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Ohio State selected to help develop low-Earth orbit space station research pipeline

Starlab showcases Ohio State’s strengths in interdisciplinary research

The Ohio State University is the lead university partner of a multimillion dollar NASA-funded effort to develop a new generation of commercially based, human-occupied space stations.

Ohio State research and innovation will support the Starlab commercial space station. Starlab is led by Nanoracks, a commercial space company dedicated to providing commercial access to space. Starlab’s partner organizations include Voyager Space (majority shareholder in Nanoracks), Lockheed Martin, Ohio-based Zin Technologies, the Universities Space Research Association and the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation.

Nanoracks has been awarded a $160 million Space Act Agreement by NASA to design and deploy the Starlab commercial space station, which will host the space-based George Washington Carver (GWC) Science Park as part of the agency’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development program. Starlab supports NASA’s initiative to stimulate the commercial space economy and provide science and crew capabilities prior to the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS).

“Starlab is an opportunity for transformational leadership and partnership with the commercial space sector in cutting-edge research, across a wide range of domains,” said President Kristina M. Johnson. “It builds on Ohio State’s strengths in industry research and leverages our existing research capabilities to support NASA’s priorities for the development and commercialization of low-Earth orbit. It is incredibly exciting for Ohio State to have this opportunity to engage in transformational leadership and partnership with the commercial space sector while building on and leveraging our strengths in industry research.”

Starlab and the GWC Science Park will focus on a range of research areas, including biology, plant and agricultural science, physical science and materials research. Researchers will have an opportunity to advance in-space and terrestrial agriculture; materials and manufacturing for spaceflight; artificial intelligence; and space-based remote sensing.

“Ohio State’s strengths and expertise across these domain areas, as well as its role as a leading land-grant research university, make it an excellent choice to serve Starlab as the lead university partner in this exciting program,” said Grace Wang, executive vice president for the Enterprise for Research, Innovation and Knowledge.

The focus on in-space and terrestrial agriculture is a unique feature of the effort and showcases Ohio State’s strengths in interdisciplinary research.

“The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is excited to host and operate the ground-based ‘control lab’ for agricultural research aboard the Starlab/GWC Science Park and assist in advancing in-space and terrestrial agriculture,” said Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Dean of CFAES Cathann A. Kress. “Agriculture is entering a digital revolution – this partnership demonstrates our commitment to advancing controlled environment agriculture and affirms we are poised to lead the way.”

“Spaceflight is simply one of the most compelling contexts in which to pursue a wide range of cutting-edge research activities, from AI and robotics to materials and microbiology,” said Ayanna Howard, dean of the College of Engineering. “Combining Ohio State engineering and research capabilities with those from collaborators around the globe, especially at the intersections of disciplines, will help bring forth an exciting future of activities in low-Earth orbit.”

As the lead university partner, Ohio State will:

  • Support development and coordination of all university research aboard Starlab/ GWC Science Park.
  • Host and operate the ground-based “control lab” for agricultural and other research aboard Starlab/GWC Science Park.
  • Serve as a research gateway and catalyst for other potential users, including sovereign space programs and global private-sector industry.

“This collaboration will help the state of Ohio build further upon our long heritage of advancing the future of spaceflight, continuing in the tradition of John Glenn and Neil Armstrong,” said John M. Horack, Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy and lead researcher for the Starlab collaboration. “One can perhaps think of Starlab and the GWC Science Park as integrating many of the strengths of Ohio State’s research infrastructure and campus to the location of low-Earth orbit.”

Ohio State is positioned to receive significant funding to start up university operations. Research work is expected to involve the College of Engineering, CFAES and the College of Arts and Sciences, along with key research centers, faculty, staff and students.

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