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UK a Main Partner in New $15 Million NASA Space Technology Research Institute

April 05, 2021

Faculty members Alexandre Martin, Matthew Beck, Hailong Chen, John Maddox and Savio Poovathingal are part of UK’s team. 

NASA has formed a new Space Technology Research Institute (STRI) that will include the University of Kentucky as one of its main academic institutions. The new STRI seeks to advance key technologies for exploring the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The STRI is called Advanced Computational Center for Entry System Simulation (ACCESS). It will be led out of the University of Colorado and be implemented in partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Minnesota, the University of New Mexico and UK.

According to NASA’s news release regarding ACCESS, “Entry, descent, and landing technologies must continue to improve to meet the challenges of placing large payloads on other worlds, such as Mars. Accurate modeling and simulation of atmospheric entry systems are critical for the design and planning of these missions. The ACCESS institute will advance the analysis and design of NASA entry systems by developing a fully integrated, interdisciplinary simulation capability. ACCESS will focus on thermal protection systems, which protect spacecraft from aerodynamic heating, as well as prediction of the extreme environments experienced during entry. It will develop game-changing capabilities through the use of high-fidelity, validated physics models. This advancement will be enabled by innovative numerical algorithms, high-performance computing, and uncertainty quantification methods, with the goal of enabling computational entry system reliability assessments.”

Alexandre Martin, professor of mechanical engineering, will lead the UK part of the work, which will focus on the thermal protection systems (heat shield) modeling, one of the four axes of research covered by the institute.

“This is an exciting opportunity that NASA has put forward. Through the ACCESS institute, we will have the privilege to significantly advance the field in a way that is rarely seen,” said Martin. “The Institute will comprise several leaders in the field who have a long history of successfully working together. UK has positioned itself as a leader in heat shield modeling, and this institute will allow us to extend our collaboration with other institutions and push this research much further. Moreover, it will allow us to contribute to forming the next generation of aerospace engineers at NASA."

ACCESS will receive as much as $15 million over five years, and roughly one-fourth of the amount will go to UK. The University of Kentucky will also be contributing an additional $1.4 million to the project. Matthew Beck in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and Hailong Chen, John Maddox and Savio Poovathingal from the Department of Mechanical Engineering are part of UK’s team. 


Figure: Modeling of the Mach 40 flow over NASA's Stardust Sample Return Capsule (Source: Alexandre Martin, University of Kentucky)