Cal Poly has been awarded a $340,000 grant to conduct research and analysis on satellites in orbit.

Students and faculty will work with the local California Cybersecurity Institute (CCI) and Cal Poly’s Digital Transformation Hub to develop solutions for issues regarding space satellites.

Members of the team will tackle various problems and work with a company or agency to find solutions. The issues addressed will include satellite communication design, acceleration time to launch small and medium satellites, secure satellite command and control across a distributed commercial platform.

The team will first focus on communication design, according to industrial and manufacturing engineering professor Kurt Colvin, who is also the lead faculty member on the grant. With the use of Amazon Web Services (AWS), they will aim to improve data acquisition between companies and their own small satellites.

“Many companies have launched inexpensive satellites that have sensors or cameras on board that can see elevation or detect something like pollution over urban areas,” Colvin said. “The satellites are just full of data that we can’t get down because we don’t have the infrastructure on the ground necessary.” 

Using resources from the grant and the cooperating organizations, Colvin’s team will work to develop “prototype solutions” to these common issues.

Students will be recruited from all departments of the engineering college, according to Colvin. Expertise in electrical engineering, computer science and other areas will be crucial to the research and solution development.

Funding for the grant comes from the California Advanced Supply Chain Analysis and Diversification Effort (CASCADE), a program funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment.

The program was created to “bolster California’s defense supply chain cybersecurity resilience,” according to CASCADE’s website. Funding for satellite research stems from the dependency of U.S. infrastructure and business on space communication.

The new grant is not Cal Poly’s first endeavor in this field. In August 2019, the university signed a space situational awareness agreement with U.S. Strategic Command. The agreement brought Cal Poly together with more than 100 foreign nations over a dedication to study objects in orbit around earth.

On June 26, 2020, Cal Poly will host an on-campus seminar to discuss results and future plans for the grant. The event, “Innovation in Cybersecurity to Defend National and Commercial Space Assets,” will invite experts in the field of American space cybersecurity to discuss Cal Poly’s work.

Colvin said the project will give students a valuable opportunity and that he hopes new and necessary curriculum will be developed in the process.

“We’re going to identify what Cal Poly needs to put in the curriculum to help students prepare for similar challenges in the future,” Colvin said. “If you think about it, [the grant] is a really big effort to improve the education at Cal Poly, to produce students that have the right skills and knowledge.”

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