U of A to test balloon-based space tech on south side of Tucson | Subscriber

The University of Arizona is taking its balloon-based space research to the next level, with a new lab springing up at UA Tech Park in The Bridges on the south side of Tucson.

And nearby, UA Tech Park’s first office building in The Bridges is starting to buzz with activity as major UA tech agencies, including Tech Launch Arizona, begin moving in.

The UA Mission Integration Lab, under construction on the northern edge of the bridges off East 36th Street, features a “high bay” approximately 40 feet high, similar to a hangar, where researchers and students can work on instruments, telescopes and high-tech altitude balloons.

While UA has long been involved in NASA programs, including balloon research, the Mission Integration Lab will make UA even more competitive for research missions such as long-duration balloon flight missions. from NASA, said Carol Stewart, associate vice president of Tech Parks Arizona. .

“We know we can attract a lot more NASA-funded projects,” Stewart said, citing the AU’s “moonshot” goal of increasing its annual research funding to $1 billion from about $761. million for fiscal year 2020. “We think this is a very smart investment for the university”.

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Although no balloons are inflated or launched there, the Mission Integration Lab has been specifically designed to accommodate large pieces of flight hardware, such as research platforms mounted on balloon-borne gondolas .

The lab will have an overhead crane and space for an environmental chamber to simulate conditions at the edge of space.

“It’s really to work on the payload — the highly technical part of these balloon missions,” Stewart said.

The Mission Integration Lab is led by Buell Jannuzi, director of the Department of Astronomy and the Steward Observatory at UA College of Science.

Balloon missions fill an important niche between ground-based observatories and space telescopes, providing a way to deploy telescopes and other instruments at altitudes where they receive less interference from Earth’s atmosphere without the need for a full-fledged space mission, Jannuzi said.

Stewart said AU is investing $4.75 million in the Mission Integration Lab, which will be used by campus researchers and help attract companies looking to advance their technology through public-private partnerships.

“It’s going to be used for multiple projects, they come and go, groups of students come and go, and that connection to the university is going to be great,” she said.

UA astronomy professor Dan Marrone, one of several UA researchers pursuing balloon astronomy, is a co-investigator on the Terahertz Intensity Mapper, or TIM, a NASA-funded balloon mission designed to create a giant map of galaxies over 5 billion years of cosmic history.

Another balloon-borne observatory run by the AU is the ULDB Galactic/Extragalactic Terahertz Spectroscopic Observatory (GUSTO), which is headed by Christopher Walker, professor of astronomy, optics and engineering.

The mission, which will carry an infrared telescope to study the life cycle of stars, is funded by NASA and has been approved for launch in December 2023.

In April, the University of Arizona’s Tech Launch Arizona moved into its new space inside The Bridges Refinery. About 30 employees work in the 12,000 square foot space.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

“Refinery” move

Across The Bridges property to the south, UA has begun occupying The Refinery, a four-story, 120,000 square foot office building that will house several university agencies and anchor further development.

Tech Launch Arizona, the technology commercialization arm of UA, moved in mid-April to a space of approximately 12,000 square feet comprising nearly half of the first floor.

UA’s tech-focused business incubator, the UA Innovation Center, is preparing to move into an adjacent first-floor space this fall, along with a small office and collaboration space for the AU Office of Research, Innovation and Impact.

AU Applied Research Corp. (UA-ARC), a not-for-profit AU spin-off created in 2019 to work on defense projects, began moving into a 15,000 square foot space on half of the fourth floor of the refinery la last week.

Other UA agencies slated to move into The Refinery include UA Online, which is slated to move into a 16,000 square foot space on the building’s third floor this fall.

The third floor will also house a small “touch” space for the UA College of Applied Science and Technology, a Sierra Vista-based online school that offers degree programs in cyber operations and intelligence and security operations. information certified by the agencies of the Ministry of Defense.

