The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as part of the newly formed Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation, announced Wednesday by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. UTMB, along with seven other universities, will be part of a research team to ensure that the commercial space community can meet the nation’s current and future space transportation needs.


The center links academia, industry and government to create a consortium that will address current and future challenges for commercial space transportation. In addition to the universities, partners include three NASA centers, space industry coalitions, commercial payload and launch companies, and commercial spaceports.


Dr. James M. Vanderploeg, associate professor of aerospace medicine in the UTMB Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, said, “The next decades of the 21st century will see an extraordinary expansion of commercial space business and utilization. Tourism, scientific experimentation and services for human exploration will all depend heavily on the Federal Aviation Administration’s ability to set policies and guidelines that are well informed and fair. Research performed by UTMB will address areas of health and safety for the flight crew and passengers on commercial space vehicles.”


Working with Vanderploeg, who serves as Virgin Galactic’s chief medical officer, will be UTMB physician Dr. Richard Jennings, medical director for Space Adventures. UTMB resources that will support research studies include the Center for Telehealth Research and Policy, the UTMB Clinical Research Center and the Flight Analog Research Unit. UTMB will collaborate with scientists at the Johnson Space Center and Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering Group in conducting research projects for the FAA’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.


“The goal of this COE is to forge a union of public sector (national laboratories, NASA centers, space port authorities, state and local entities), private sector industrial entities and academic institutions to create a world-class consortium that will identify solutions for existing and anticipated commercial space transportation industry problems,” Vanderploeg said. “The COE for commercial space transportation will perform basic and applied research through a variety of analysis, engineering development, business case studies and prototyping activities.”


UTMB, along with research partners Stanford University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, will share $1 million per year in base funding from the FAA over the next five years.