University professor receives NASA grant for space research

By The Daily Illini Staff Report

A University researcher was selected to receive up to $550,000 in Early Stage Innovations grant funding from NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants program.

Laura Villafane, professor in Engineering, is the principal investigator for a University research project on how to minimize or remove entirely the disruption of soil from engine plumes during planetary landings. Soil and other small particles can ruin the landing zone and damage surrounding spacecrafts and human-made infrastructure.

In total, NASA selected 14 research proposals led by various universities to receive grant funding.

In a NASA press release, Walt Engelund, deputy associate administrator of programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, said the projects were chosen due to the impact their research findings could have on the success of future space technology and planetary landings. 

“There are talented researchers outside of NASA, working at universities across the country, who are poised to help us look at challenging aspects of space exploration in new ways,” Engelund said.

Villafane’s project proposal on rocket landings is especially important in the face of a 2024 moon landing under the Artemis program in preparation for future manned missions to Mars.

The university teams will work on their space exploration research and projects for up to three years.

The 14 projects are divided into six topics as outlined in NASA’s Early Stage Innovations 2019 solicitation, ranging from integrated power systems to material durability and damage tolerance research.

Villafane’s project is under the topic “Rocket Plume-Surface Interaction Prediction Advancements,” which also includes projects from Auburn University and the University of Michigan.

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