecraft-associated microorganisms survive in the cleanroom facilities — and potentially on Mars and other planets, if we were to contaminate the explored environments,” said Mogul, program director of NASA/CSU Spaceward Bound. “Specifically, we are determining if the spacecraft-associated microorganisms can biodegrade and/or metabolize the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly.”
Currently, Mogul’s students are culturing bacteria under low-nutrient conditions similar to cleanroom environments and preparing the samples for proteomic and metabolomic analyses. These studies will help identify the key proteins and metabolites that promote the survival of bacteria in spacecraft assembly facilities and potentially on Mars.
Extended Reality (XR) in Architecture Design
Imagine walking through an unfamiliar facility without physically being there.
That’s the idea behind Architecture Professor Michael Fox’s project, “ScenarioBased XR Immersive Training Environment,” which received a $50,000 grant through NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project. Fox partnered with All of it Now, LLC, a creative agency specializing on mixed reality, and with architecture faculty colleagues German Aparicio and Marc Schulitz who are serving as mixed reality technical and design/structural consultants. The grant was applied toward virtual reality (VR) hardware and software to supplement the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality (AR) kits for students in a Mixed Reality architectural design studio Fox is teaching this fall.
The studio’s goal: design spaces for astronaut “training environments” where XR realism will be used to improve workflows and muscle memory in scenarios such as a medical bay, control room, remote fabrication and logistics center.
“Our proposal approaches Augmented Reality Navigation from a uniquely architectural standpoint to produce an adaptable full-scale final concept mock-up as a kit-of-parts,” Fox said. “A goal of the analog component is to supplement the AR system to guide a user through unfamiliar facilities and through steps that are required to carry out procedures via ‘lifelike’ virtual environments that are mapped onto low-fi analogue components. The developed technology will provide intuitive navigational tools that work both outdoors and inside of buildings.”
Immersive environment designs and ideas that emerge from the studio could “potentially be valuable to support NASA’s goal of a sustained presence on the Moon, the exploration of Mars, and the subsequent human expansion/exploration across the solar system.”
MUREP brings together small business and nonprofit research institutions to bridge the gap between basic science and commercialization of resulting innovations. As one of 15 awardee institutions, Fox’s team will meet with NASA researchers and MUREP representatives this year for training sessions focused on fostering collaboration, enhancing technical skills and providing insights into NASA’s research priorities.
“It is a great opportunity for architecture students to not just learn about emerging technologies affecting architecture but also understanding small business entrepreneurship,” Fox said.