West Virginia University and NASA are linking together on earth to figure out how to link things together in space.

Tapping expertise from WVU faculty, students and staff, the WVU-NASA Robotics Center will provide collaborative scientific and engineering research associated with evaluating sensors and algorithms for autonomous rendezvous docking and small-scale contact dynamics for space robotic platforms supporting future Goddard-related space exploration missions.

Officials from WVU and NASA joined with Congressman Alan. B. Mollohan today (Nov. 29) to dedicate the Center, located at the West Virginia High Tech Consortium Park in Fairmont.

Symbolic of the event, WVU students guided robotic arms to cut gold and blue ribbons to dedicate the partnership between WVU and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Later, the arms were commanded to perform a simple task on a simulated craft while an animated video showed what the task might look like when performed on a real satellite or spacecraft.

Click below to hear James P. Clements talk about WVU's involvement in the WVU-NASA Robotics Center.

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The partnership began as a $3.2 million NASA grant in late 2009 and has since developed rapidly. Along with a vast array of computer and other high-tech equipment, the warehouse-like lab also contains a life-size model of a spacecraft that will be used to simulate robotic service operations. The Center is operated by the WVU Research Corp.

“This is the type of facility that people dream about, kids dream about,” WVU President James P. Clements said.

Kevin Lamb, a senior electrical engineering major from Silver Spring, MD, agreed to help at the Center months ago without knowing exactly what he’d be doing. On Monday, he echoed Clements.

“It’s very cool …amazing really. I get to play with robots,” he said. “What better dream could you have?”

Click below to hear Frank Cepollina talk about the importance of NASA's partnership with WVU and clear up a common misconception about innovation.

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Frank Cepollina, deputy associate director of the space servicing capabilities project for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said NASA began working with WVU researchers 10 years ago when they helped develop more lightweight and affordable structures to carry high-tech equipment into space. He praised WVU for its forward-thinking researchers and institutional and state leadership such as Mollohan who have encouraged investment in research.

Gene Cilento, the Glen Hiner Dean of the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, said the facility will serve as a “test bed” to evaluate and update hardware and develop robotic platforms and smart tools to serve existing satellites. Some tasks could include relocating, refueling or repairing satellites.

“We view our role as the part of the NASA Goddard team that provides out-of-the-box thinking innovation and independent support for their missions,” Cilento said, and also, “training for the bright young scientific minds who will go on to contribute to the continued success of NASA in the future.”

Click below to hear Gene Cilento talk about the goals of WVU engineering researchers and students and future developments of the Center.

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Along with contributions to science and research that will have global impact, the partnership will also spark economic development in West Virginia.

Mollohan, as chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce and Science, brought the idea for the center to WVU, encouraged the partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and helped secure NASA funding for the project. As a result, WVU students, graduate students and staff will be contributing to America’s future in space.

“This project highlights three elements that have been key to north central West Virginia’s growing reputation as a high tech magnet – West Virginia University’s research arm, the West Virginia High Tech Consortium and a growing NASA presence,” he said.



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