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Changing Space

With cutbacks at the Kennedy Space Center and the retirement of the shuttle fleet, the Florida Space Institute has returned from KSC to its original home in Orlando and the University of Central Florida. University officials say the move allows the research and education consortium, founded by UCF in the 1990s, to strengthen its ties to the campus community and better pave the way into the commercialization of space.

A broader range of fields, faculty and students will be able to interact with the institute at its new base in Central Florida Research Park, says M.J. Soileau, UCF’s vice president for research and commercialization. “As the nature of the space program changes, it makes sense for us to more closely align FSI with all areas of campus that have an investment in space,” Soileau says.

Central Florida Research Park, adjacent to the campus, is filled with companies working in high-tech fields from laser optics and simulation to electrical engineering. Moving to the park offers opportunities for joint research projects, says S. Alan Stern, a former NASA administrator serving as interim director.

Research, Stern says, is “the key to keeping UCF and Florida in the forefront of space exploration.” The institute awarded $400,000 in grants in July for nine research projects in fields ranging from nanoscience to astrophysics. The space institute’s first major initiative came in 1997 when the Defense Department gave it $500,000 to design a small satellite, carried aboard a shuttle, for testing high-speed laser communications.

Stern, a renowned planetary scientist hired by UCF in 2011 to lead the institute into the post-shuttle era, predicts that space tourism will be commonplace within the next few years as entrepreneurs from the private sector bring a renewed sense of adventure and excitement to the field.

UCF’s Florida Space Institute partners include the Florida Institute of Technology, Brevard Community College, Space Florida, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida A&M, University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, University of South Florida and University of Florida.