Science Facility Management and Operations

USRA has expertise in managing major scientific facilities for benefit of the university and broad international research community, from major astronomical observatories owned by federal agencies to the operation of a quantum computer laboratory, with allocation of computing time to researchers around the world.

USRA Capabilities and Approach to Science Facility Management

USRA often draws upon the technical competencies of its member universities and programs to leverage existing external and internal technical resources to operate facilities. This specialization in coordinating multiple institutional teams allows USRA to serve government sponsors by coordinating the work of industrial partners and leveraging the resources of research universities. In addition, USRA’s robust contract, project and facility management employs industry-standard practices and tools that include business systems using accepted government contracting software.

Current Highlights
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Examples of USRA Science Facility Management

USRA undertakes the management of various facilities, including science operations for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL), the Ames Airborne Sensor Facility (ASF); and the USRA-Keck Remote Observation Center.

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SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 747 jetliner that carries a 100-inch (2.5-meter) telescope to altitudes up to 45,000 feet, above more than 99% of Earth’s atmospheric water vapor. This gives astronomers the ability to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths that cannot be seen from ground-based observatories. USRA operates the SOFIA Science Operations Center (SOC) for NASA’s Ames Research Center. USRA solicits proposals and allocates time and funding to the user community. USRA also undertakes science flight planning and scheduling, and other science operations efforts.

USRA operates the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in collaboration with Google and NASA’s Ames Research Center. The lab hosts a D-Wave 2000Q Quantum Computing System. The computer offers the promise for solving challenging problems in a variety of applications including machine learning, scheduling, diagnostics, medicine and biology among others. The newly upgraded system resides at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility and has 2031 quantum bits (qubits) in its working graph—nearly double the number of qubits compared to the previous processor. USRA allocates time to the international scientific community on a competitive merit-based proposal process, at no cost to the users.

The USRA-Keck Remote Observation Center, located at the USRA headquarters facility in Columbia, Maryland, provides the capability for astronomers to connect remotely to the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and undertake observations, eliminating the need for distant travel. The facility is one of three in the world. USRA undertook the design, development, and construction, and continues operation of the facility as a USRA contribution to the community.

USRA Programs in Science Facility Management and Operations
image of NASA plane SOFIA

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

SOFIA is an airborne observatory which conducts observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes. SOFIA flies at 38,000 - 45,000 feet to observe in infrared light, which does not reach the Earth's surface. SOFIA is an 80/20 partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), consisting of an extensively modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with a 2.7-meter (106 inch) diameter. The aircraft is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages SOFIA's science and mission operations, in cooperation with the USRA and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.

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Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science

An underlying philosophy and approach of the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science is that successful research is interdisciplinary, and that challenging applications associated with NASA’s mission provide a driving force for developing innovative information systems and other technologies. To implement this approach, research staff undertakes collaborative projects with research groups at NASA and elsewhere, integrating computer science with other disciplines to support NASA’s mission.