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Engineering the Future of Space Technology

Pitt’s NSF’s Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) holds its annual two-day workshop at NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Many people dream about exploring space but, unfortunately, most missions today are unmanned. The next best thing? Imagining, designing, and building systems on Earth that operate in space.

In January, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing (SHREC) held its annual two-day workshop at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Created through the NSF’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers (IUCRC) program, SHREC is led by Alan George, the R&H Mickle Endowed Chair and Professor and Department Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. A national research center and consortium, SHREC is dedicated to fostering university, agency, and industry R&D collaborations and workforce development in space systems engineering and high-performance computing.

According to Dr. George, SHREC members were thrilled when NASA stepped up to host the workshop. He explained that events hosted by a government or industry partner bring more visibility and impact for Center activities. 

“Our workshops are usually held at one of our four partner universities,” George said. “NASA previously hosted us at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2015, which was amazing, but this year’s workshop at the Johnson Space Center in Texas was even better.”

NASA treated SHREC members to the complete VIP experience. Lee M. Morin, MD, PhD, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and NASA astronaut, served as keynote speaker and is currently assigned to NASA’s Exploration Branch, where he works on the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle. The Johnson Space Center’s public visitors center was reserved for SHREC on the evening of the first day, where they enjoyed a special dinner and tour of the facilities.

“We had two main activities at the SHREC workshop,” George said. “Day one was dedicated to presenting and discussing the 11 research projects from 2023 that were conducted across the four university sites –  five of which took place at Pitt. Day two was for sharing and refining plans for new projects that would be featured in 2024 and determining how many graduate students would be supported on each project.” 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a steep decline in members of the STEM community who are willing to travel to conferences, but SHREC didn’t suffer that problem. 

“We had twenty-five people attend virtually, and were thrilled to have over 90 people attend in-person,” George said. “It was such a great turnout. Seeing so many Center members engaged and taking ownership over their various projects and students was wonderful.”

The Take-Off of SHREC

At its core, SHREC is a student-centric research and education center. Engineering students have the unique opportunity to pursue their MS or PhD on research topics with extensive support from and in collaboration with industry and government partners, therefore advancing their education while gaining real-world experience.

“Since 2017, SHREC students have created three novel space systems featuring new technologies in space hardware and software for remote sensing, onboard computing, and machine learning,” Dr. George said. “The technologies pioneered and evaluated by SHREC students are often adopted by NASA and other industry members.”

These systems were launched to the International Space Station through the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA Space Test Program. STP-H5-CSP and STP-H6-SSIVP ran for two years, and STP-H7-CASPR is entering its third year of operation.

In addition to nearly 30 industry and government partners, Pitt serves as the lead university site and works closely with Brigham Young University (BYU), University of Florida, and Virginia Tech.