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NASA Ames grant keeps SCU onboard satellite program

Monday, Nov. 12, 2007

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Recognizing the important role played by Santa Clara University in its small spacecraft program, NASA Ames has awarded nearly $3 million in grants to the School of Engineering. The money, to be disbursed over the next three years, represents a commitment by NASA to continue a partnership it began with the University in 2004.

"They know we're going to be working with them for quite a while," said Christopher Kitts, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the SCU's Robotics Systems Laboratory. "In essence, NASA has made a long term commitment to keep us as part of the satellite team."

Three years ago, students at SCU began developing the command and control systems for NASA's GeneSat-1 satellite and made significant contributions to its design and testing. After it launched late last year, NASA, in an unprecedented move, handed complete control of the satellite's mission operations to the students. And now, SCU engineering students and faculty members are working with the research facility on PharmaSat, abiology project that will study drug interaction in space, using small satellite technology.

"A good chunk of the funding we'll be getting from NASA will go toward personnel costs," explained Kitts. "There are a lot of people working on PharmaSat—these are hugely talented staff members, graduate and other students, who are a major element of the satellite program."

PharmaSat is scheduled to launch next summer. Once the satellite is in space, the ground team, composed of government, industry and academic partners, will continually monitor it and run it through a scientific experiment.

NASA's $2,747,336 grant to SCU ensures a continuity of funding and allows the University to maintain its participation in the satellite program. The money is specifically earmarked for the "development of small spacecraft and payload design, test and operations," said Kitts.

According to John Hines, manager of the astrobionics group at NASA Ames Research Center and the GeneSat project manager, "Our partnership with the Santa Clara University mission operations team surpassed all of our expectations with the level of   performance and professionalism they exhibited during the GeneSat Mission." He added, "We look forward to our continued partnership with Santa Clara University on future Ames small spacecraft missions."

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,337 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see


Tags: NASA

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