NASA, UA to Sign Space Act Agreement

  • November 4th, 2016

(Editors/Producers Note: Officials from NASA and The University of Alabama will sign the Space Act Agreement after a presentation that begins at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in room 1012 of the North Engineering Research Center on campus. Members of the media are invited to attend. Temporary parking decals can be obtained from the UA College of Engineering upon arrival. For directions and parking, visit

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —  Students at The University of Alabama will work with NASA to enhance understanding of propulsion systems for small satellites – CubeSats — that orbit the Earth, participating in a research project that will help further scientific discovery.

Joan A. “Jody” Singer, deputy director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, will sign a Space Act Agreement that formally starts the project along with Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development, on campus Thursday Nov. 10. The two will sign the agreement together following an address by Singer that begins at 1 p.m. in 1012 North Engineering Research Center.

“This agreement allows our students the chance to work on applied research ultimately used by NASA, which is a win-win for all sides,” said Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development. “The University of Alabama and the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center have partnered many times, and we look forward to continuing that relationship.”

The address and ceremony are part of two days of NASA events at the University that includes a panel discussion, “The Path to Mars,” among NASA personnel moderated by Singer in 2014 South Engineering Research Center at 2 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 9. Other events include mentoring, a career fair, exhibits by NASA and other industry partners as well as technical sessions on solar dynamics, a Europa mission and deep space exploration.

“Connecting universities with NASA’s unique skills, expertise and world-class capabilities is a priority for the Marshall Space Flight Center,” said Singer. “This new partnership agreement provides research and development opportunities for students and faculty, while helping NASA better understand the performance of this emerging technology.”

Many of the representatives from NASA and industry partners are UA alumni, including Singer who graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to network and learn from our alumni and friends who work within the space industry,” said Nancy Holmes, director of the Capstone Engineering Society, the alumni association for the College of Engineering and sponsor of NASA Days at UA. “We are proud to have so many of our wonderful graduates return to campus to share their insights on space exploration and provide advice and mentoring to our students.”

The work laid out in the Space Act Agreement will be a senior design project for a team of students in the STEM Path to the MBA, a program managed by UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce that allows students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math to earn a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Business Administration within five years, along the way getting the chance to work as a group on entrepreneurial experiences.

“In supporting a NASA project, the students are exposed to the people and job opportunities available to them not just with NASA directly, but also with the contractor workforce,” said Mike Pope, an instructor in the STEM Path program who will advise the student team on the NASA project. “The students get to see and work with state-of-the-art technologies in world class facilities as they support specific NASA entities.”

CubeSats are small, fairly inexpensive satellites put into orbit around the Earth for research purposes, often designed and used by education and non-profit institutions. They mostly hitch rides on other missions, and as a secondary payload, they are dropped into a low-Earth orbit without the ability to move. They eventually fall back to Earth and disintegrate in the atmosphere after completing their research purpose.

NASA, as part of its CubeSat Launch Initiative, wants to provide CubeSats with a method of propulsion, and NASA is tasking UA students with devising a method for doing so in such a way that it does not damage the satellite. The students will be given equipment to test ways to keep the propellant cooled during firing, and they will have to analyze and test the technology in a lab setting.

“The students learn the engineering problem solving process as applied to a real-world problem,” Pope said. “They get to work with outstanding technical professionals on a weekly basis to generate and implement a project plan that addresses a NASA need.”

This is the second Space Act Agreement UA has with NASA. The first was for testing NASA-developed vibration mitigation technology for structures in the UA Large Scale Structures Lab.


Adam Jones, engineering public relations, 205/348-6444,

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.