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US Space Force Partners With UT System To Build Aerospace Workforce

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Office of UTEP President Heather Wilson
From left to right: UT Austin President Jay Hartzell; U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso); Space Force Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson; Archie Holmes Jr., The University of Texas System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Heather Wilson, former Air Force Secretary and UTEP President

The University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Texas at Austin signed agreements Thursday with the U.S. Space Force to provide advanced research and workforce development for the new military branch.

Under the agreement, the UT system will apply its aerospace talent to the Space Force’s most challenging problems. Space is an important domain for national defense, and the Space Force is expected to create a centralized chain of command responsible for it. The newly-formed service is also tasked with tracking and protecting a number of space objects, including GPS satellites.

“Most people don’t think about how much space impacts our daily lives. Some of you probably used a satellite signal just to get driving directions to come here,” quipped Heather Wilson, former Air Force Secretary and president of the University of Texas at El Paso. “The blue dot on your phone is not provided by the cellphone company...The responsibility of the Space Force is to develop people and technology to make sure that we don't lose our satellites.”

“I personally believe that success will come as we work together with the Space Force to help them recruit, educate, develop and retain the diverse and inclusive workforce that they need…to operate and develop the world's most advanced space systems,” said Dr. Archie Holmes Jr., the UT system’s Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

UTEP has long been engaged in aerospace and atmospheric research. In the mid-2010s, the university and the county of El Paso launched the Technology Research and Innovation Acceleration Park, where rocket engine development continues today. UTEP also opened test site Bravo in Tornillo, Texas, to expand unmanned aerial systems research.

The UT System Board of Regents recently approved UTEP’s newest undergraduate degree, the Bachelor of Science in aerospace and aeronautical engineering. Next year UTEP will break ground on a new Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Aerospace facility, a new nerve center for its space-related research, which encompasses satellite technology, lunar exploration, robotics, spaceflight guidance systems, microgravity, 3D manufacturing and rocket propulsion systems and Martian soil study.

UTEP and UT Austin were two of 11 universities picked to join the Space Force University Partnership Program this year. They were chosen based on their STEM degree offerings; space-related research laboratories and initiatives; ROTC program strength, diversity of student population; and programming designed to support servicemembers and veterans.

The recently-signed memorandums of understanding include the following goals:

  • Establish opportunities for world-class research, advanced academic degrees, and workforce and leadership development for USSF Guardians.
  • Identify and pursue research areas of mutual interest with member universities, individually and collectively.
  • Establish scholarship, internship and mentorship opportunities for university students and ROTC cadets.
  • Recruit and develop diverse officer, enlisted, and civilian Guardians with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“At the heart of the Space Force’s University Partnership Program is the need to advance our science and technology to build the next generation of space capabilities coupled with the need to develop the workforce of the future,” said Space Force Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson. “With a long history of leading aerospace research across the Paso del Norte region and beyond, we’re confident we can find such talent here at UTEP, at UT Austin and across the UT System.”
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Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame