Last week I had a long-awaited opportunity of touring the facilities of the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmosphere and Space Physics (LASP) (http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/). LASP is an elite space institution with a capacity to design, develop, implement and operate multiple space missions. What makes LASP unique is that it integrates undergraduate and graduate students into all working teams providing them an unparalleled opportunity to experience hands-on the various stages of a space mission. Students may lead instrument development under academic and research supervision. Undergraduate students are trained and certified to perform missions operations together with professional staff. LASP currently operates four satellites – QuikSCAT (http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/missions-projects/quick-facts-quikscat/) , SORCE (http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/sorce/), AIM (http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/missions-projects/quick-facts-aim/), K2 (http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/missions-projects/quick-facts-kepler/) – and over 100 instruments.
I was guided in my tour of LASP’s impressive facilities by Edgar Johansson, Manager of Strategic Initiatives. He underlined the strong collaboration between LASP and industry. LASP not only carries out research projects for industry (for a fraction of the cost the industry itself would incur); it also tests and calibrates instruments for space missions and in some cases operates missions on behalf of industry.
I asked about international students’ involvement in LASP activities: Edgar Johansson confirmed that many of these activities are open exclusively to students with US citizenship. Amal Chandran, Project Manager at LASP, who was accompanying us, told me about a LASP-sponsored university-centred initiative in the making which is open to international participation: the International Satellite Program in Research & Education (INSPIRE). INSPIRE was launched by an international consortium in 2016, involving , inter alia, the French Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (http://www.latmos.ipsl.fr/index.php/en/). It seeks to develop a long-term academic program for developing a constellation of small satellites and global network of ground stations for small satellite operations, whose ultimate objective is to set up a university microsatellite constellation and platform to address outstanding questions on climate change and space weather effects. It is an educational and training programme offering participating universities and industry numerous opportunities for research and technology development and providing a pathway to raise Technology Readiness Level of new instrument and spacecraft technology concepts.
It is worth noting that, like many other stakeholders in the aerospace sector in Colorado, LASP carries out a significant number of outreach activities promoting space science among elementary through high school students.