The Suborbital Center of Excellence (SCE) was established as part of the New Mexico Aerospace Institute of New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory (NMSU/PSL). The SCE promotes education, research, and outreach in suborbital space engineering, technology, and science. Suborbital platforms include balloons, sounding rockets, and small satellites. The SCE is a university-government partnership, sponsored jointly by NASA’s Suborbital Program Office, headquartered at Wallops Flight Facility (WFF), Virginia, and NMSU, a Minority Institution, located at Las Cruces, New Mexico. The following sections provide background information on the formation of the SCE, as well as a description of the SCE mission, objectives, and anticipated activities.
The mission of the SCE is to promote science, engineering education, and outreach (kindergarten-postgraduate), with the objective of increasing numbers of college graduates with an interest in suborbital programs as a career choice. The SCE focuses on engineering disciplines of most relevance for suborbital programs, such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace studies/engineering, and engineering technology, as well as physics and materials chemistry.
The SCE develops programs and activities in support of its mission, beginning at NMSU and extending to other universities, including historically black and minority institutions of higher education. In addition to programs at the college level, SCE sponsors outreach programs to kindergarten through twelfth grades (K-12) that promote aeronautical curricula and an understanding of NASA’s programs.
The SCE sponsors student opportunities to perform basic research, design, and development of technology, and to gain hands-on engineering and operations experience. These opportunities are provided through student cooperative education programs (co-ops) positions at various geographic locations, such as WFF, and through on-campus part-time student employment. These student employment opportunities are in support of NASA’s programs and support students’ curricula.
Student employment projects may include analyses (thermal, structural, performance); studies (such as material); systems and subsystems development (electrical, instrumentation, communications, power, command and control); miniaturization; and repetitive hardware buildup. In addition to facilitating student employment opportunities, the SCE supports scholarships for students majoring in selected disciplines. These scholarships will aid minority and other students with an interest in aerospace applications.
SCE outreach activities include special projects and conferences. SCE sponsors special projects and information dissemination for K-12, such as suborbital technology fairs and development of suborbital science and engineering kits for elementary and middle schools. SCE also sponsors an annual Suborbital Program workshop and conference, hosting student paper and poster competitions among other activities.
Information dissemination is a major function of the SCE, achieved through a variety of promotional/visibility mechanisms, such as web pages, newspaper/ magazine articles, conferences.
As part of its initiative to provide a variety of student experiences, the SCE is seeking funding from several federal and corporate organizations to sponsor its programs. As part of this effort, the SCE will submit proposals for student engineering and science projects related to suborbital programs.
The SCE will form alliances with non-profit, educational organizations focused on K-12 educational projects and outreach. The SCE will solicit funding for student projects from a variety of other organizations to supplement the NASA baseline funding. Other federal agencies, including National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Department of Defense (DoD), corporations, and private foundations. The SCE will form relationships with universities and research laboratories to identify research and engineering development projects. SCE also will have corporate members, such as balloon manufacturers, with an interest in the promotion of suborbital