GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota and the U.S. Space Force are closing in on creating the framework of a partnership program to provide solutions for the nation’s newest branch of the military.
Officials from both entities are working to iron out all the facets of how the Space Force’s University Partnership Program will function, and an agreement is on track to be signed sometime in August. The university was selected in May as one of 10 schools to partner with the Space Force, according to a June 15 article from UND Today. The goal: to conduct research for the agency, while developing the talent pipeline for people to work in the space sector.
“It's all part of it, absolutely,” said UND President Andrew Armacost. “I think universities do both of those things very well. We produce graduates who can do great things for the Space Force, and we also have great research capabilities that the Space Force can take advantage of.”
Having an agreement in place with the Space Force will be both an end and a beginning for UND. It will formally usher in an era of increased activity across multiple colleges at UND, and mark the end of wondering what will come from repeated visits by top U.S. space leaders. Last October, Armacost said he hoped UND would become part of a “consortium” of universities working to solve problems for the Space Force, and participation in the partnership program is set to make that a reality.
For Robert Kraus, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, the partnership means a sharper look at satellites. Kraus said the department of space studies will expand its research into satellite operations, and ultimately, he wants to build satellites at UND. To do that, he needs a control room that doubles as a classroom, one that evokes images of NASA’s Mission Control Center.
“When you think of NASA launching rockets, you have a control room where these people are all sitting behind computer screens and you have big screens up on the wall,” Kraus said. "We want to build that and turn it into both the classroom, where we're teaching satellite operations and satellite control, as well as making it available for research.”
Kraus also said there is the potential to participate with businesses such as General Atomics, a defense and technology company at the Grand Sky drone business park near Grand Forks Air Force Base. In May, the company announced it was developing a low-Earth orbit satellite mission. Attending that announcement was Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear, whose staff, prior to his visit, met with Kraus and others to discuss opportunities in the region. Tournear has previously visited UND.
“That is a partnership that we look to be involved in,” Kraus said.
But a partnership with the Space Force won’t be limited to space studies. The physics, mathematics and chemistry departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the electrical engineering and computer science departments in the College of Engineering and Mines, will all take part in the research.
And research is only part of the partnership. About a third of the students studying for master’s degrees in space studies are active-duty members of the military who are studying online. Kraus said he wants to grow that number, as well as increase on-campus students, to develop a local workforce not only for the Space Force, but for expanding local technology companies.