The University of New Mexico Sustainable Space Research Grand Challenge team aims to develop a center of space science-exploration excellence at UNM by uniting relevant and diverse space expertise. To that end, last month, the team brought industry, lab, and community space partners together with faculty from a range of disciplines and institutions to connect all the various space-related work happening in New Mexico.

The event, held at the SUB, showcased 15 presentations focused on various aspects of the space industry. Topics included cultivating food in space, pioneering potential construction materials, exploring space law, and integrating art into lunar or Martian projects. Attendees had the opportunity to discover UNM's space-related initiatives alongside statewide endeavors, fostering connections and inspiring collaboration across diverse fields of space exploration and research.

Tracy Wenzl
Professor Earth and Planetary Sciences and Director of the Institute of Meteoritics Carl Agee presents on his work at the April 29 Sustainable Space Research Grand Challenge event held at the UNM Student Union Building

“Our Grand Challenge team is poised to make significant advancements in how we think about infrastructure for space exploration, especially from a sustainable and holistic perspective,” says Kristina Yu, team co-convener and School of Architecture and Planning professor.

Following the presentations, individuals split up into working groups to discuss future research directions, education and workforce development, and resources and outreach collaboration. Ideas collected in each group will use those to develop future activities for the team.

According to Assistant Professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering and team co-convener Maryam Hojati, New Mexico is now gearing up to become a frontrunner in space research. With a broad spectrum of endeavors spanning material exploration, cutting-edge technology, space law, healthcare innovations for astronauts, cybersecurity measures, and even artistic and journalistic pursuits, the state is poised for a groundbreaking leap into the cosmos.

“With its existing expertise and robust research infrastructure, UNM can leverage partnerships with industry leaders, government agencies, and other educational institutions to establish specialized programs, research centers, and collaborative initiatives focused on space exploration, thereby solidifying its position as the academic epicenter for space-related research in New Mexico,” Hojati said.

This event was just one in a series of outreach activities the team hosted and participated in last month. Earlier in the month, the team’s co-conveners spoke at a monthly event at NewSpace Nexus, a local non-profit connecting start-ups and others in the space industry with resources, workspace, and support. Team co-convener Charles “Chip” Shearer, senior research scientist at the Institute of Meteoritics, was interviewed for an episode of The Children’s Hour, a public radio program for children. On the April 22-28 episode titled “The Moon,” Shearer spoke about what he learns from studying lunar soil and rock samples.

“By uniting universities, commercial ventures, and national laboratories under one cohesive vision, the Sustainable Space Grand Challenge aims to catalyze the growth of New Mexico's space economy,” says Hojati. “Through concerted efforts and strategic partnerships, the initiative seeks to attract substantial funding and investment, paving the way for a prosperous future in space research and exploration.”

To connect with the Sustainable Space Research Grand Challenge team or to learn more about their mission and work, please visit the team’s web page.