Stewart said the developer was finalizing a lease opportunity with a private sector tenant for the remaining space at the refinery, which was part of the building’s original plan.

“We would like to see the industry rub shoulders with our university tenants there,” she said.

The Refinery, a four-story, 120,000 square foot office building will house several university agencies and be the anchor for further development.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

Close collaboration

The move to The Refinery was a breakthrough for Tech Launch Arizona, which solicits inventions from UA faculty members, helps them develop and patent them, and licenses them to private companies, including startups founded by professors.

TLA for most of its nearly 10-year history was housed in the former 1960s Tucson Electric Power Co. headquarters on West Sixth Street.

Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, said The Refinery is a bit farther from the main UA campus than the old TEP building, but The Bridges site allows for collaboration with other UA agencies. and should attract more private research.

“To some degree, I feel more integrated with the campus here, because TEP was just a building in itself, a mile and a half from campus,” he said. “It will be a building with a bunch of other research and business buildings around it, two miles south of campus, so we’re almost no further and we’ll be surrounded by other people.”

Tech Launch Arizona had an economic impact of $1.6 billion on the local economy from fiscal year 2017 to 2021, according to a report released Wednesday, May 18 by the AU.

Tech Parks Arizona’s long-term plans call for the construction of a lab building in The Bridges UA area, which includes approximately 65 acres in the larger 350-acre mixed-use development.

Arizona Public Media, UA’s nonprofit public broadcasting subsidiary, is in the design phase for a new $45 million, 50,000 square foot building to be constructed at The Bridges by 2025.

Stewart said she was working with Salt Lake City-based The Refinery developer Boyer Co. on concepts for another building, but nothing has been finalized.

TLA’s space includes cubicles and offices for its approximately 30 employees, including license managers, who help protect and license technologies developed at UA, as well as conference rooms and open collaborative spaces .

“We wanted a lot of space, as much open space as possible, and hopefully there’s a lot more energy and activity with all the open space,” Hockstad said.

And when quiet is needed, the new Tech Launch office includes soundproof one- and two-person “phone booths” where agency employees and faculty clients can meet.

Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of Tech Launch Arizona at the University of Arizona, talks about the phone booth where people can make private calls in the soundproof office inside The Bridges refinery.

Pictures of Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

defense research

Another of The Refinery’s initial tenants, UA-ARC, is focused on expanding UA’s research reach by managing technology that requires compliance with regulatory and security measures that the university is not. not equipped to handle.

Established in 2019 as the next generation of the AU Defense and Security Research Institute, AU-ARC focuses on solving complex national security problems with a focus on cyber operations, quantum computing, hypersonics, optics, space and medicine.

UA-ARC has about 10 employees, and President and CEO Austin Yamada said while it will grow, the company will draw on the expertise of faculty across the UA campus. .

And while UA-ARC’s space at The Refinery doesn’t include labs, it does include flexible project meeting rooms that are connected by dividers that can be removed to create larger spaces.

Austin Yamada, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Applied Research Corporation

“We are very small, and intentionally,” Yamada said. “We are here to help the university leverage its research business into applications where it was previously unable to operate.”

There are a number of reasons AU-ARC is needed, Yamada said, including areas restricted by government security requirements or contract terms the university cannot accept.

AU-ARC is a member of several defence-related consortia that are able to work through a streamlined federal funding vehicle called the “Other Transaction Authority” (OTA) that is not subject to regular federal procurement regulations – which Yamada says can be impractical to bring much-needed new technology to the front line.

“All the hurdles we have to jump through to avoid fraud, waste and abuse – that’s fine,” said Yamada, whose 25-year government career included a stint as deputy undersecretary of defense. for special operations and the fight against terrorism.

“The end result is that you usually end up deploying something that’s outdated,” he said.

AU-ARC is part of the National Armament Consortium, the largest collaborative organization working with the Pentagon to develop weapons technologies in support of national security.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at [email protected] or 520-573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz