CRESST II space science consortium to receive $87.5 million from NASA Goddard

The Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology (CRESST II) is prepared to embark on a new era of innovative research and teaching with the commitment of $87.5 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center.

UMBC and the University of Maryland, College Park are the leading partners in a consortium formed to compete for this program. New consortium partners under this renewal agreement include Howard University, Catholic University of America, and the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA).

CRESST was first launched in 2006 under a ten-year cooperative agreement. The CRESST II agreement is valued at $87.5 million over the next five years, and provides for a renewal option for another five years.

“We are very proud of our long-term relationship with NASA Goddard,” states Karl V. Steiner, UMBC vice president for research. “The CRESST II program builds on the complementary scientific strengths at both UMBC and at College Park, and highlights the value that strong USM partnerships bring to the federal labs in Maryland and their national and global scientific missions. We are especially excited to grow our partnerships with Howard University, Catholic University and SURA. ”

The funding will primarily be used to support CRESST scientists who will work on specific, short-term projects at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. The collaboration “opens up a broad range of projects in hardware, theory, and observation,” says T. Jane Turner, professor of physics and director of the Center for Space Science and Technology (CSST), the UMBC arm of CRESST.

CSST represents one of three major Cooperative Agreements between NASA Goddard and UMBC.  The other two are the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) and the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute (GPHI).

This partnership provides significant opportunities for university scientists to make major contributions to space science through cutting-edge research in areas like high energy astrophysics, gravitational waves, exoplanet exploration, and the study of planets within our own solar system. Additionally, says Turner, “We offer these scientists an enhanced career path,” by seamlessly connecting them with classroom experiences that relate to their work in the lab.

Turner explains that CSST scientists get “the best of both worlds—the research, networking, and facilities at Goddard and the opportunity to get teaching experience and work with graduate and undergraduate researchers here. There’s a symbiosis.” In turn, the program creates opportunities for UMBC students to learn from expert space scientists in the classroom and the lab, and to contribute to innovative and impactful research.

“This grant—and the important partnership it represents—will enable us to continue research that advances science and benefits our state and beyond,” says President Freeman Hrabowski.  “Moreover, it will create opportunities for students to prepare for careers by working alongside world-class experts.”

NASA also benefits from the educational aspect of the work, as many students go on to postdoctoral and research scientist positions with the agency. “Goddard loves new talent,” says Turner. “They want to have young people involved, and there’s a lot of work that’s really suitable for providing research experience to the students.”

“NASA has played a key role in making the Baltimore region a national leader in scientific research,” says Congressman Elijah Cummings. “This grant will help UMD and UMBC to continue providing students from diverse backgrounds with opportunities to learn and grow so they can launch successful careers in STEM fields.”

Turner is particularly excited to collaborate with the new partners through this new, expanded stage of the consortium’s work. She’s looking forward to “bringing together other local astrophysics students and networking them in,” which aligns with UMBC’s mission to diversify the scientific community. Turner is also working with UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program to help undergraduates obtain summer internships with NASA through CRESST II.

The renewal is here just in time to create an all-around win. “Several exciting projects are now ramping up at Goddard,” says Turner, “and our scientists and students will move that work forward.”

Image: Jan Merka, GPHI director; T. Jane Turner, CSST director; and Belay Demoz, JCET director (l to r). Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

The CRESST II renewal has also been featured in The Baltimore Sun, The Daily Record, Baltimore Business Journal, and Washington Business Journal.