Space Science

As the public and the government clamor for improved science educational offerings, colleges and universities across the nation have begun to develop new and better science education facilities. Among the new science buildings being developed today is the $12-million to $20-million Ronald G. Eaglin Space Science Center at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky.

Currently in the early stages of design, the two-story, 65,000-sq.-ft. Eaglin Center will house one of a handful of undergraduate space science programs available in the United States. The best-known undergraduate space science programs include those offered by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla.

Morehead State’s undergraduate program is relatively new, with the first courses offered just last year, in the fall of 2004. The university now offers two programs leading to space science degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Space Science and a Bachelor of Science in Physics with an area of concentration in Astrophysics.

According to Dr. Benjamin K. Malphrus, director of the Eaglin Center and a professor of space science, Morehead State has operated a radio astronomy research facility for more than a decade.“When I arrived here in 1990, I had some funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation to build a small radio telescope,” he says.“It worked pretty well, and we published quite a bit of our research.”

With the Eaglin Center, Malphrus hopes to build an undergraduate department and expand his research capabilities.

An interdisciplinary field, space science facilities house laboratories, workshops and classrooms designed for the study of physics, astrophysics, satellite telecommunications, electrical engineering, mathematics and computer science.

The Eaglin Center, for example, will include a NASA-type control room, electronics laboratory, an anechoic testing chamber, a rooftop antenna test range, a rooftop observatory complete with a dome, a Class 100 clean room and a micro-fabrication laboratory with a machine shop. Other academic spaces will consist of a satellite telecommunications laboratory, computing labs, distance learning lab and a technologically sophisticated multimedia auditorium.

Hastings & Chivetta Architects of St. Louis and Evans + Murphy Design Group of Nicholasville, Ky., are handling the design work for the new facility.

According to Dennis Lammert, a project manager with Hastings & Chivetta, rising construction costs and budget problems have altered the schedule for the ambitious project. “Right now, we’re looking at phasing options to deal with the rising cost of construction services and materials, a problem expected to grow more severe as reconstruction projects in New Orleans move forward.”

The architects are planning a first wave of construction around a $12.4-million state appropriation. “After that, we have been encouraged to believe that we will receive an extra $5 million in federal appropriations,” says Malphrus. “That money will support a business incubator, an economic development piece of the project.”

Equipment, Labs and Movie Theaters

Additional funding for specialized equipment and instrumentation will come in the form of grants from government agencies with scientific interests, continues Malphrus. “For example, we have funding for a 21-meter-long space tracking antenna, which is one of the main reasons we want to build this facility, which will be a support center for this instrument.”

The facility will also include an anechoic testing chamber, which will mimic the electromagnetic environment of space and will enable scientists to design and test satellite components in a realistic environment. Still another piece of the design concept calls for a micro-nano fabrication facility, a clean room in which special filters remove dust particles and other contaminants from the air. The Eaglin design calls for a 6,000- to 8,000 sq.-ft. Class 100 clean room. Such facilities contain no more than 100 microscopic particles per cubic foot of air.

Finally, the facility will house what Malphrus calls a star theater, a facility with an IMAX-quality screen capable of displaying films as well as instructional software dealing with stellar dynamics. The theater will support classroom instruction, while providing a venue for lectures and film series designed to provide public information about space exploration.

The Incubator

A space science facility costs a lot to design and build. Through time, such a facility will generate high operating expenses as well. According to Malphrus, the university’s plan for Eaglin includes an economic development initiative under which the school will recruit small businesses working in space technology as tenants in an incubator designed into the center.

“We’ve already recruited two companies that plan to locate their businesses here,” Malphrus says. “We’re hoping to attract four to five companies overall. The rents paid by incubator tenants will help defray operating costs for the building. We also hope to be able to pursue grants and contracts together with our tenants.”

The project is scheduled for completion in spring 2006.