NASA Taps Michigan Tech Prof to Lead $15M Space Research Institute

HOUGHTON — Michigan Technological University Professor Greg Odegard will lead a new, multidisciplinary and multi-institution Space Technology Research Institute.

The institute is funded by a $15 million 5-year grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Odegard, pictured at right above, is the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Professor of Computational Mechanics at Michigan Tech and associate chair and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. He is also an adjunct professor of materials science and engineering at Tech.

Odegard’s team will include 22 faculty members from 10 universities, two companies and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab. Their STRI is called the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design or US-COMP.

“We are fortunate to have the best researchers in their respective fields from across the country on the US-COMP team,” Odegard said. “At Michigan Tech, we plan to have several faculty involved from various departments, as well as numerous undergraduate and graduate students.”

Said Bill Predebon, chair of the ME-EM Department: “This is a major accomplishment by Dr. Odegard and Michigan Tech. Greg has the experience and research accomplishments needed to lead such a large multi-university and industry institute, having been a PI on a NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center and an internationally recognized leader in composite material modeling.”

As NASA shifts its focus from low-earth orbit to deep space exploration, the agency is going to need building materials for vehicles, habitats, power systems and other equipment that are lighter and stronger than those available today. US-COMP’s goal is to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength lightweight aerospace structural material within five years.

“The primary technical role that Michigan Tech will play is in the development and use of advanced computer modeling methods to facilitate the development of these materials,” Odegard said. “The materials can be designed and simulated in a computational environment relatively quickly, which will save time and money in the overall material development process. Our high-performance computer cluster SUPERIOR will play a major role.”

The research that US-COMP conducts should have societal impacts on earth as well as in space, Odegard added. Rapid development and deployment of the advanced materials created by the institute could support an array of applications such as military and civilian aircraft and high-performance cars and benefit the nation’s manufacturing sector.

In addition to Michigan Tech, US-COMP’s research partners are Florida A & M University, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Utah, Virginia Commonwealth University, Nanocomp Technologies, Solvay and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab.

The other new STRI is the Centre for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES). Funding for the two STRIs comes from NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the pioneering and cross-cutting new technologies and capabilities needed by the space agency’s present and future missions.

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