Carthage professor awarded $500,000 grant to continue NASA research project
A half-million-dollar grant awarded to Carthage Physics Professor Kevin Crosby is allowing space science students from Carthage College to be part of an international effort to return to the moon.
The grant allows Prof. Crosby and students from Carthage’s Microgravity Team to continue the development of what NASA has identified as “critical technology” — a way to measure and report exact levels of liquids including propellant, drinking water and oxygen aboard spacecraft. A potential solution — Modal Propellant Gauging (MPG) — has been in development at Carthage since 2011. MPG uses acoustic vibrations to gauge the amount of fuel left in a spacecraft tank.
“Very few colleges are working on this kind of cutting edge technology, and it’s exciting for us to be in on the ground floor,” says Prof. Crosby.
The MPG technology will be part of Artemis, NASA’s lunar exploration program, as they move forward with their commitment to “land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the Moon by 2024.” As the successor to the Apollo program, Artemis is coordinating the first effort to return to the moon since the end of the Apollo program in 1975.
Carthage was selected to participate in the project called Propellant Mass Gauging in Gateway Architecture Vehicles, or “Gateway,” which refers to NASA’s proposed space station that will orbit the moon and provide a “gateway” to the moon’s surface.
“You can think of Gateway as a base camp for all of our deep space activities,” says Prof. Crosby. “Several vehicles will dock to Gateway, crews will live there for short periods of time, and vehicle refueling will occur at Gateway.”
He says NASA’s goal is to develop the ability to live on or near the moon for an extended period of time, and some see this as a stepping stone to an eventual human presence on the moon.
According to Prof. Crosby, a one percent improvement in the measuring of fuel weight will allow for hundreds of additional pounds — in the form of vehicle designs, additional crew, and materials — on board. That one percent change in efficiency will also reduce the cost of each mission by millions of dollars.
Prof. Crosby believes his team’s MPG technology will result in improvements closer to five percent, and that’s why NASA is so interested in the work being done by Carthage.
“This ongoing support from NASA really speaks to the strength of our program here at Carthage as well as the quality of work our students have produced for the last 10 years,” he says.
Cassi Bossong ’21 says the opportunities she’s had as a member of Carthage’s Microgravity Team are beyond what she ever imagined.
“Carthage is one of the only schools in the United States that has a partnership with NASA and the fact I’m doing this research is an amazing feeling,” says Cassi. “These projects are essentially graduate-level research in an undergraduate setting, so I am incredibly lucky to be a part of it. It is truly the experience of a lifetime.”
Carthage’s long partnership with NASA began in 2008, when Carthage was one of ten colleges and universities selected for NASA’s Systems Engineering and Educational Discovery program. Carthage went on to become one of just two colleges in the country to participate in the SEED Program for all six years of the program’s existence. While many student teams designed one-off experiments, each of Carthage’s experiments has been adopted by NASA researchers for continued development.
“When potential employers see the level of work our students are doing it makes them highly desirable, and that’s exciting,” says Prof. Crosby. As a small midwestern college, Carthage is fortunate and honored to be contributing research to NASA as it ventures into the unknown.”