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FAST Center Revitalized, Students Gain Hands-On Experience

Undergraduate Engineering Student Manuela Espinoza works on an engineering research project in the FAST Center.
Photo courtesy of UTEP
Undergraduate Engineering Student
Manuela Espinoza works on an engineering
research project in the FAST Center.
The Future Aerospace and Technology (FAST) Center at The University of Texas at El Paso has discovered new life, bringing invaluable opportunities to the University and its students.

The FAST Center was started in 1995 through a contract with the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research. After 6 successful years, the contract with the US Air Force ended and the FAST Center became dormant.

Now, years later, the renewed FAST Center is back in business. With contracts from Lockheed Martin Space Systems, The Boeing Company, White Sands Missile Range and others, the FAST Center has emerged to become a top-notch research facility completing projects for large science, technology and aerospace companies.

As the FAST Center continues to grow, engineering and science students have more opportunities than ever to gain hands-on experience in the field.

“Students are working on real engineering projects – things that are actually going to be delivered and utilized,” said Oscar Perez, FAST Center Project Manager. “It’s a little different from a pure research project where the research may or may not be used. These are real projects that have real deadlines and schedules and real budgets so the students are getting real-world experience in the school environment. This is a real industry-university collaboration.”

Among the many projects that students participate is the contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, which supports the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) for NASA – the ORION. This CEV will replace the space shuttle in the next 5-10 years.

“They (Lockheed Martin) are in the design phase of it right now and UTEP is involved in that, which is so exciting,” said Perez. “We have a small part in it but nonetheless we have a part in it, and that’s what’s great!”

To date, the FAST Center has received more than $1 million from Lockheed Martin for projects that support the ORION project.

The FAST Center also works with Boeing’s Space Exploration division, completing projects that support NASA’s International Space Station. Some of these projects include software development for the Space Stations Electrical Power System, a Human Gait Analysis, where students analyze and simulate walking or running on a treadmill in a zero gravity environment, Computer Aided Design on various structures of the space station and a study of the existing Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System (NORS), among others.

The FAST Center also works with the White Sands Missile Range supporting projects through the Army Research Laboratory and will soon partner with Aerospace Missions Operations to support a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) test center here in El Paso as well as Future Combat Systems (FCS).

All of these partnerships provide real opportunities for the students who work in the FAST Center and according to Dr. Cesar Carrasco, Director of the FAST Center, many of the students are offered internships and will most-likely end up working for these companies.

“We’re right in the middle of a big area in engineering,” said Carrasco. “Aerospace engineering is an area that’s under-represented in this area. Our role as a university is to prepare these students for future careers in the industry. That is a big, big part of what we do as we continue to look for new opportunities in the FAST Center.”