UCF Lands NASA-Funded Center, Linchpin For Future Space Missions


    UCF will be home to NASA’s Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (referred to as CLASS) beginning later this year, thanks to a $6 million grant awarded this week to UCF physics professor Daniel Britt.


    The research center puts UCF on the agency’s space-exploration map. CLASS will provide critical research in areas NASA has identified as key to future robotic and human space-exploration missions. The CLASS was one of nine organizations selected under NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute program, which NASA announced Wednesday.


    The CLASS will focus on achieving a better understanding of the physical properties of NASA’s exploration of planets and asteroids, and will aid NASA in planning exploration missions to asteroids, the Earth’s moon, the moons of Mars, and to “mini-moons,” asteroids that Earth temporarily captures. Results obtained by CLASS researchers are expected to benefit NASA exploration missions through the 2020s and beyond.


    “This makes UCF a leader in the area of solar system exploration,” Britt said. “The center will bring together a group of world-class researchers to create a one-stop shop of scientific expertise, supporting NASA’s exploration goals. CLASS makes Central Florida integral to NASA’s exploration future.”


    Britt is an international expert on out-of-this-world rocks. He is a geologist and physics professor at UCF investigating the properties of lunar and Martian rocks under several NASA grants. Britt also is a former chairperson of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, the largest international professional association for planetary scientists. Additionally, every NASA rover on Mars houses at least one instrument Britt designed to help scientists understand the surface of the Red Planet.


    CLASS includes a number of researchers at UCF and the Florida Space Institute housed at UCF who conduct cutting-edge space research on NASA missions such as Cassini, which is orbiting Saturn, and OSIRIS-Rex, a mission to sample a near-Earth asteroid. Scientists at UCF also work with commercial space companies helping make an economic impact on the community.


    “CLASS diversifies the science and exploration-industry in Florida,” Britt said. “This center, this kind of impact – that’s why you have state universities. UCF can and should be an engine of knowledge-based growth in Florida. We’re contributing to science, impacting the economy, and making sure Florida stays a leader in the space game.”


    Britt will lead the center, which also involves 15 lead researchers from UCF, Kennedy Space Center, other NASA Centers, and universities around the nation, in addition to 23 collaborating researchersfrom the United States and four other nations.


    “CLASS is a big win for Central Florida,” said Ray Lugo, the director of FSI and a former deputy program manager of the Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “NASA recognizes our space science achievements and the leadership potential of UCF and FSI for their exploration programs.”


    The other groups named Tuesday are: Southwest ResearchInstitute in Boulder, Colo., Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., Stony Brook University in New York., NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and Brown University in Providence, R.I.


    “This is a significant win for Florida and UCF,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida. “It is a major step in the continuing diversification and growth of space exploration research in Florida universities..”