Friday, October 23, 2015

Daytona Beach - Suborbital and Commercial Spaceflight? Oh Yes!

A new wave of commercial space companies are emerging and changing the status quo. The next generation of university graduates should be trained to work in such a new and diverse field. That's the line of thinking that went into the creation of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Commercial Spaceflight Operations (CSO) program. Currently in its third year, the program has exceeded expectations with three times as many students enrolled as was projected, undergraduates only for now.

I was at ERAU's main Daytona Beach campus all day Wednesday for a meeting of the CSO Advisory Panel. The program is heavily influenced by the space industry. Our input is solicited to improve the program. We also received updates from the faculty and students. The panel present on campus also spoke to a CSO freshman class about our experiences and answered their questions.

One topic that got me thinking was how to classify such a program. Multidisciplinary studies by their very nature don't fit well under one category. The curriculum involves a lot of science, engineering, and business, but it's not a science, engineering, nor business degree. The term “operations” also means different things to different people and may not represent the program as a whole, but we couldn't immediately identify a better word to substitute. Are employers looking to hire interns or fresh-out employees influenced by a degree name, or do they look at the bigger picture?

The multidisciplinary nature of the program also makes hiring faculty a challenge. A search for full-time faculty is on-going now. The program coordinator described to me the ideal candidate: a PhD in physics, a PhD in space law, experience teaching, and experience in commercial space industry management. No such candidate likely exists, but if anyone has any leads as to a potential good candidate, have them apply.

A recent addition to ERAU's campus is the suborbital spaceflight simulator. ERAU student Hayley and astronaut Nicole Stott had both given me advice about flying the sim and I was looking forward to trying it! I took off from the runway just fine, but immediately went into a spin. I was not used to the joystick controls! Once airborne, I stabilized and flew my craft like an airplane, but I was too low to get to suborbital space. I had neglected to raise my landing gear and I was out of fuel. So, I turned around to land. On my second pass, I was in good shape to land on the runway and was looking like I was going to land without a hitch, but I must not have pulled my nose up fast enough because I crashed. Tough ride, but not bad for a first timer! The sim is still being perfected. I think it would be even better in a centrifuge with some G forces!

The ERAU suborbital spaceflight simulator - October 21, 2015

In the sim before I flew and crashed my bird - October 21, 2015

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