ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell’s professional and financial fortunes are getting a boost this week thanks to the federal government’s Department of Defense (DOD). The university was named the winner of a $5 million grant award to support national defense technology and manufacturing development in New York State.
The announcement was made by Senator Chuck Schumer’s office Monday afternoon. Along with Cornell, another $5 million was awarded to a regional consortium of defense industry workforce training programs based out of Syracuse and Rome, N.Y.
Four other awards, each for roughly $5 million, were given to consortiums in Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Texas. A $40 million award was also announced last week for a consortium led by Albany Nanotech with Cornell as a partner, to develop and refine regional computer chip manufacturing capabilities in support of DOD interests and equipment.
The funding comes from the DOD’s Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program, which seeks to build up the capacity and capability of industries seen as crucial to national security. This comes in the form of workforce training, research and development of new technologies to maintain a competitive edge in global affairs, and improving manufacturing techniques so that resources and equipment can be better made and more efficiently delivered to users like DOD.
According to the DOD, the agency is giving $5 million to the New York Consortium for Space Technology Innovation and Development which will go to a $6.8 million project to “address the need for advanced defense space technology manufacturing and supply-chain capabilities.”
That need will be addressed by bringing together universities, research institutions, industry experts and government agencies in New York, according to the release.
Beyond the jargon, this means the money will fuel both public and private space technology research and development. Local members include the Cornell Synchrotron, the Cornell Center for Materials Research, and the Engineering School’s spacecraft design studio, as well as local satellite data analytics firm Ursa Space Systems. Other partners are based out of Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and New York City.
The details are somewhat sparse, but the partners are to work with their specialized facilities and staff expertise in a few different ways. One way is to facilitate workforce development for space science work (such as satellites and spacecraft), through academic fellowships and specialized training.
A second aspect is technology development in the field, with competitive grants to fund “innovative applied research.” Thirdly, the consortium seeks to nurture promising space tech start-ups to develop technologies (and their business) to support DOD interests.
“The expected outcomes include a skilled workforce, enhanced manufacturing capabilities, increased research and development in critical areas, long-term economic growth, job creation, and a robust national defense space technology industrial base,” according to the release.
Implementation includes upgrading space technology facilities at sites central to the region, expanding workforce development, strengthening research and development and small business programs.
The money is meant to be seed funding to foster growth — the goal is to have it be a sort of “down payment” that pays dividends down the line in the form of new frontiers of space tech that leads to economic growth with new businesses and new jobs.
For example, consider Global Positioning Systems, or GPS, real-time space-based navigation systems. The satellites that maintain GPS were developed with DOD interests in mind back in the 1960s and 1970s. As time went on, those services were shared with commercial airliners in the 1980s, in-car plugin units in the 1990s and 2000s, and your smartphones today, having become a $76 billion industry.
The ultimate goal of this particular DOD grant is to spur space science efforts so that skilled minds can create new and improved tech that can follow the same path and provide a benefit to DOD and potentially the general public.
In the short-term though, it’s a significant boost to the university’s research efforts, facilities renewal, and interest in fostering business startups, particularly those who can further develop advances in space science and tech for economic growth and national security.
Since materials, support services and labor have to come from somewhere, an economic benefit is provided to Ithaca and Tompkins County as well, though this new influx of money will also surely be mentioned during the ongoing discussions over Cornell’s Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Ithaca and the financial relationship that comes with it.