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USU Space Dynamics lab marks 50 years of research

By Wendy Leonard
Deseret News
June 5, 2009

Putting itself on the galactic map, Utah State University spent Friday morning touting projects like the EyePod, which doesn’t boom music into outer space but takes remote pictures on reconnaissance missions.

The EyePod is one of more than 500 successful experiments that the school’s internationally known Space Dynamics Laboratory has sent into outer space in the past 50 years. The center, which specializes in the development of sensors and calibration, small satellites and real‐time intelligence, brings in around $54 million in revenue for the state, mostly coming from grants, contracts and appropriations.

“The nation faces many challenges such as understanding climate change, developing new sources of energy and continuing to provide national and homeland security,” said lab director Douglas K. Lemon. He said the talent housed within the lab’s unique facilities “can contribute significantly to the needed solutions.”

Successes were among topics discussed at the school’s quarterly sunrise sessions Friday at the Grand America. USU was praised as one of the nation’s top‐funded space‐research institutions, thanks to the lab. Lemon expounded on its impact on today’s space‐based and terrestrial science, which constitute the majority of the focus there.

A project built for NASA by the folks at the USU lab will venture into space later this year. The Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer science instrument is a super‐cooled infrared space‐based telescope designed to provide a full‐sky, infrared map designed to advance the understanding of the universe. Additionally, it will enable the James Webb Space Telescope – NASA’s next‐generation Hubble – to more efficiently target objects of interest in space.

WISE, Lemon said, “will collect millions of images from which hundreds of millions of astronomical objects will be catalogued.”

Founded in 1959, the laboratory has spent decades working with NASA to map the skies. The newest space companion will help search for the closest stars and asteroids, the origins of star systems and some of the brightest galaxies in the universe, he said.v

Other research projects the more than 440 employees have a part in include the Spirit III, a spatial infrared instrument; the SOFIE, or solar occultation for ice experiment; SABER, which studies the influence of the sun and humans on the earth’s atmosphere; and FIRST, far‐infrared spectroscopy of the troposphere, which measures how much heat from Earth’s surface is going back into space.

Students at USU also participate in the space research, making up 28 percent of the lab’s employees.

The lab began with a group of engineers and scientists who led a series of experiments using German V‐2 rockets following World War II.

Those experiments, which measured electron density in the upper atmosphere, paved the way for what has become one of the world’s leading research and development institutions, owned by USU and devoted to the advancement of scientific and defense objectives.

According to Lemon, researching, developing and characterizing sensor, electronic and software systems; providing program life‐cycle support; and enhancing the education and development of scientists and engineers is the mission that grew from those first experiments.

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