Collaboration with NASA
Since 2014, Texas State University has been involved in a partnership with Jacobs Engineering, “a global provider of technical, professional and scientific services,” and NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), to collaborate on a number of high-tech engineering projects meant for the International Space Station and human missions to Mars. The $7 million contract, which runs through April 2020 (and could be increased to $9 million and extended through 2022), is part of the $1.9 billion JETS (JSC Engineering, Technology and Science) program. JETS is a contract between Jacobs and NASA for engineering services related to the JSC mission.
Through this partnership, engineering students have completed many exciting projects for Johnson Space Center, including:
- An adaptive LED lighting system that shifts spectrum and brightness to simulate daylight and conform to human circadian rhythms. More natural-feeling lighting will improve physical and mental health for long voyages through space.
- A mechanism for applying pressure to a drill bit in order to improve collection of materials without relocating the mechanism on the spacecraft, or increasing the weight of the device. For use on future Mars rovers and other exploration craft.
- An onboard microphone system capable of detecting frequencies outside of human hearing that may indicate malfunctioning equipment.
- A smartwatch that interfaces with onboard systems to aid in tasks and monitor astronaut health.
- Application software designed to create multiple visualizations of data gathered from the heat shield on the Orion spacecraft.
Ongoing projects include:
- An “internet of things” (IoT) sensor network to detect various environmental variables (temperature, humidity, pressure, xyz acceleration of the sensor, etc.). Data is relayed to a centralized database.
- An augmented reality interface with IoT devices called “X-Reality.” X-Reality allows users to interact with holographic images of nearby smart devises, displaying important information like temperature, orientation, age, maintenance requirements and more.
- A robotic arm that demonstrates the stability of a machine as well as the dexterity of a human hand, for the purpose of handling material samples from asteroids, the moon and Mars.
A major benefit for the Jacobs partnership at Texas State is the university’s scientific infrastructure. With dozens of STEM labs, the university offers a comprehensive range of technological and advanced manufacturing capabilities, which include:
- The largest university-run molecular beam epitaxy facility in the U.S.
- The largest and best-equipped polymer processing at a university in the western U.S.
- Industrial robotics
- Rapid prototyping labs and high-precision machining
- A novel, industry-funded lab for testing internet of things technologies
- A state-of-the-art lab for developing and testing technologies related to renewable and sustainable energy
- Nanoparticle and nanomaterial production research
- The only simulated rocket motor in operation at a U.S. university
- One of only four university-operated foundries in the U.S.
Dr. Stan McClellan is the former director of the Ingram School of Engineering and has spent the last few years overseeing the university’s partnership with NASA. When asked why Jacobs and JSC chose Texas State University for the collaboration, he highlighted Texas State’s history of providing STEM education to underserved communities, the wide range of technological capabilities in the labs, and the university’s unique location and variety of projects in the works that Jacobs and JSC can participate in. He describes the partnership as a “relationship with deep interactions.” Multiple professionals from both Jacobs and JSC have come to Texas State to participate in research and projects across campus as “faculty of practice.” They can sit on graduate committees, help advise senior design teams and host students at JSC for long-term assignments.