Texas State and Jacobs collaborate on work for NASA's Johnson Space Center
Texas State is adding space exploration and mission to Mars to its list of collaborative activities. In spring 2014, the university entered into a multi-million dollar agreement with Jacobs, which creates a beneficial relationship for all parties. For Texas State, it gives students a unique learning environment to work with Jacobs on NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) projects. And it offers faculty the opportunity to be engaged in cutting-edge, applied research.
Dr. Stan McClellan, who oversees the university's work with Jacobs, answers questions about this innovative partnership.
What is Jacobs' connection to NASA?
Jacobs is the prime contractor to NASA and JSC on the JSC Engineering, Technology and Science (JETS) contract. JETS is a $1.9 billion, nine-year contract between Jacobs and NASA for engineering services related to the JSC mission.
How is Texas State working with Jacobs?
As part of the JETS contract, Texas State is a partner organization serving as a subcontractor. The university has entered into a $5 million contract to work with Jacobs for the first five years, and has an option to extend up to $9 million for four more years. Texas State and Jacobs will work together to develop task orders and statements of work related to specific research and development needs required under the JETS prime contract.
Which NASA programs and offices are supported by the JETS contract?
NASA programs and offices that will be supported include the International Space Station, Orion, Advanced Exploration Systems, the Chief Technologist and Commercial Crew and Cargo and Mars Science Laboratory science research and operations, among others.
What attracted Jacobs to Texas State University?
There were a number of reasons. First, Jacobs appreciated that Texas State is a Hispanic Servicing Institution with an impressive record of providing STEM education to the underserved. Second, the wide range of technological capabilities found in the Roy F. Mitte Building on campus made Texas State quite unique. The presence of advanced manufacturing facilities and over 25 technical labs, including high-precision machining, rapid prototyping and composite structure labs as well as semiconductor manufacturing, metallurgy and foundry capabilities, were a major attraction for Jacobs. Third, the opportunity to participate in an array of projects involving a diverse range of departments across campus. For example, Jacobs has strong interests in projects related to water, and wanted to tap into the expertise of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. Last, the university's proximity to Houston offered convenience for ongoing meetings and site visits.
What benefits does this relationship with Jacobs offer Texas State University?
Our contract goes beyond the traditional funding of a grant. It's a relationship with deep interactions. There is a high level of access and expertise available to us at JSC as well as Jacobs and Jacobs' partner organizations. Many of our departments and programs such as engineering, technology, materials science, physics, geography and The Meadows Center will experience huge visibility as they participate in targeted research and activities. We are excited by the tremendous opportunities from far-reaching projects.
What kind of special staffing will take place?
One of the aspects of the agreement with Jacobs is the reassignment of personnel. We already have three personnel on campus from Jacobs' partner organizations that are working with staff and faculty in multiple Texas State departments. Dr. Vishu Viswanathan is coordinating these efforts. These people are assigned to the School of Engineering, The Meadows Center and other departments as faculty of practice. In this role, they can participate on graduate committees; help advise senior design teams and host students at the JSC facility for longer-term assignments. The University has initiated discussions with Jacobs about establishing a presence at STAR Park, as well as the potential for funding and other commercialization activities with startup companies in STAR Park.
What types of projects will Texas State work on for NASA?
Under the Jacobs contract, we are limited only by what NASA chooses to have us do. Currently, we have two research projects that are engaged with teams working on the first task orders in support of the International Space Station and future manned missions to Mars. One research project is with the development of software and associated system concepts for a smart watch. The technologies developed for the smart watch may be used in space travel such as on the space station. The second project is related to the smart watch. It's a "PixelSense" touch screen table that provides situational awareness for what is going on in the space station. When an astronaut brings the watch close to the table, all the devices recognize each other and can perform multiple tasks or do different types of messaging.
What have students been working on so far?
The two previously described projects are related to senior design activities in engineering. We have one senior design team assigned to the smart watch while the second team is working on the touch screen table. These teams are under the faculty sponsorship of Dr. Bill Stapleton and Dr. Hassan Salamy, both assistant professors in electrical engineering. The team that has worked on the smart watch has achieved all of its deliverables. It has been so far ahead of schedule that their sponsors in the NASA Avionics Architectures for Exploration program want them to come back to JSC for technology transfer with other universities on how to use the smart watch. The team working on the touch screen table has made similar progress.
What opportunities lie ahead for Texas State with the Jacobs partnership?
The primary opportunities that the Jacobs contract presents for Texas State are in the nature of collaboration. There will be collaboration with people at Jacobs as well as people at NASA and people in the JETS partner organizations to pursue additional projects with long-term impact. These projects may be related to the earth via The Meadows Center activities with water and the environment. They may be related to the International Space Station and the mission to Mars using our senior design students and other ongoing projects. And they may come from future projects that will occur as result of the partnership.