Cal Poly News

Cubesats and Congressmen

By Charlotte Tallman
Congressman Salud Carbajal and Dean Amy S. Fleischer with the CubeSat vacuum chamber
Dean of the College of Engineering, Amy S. Fleischer, with Congressman Salud Carbajal at the new vacuum chamber

Congressman Salud Carbajal celebrated the future of space exploration — and Cal Poly’s new partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory — with the opening of a new vacuum chamber in the College of Engineering during a campus tour in August.

The vacuum chamber will allow researchers to test and develop propulsion for CubeSats, affordable and easy-to-make mini-satellites that allow governments, schools and private companies worldwide to explore space and conduct research. Currently, most CubeSats cannot be controlled in space, and propulsion and maneuverability are often viewed as the next major step in CubeSat technology.

Carbajal championed the Air Force partnership, which funded roughly $2.5 million to enhance the Aerospace Engineering Department and boost its mini-satellite program.

About 20 years ago, former Aerospace Engineering faculty member Jordi Puig-Suari co-created the CubeSat standard with Bob Twiggs of Stanford University — allowing Cal Poly to become a major contributor to space research.

“Our CubeSat program is notable because it involves students in significant research, testing and development,” said College of Engineering Dean Amy S. Fleischer. “Working with the Air Force will increase Cal Poly’s reputation for innovation while providing students opportunities to perform relevant, real-world research with industry.”

The Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Air Force provides $5 million to be split evenly between Cal Poly and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Three U.S. representatives from California secured funding for the partnership — Carbajal, Norma J. Torres and Grace Napolitano — through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R. 1158).

“Military-educational partnerships like the one between the Air Force and Cal Poly enhance our national security capabilities and provide Cal Poly students with hands-on learning opportunities that set them up for successful careers when they graduate,” Carbajal said. “I am proud to have partnered with Congresswomen Napolitano and Torres to advocate for and secure this funding that will help drive innovation and support the next generation of aerospace leaders.”

The EPA’s agreements between a defense laboratory and an educational institution allow the labs to provide equipment and personnel to the schools, as well as career and academic advice to students while involving faculty and students in research.

The EPA will also help the Air Force Research Lab pioneer transformative aerospace technologies and accelerate its long-term strategic objectives in key areas including energy security, energy optimization, reusability, maneuverability and multi-mission mobility.

“Cal Poly’s Aerospace Engineering Department is already one of the best in the nation, and we will continue getting better,” Fleischer said. “This partnership allows us to enhance our Learn by Doing contribution and continue revolutionizing space exploration.”