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Keck Gives Caltech 24 Million Dollars For Space Institute

The first year of Keck Institute activities includes plans for three study programs: New Directions in Robotic Exploration of Mars, Large Space Apertures, and Instrumentation for Cosmic Microwave Background Observations.
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (SPX) Jan 29, 2008
The California Institute of Technology has received an eight-year $24 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to establish the W. M. Keck Institute for Space Studies, which will bring together scientists and engineers to develop new space-mission concepts and technology.

Caltech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers as well as visitors, students, and postdoctoral researchers from many institutions will address enduring questions that have fascinated humanity for centuries, such as how did the universe begin? what is it made of? what is its ultimate fate? and has life evolved elsewhere? Each year, the institute will adopt one or more new themes and explore those topics through symposia, in-depth studies, and development of emerging-technology prototypes for future space missions.

Currently such brainstorming efforts occur in this field, but they are temporary and sporadic. The Keck Institute will provide an ongoing framework for this kind of dialog as a sort of think tank, with design and prototype development as part of its mission.

"Over the last 50 years, the Caltech campus and JPL have been working together in ways that have helped shape the course of space exploration, with major accomplishments in the areas of planetary exploration, space astronomy, Earth remote sensing, and aerospace engineering," said Tom Prince, who will serve as the director of the new Keck Institute for Space Studies.

"This groundbreaking new grant from the Keck Foundation will help open a new chapter in this relationship by establishing an institute devoted to revolutionary advances in space science and engineering. The institute will bring together the best talent from JPL, the campus, and the wider community to create the innovative new approaches and techniques that will influence the course of space exploration for decades to come."

"We are extremely grateful to the Keck Foundation for this generous gift," said Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "Keck's mission of encouraging pioneering research aligns perfectly with Caltech's mission to investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology. The Keck Foundation's board and staff are to be applauded for recognizing the Institute's promise and then providing the resources to unleash its potential. We expect the Keck Institute for Space Studies to be at the center of the country's space-science and engineering efforts for generations to come. My colleagues at both campuses, JPL and Caltech, are deeply grateful to Robert Day and the Keck Foundation for this bold and generous gift."

"Discoveries over the past decade have created a wealth of new potential for technological breakthrough in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, and aeronautics," said Robert Day, Keck Foundation chairman, president, and chief executive officer. "The W. M. Keck Institute for Space Studies will enable the best and brightest in the field to mine this potential and lay the groundwork for the next generation of space missions. We are proud to support Caltech in this cutting-edge project."

"It is so heartening to see a forward-looking and leading private foundation invest in keeping our country at the forefront of exploration and discovery through the support of space, science, and engineering research," said JPL director Charles Elachi. "I applaud the Keck Foundation for this visionary action."

Logistically the program will consist of two major phases, a one-year study phase and a one- to two-year technical follow-up phase. The study phase will include an initiation workshop, a few-day course, a few-week to several-month working period of informal daily discussion sessions and seminars, and a closing workshop to present results and offer recommendations on next steps.

During the technical follow-up phase the Keck Institute will fund laboratory investigations and technology developments that were identified as high priorities during the earlier study phase.

Because of Caltech's proximity to JPL, participants can draw on the relevant expertise there to evaluate and validate new concepts, including development of feasibility studies of new mission and instrument concepts.

The selection of topics for study will be an annual process. The institute's administration will solicit ideas from Caltech and JPL scientists and engineers who will consult with external colleagues. Proposals for specific study programs will be submitted, and the institute's steering committee will make the final selection of programs in consultation with an external advisory committee.

The first year of Keck Institute activities includes plans for three study programs: New Directions in Robotic Exploration of Mars, Large Space Apertures, and Instrumentation for Cosmic Microwave Background Observations.

Possible future topics include the search for extra-solar planets, new approaches to probing dark energy, and next-generation launch and propulsion systems.

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