The Space Connection

New Course: CubeSat Flight Lab

April 15, 2021

The first big accomplishment of the Space Institute: a new course!
CubeSat Flight Lab will be offered in the fall 2021 term. Students: sign up for it now!

This will become a regular course offered every semester (or a partner class in the winter term), in which students work on various aspects across all stages of a spaceflight mission, from design through operation. It will be a lab-focused experience designing, building, and flying systems for orbiting spacecraft. It will start with payloads for high-altitude balloon flights and, eventually consist of several simultaneous CubeSat projects in different stages of the process.

The course objectives:

  • In this class, students will operate, launch, test, build, and design an industry standard, prototype spacecraft, called a CubeSat.
  • Students will operate ground communication stations to communicate with space missions, schedule commands, task the satellites, and analyze space-based data.
  • The course includes an overview of best-practices in testing to characterize satellite performance and survivability in the space environment (vacuum, vibration, functional).
  • Fabrication methods will be taught that include methods for clean room assembly of space-rated components.
  • Design methodologies and program management techniques will be core aspects of the class where students learn to develop mission goals, derive requirements, conceive of architectures, create concept of operations, and simulate system performance.
  • This course will develop the system engineering skills of students as they create and document complex space systems and work in intense team environments.

Note that this is not an entry-level course, but an upper-level undergrad or Masters-level course. You should have some relevant skills to contribute to the CubeSat design. The recommended prerequisite listing:

  • Hands on systems engineering, hardware, software experience through AEROSP 205 or equivalent class.
  • Instrumentation course such as AEROSP 305 or EECS 215/216.
  • Recommended space system courses such as SPACE 310 or AEROSP 483. All majors encouraged.

AEROSP495_CubeSat Flight Lab_Flyer

Prof. Mike Liemohn, University of Michigan Space Institute Director

Here We Come, Departments

February 26, 2021

We have a lot a talking to do. We need to tell you about our plans, our programs, our new course initiatives, and our hopes for scholarly engagement across campus. We’ve been honing our initial roll-out of activities and we’re ready to tell you about them.

This will start with unit and department visits across the University of Michigan campus. We will be reaching out to unit and department heads to give a short presentation at one of your upcoming faculty meetings, to introduce the Space Institute to you, tell you about our initial activities, and hear from you about what you might want from the Institute. We plan to visit many places across campus in this informational outreach effort.

While we would very much like to see you in person and have this discussion face to face, all of these visits must be virtually this semester. The silver lining is that travel time is not a problem, so the only issue is scheduling. We hope that every unit and department to which we reach out responds positively to our request and that the interested faculty join us, at the least with affiliation and, even better, with active participation.

See you soon!

Prof. Mike Liemohn, University of Michigan Space Institute Director

Our Fun Logo

August 18, 2020

Institute leadership has been busy these past 6 months. We have written a couple versions of a long-term strategic plan and several iterations of a multi-year budget. We have been gathering information about space-related courses and clubs across campus, as well as faculty. We have been thinking about how to run the various programs and activities of the institute, developing implementation plans and forming committees.

This has been especially hard for us because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We had a strategic plan developed in January and spent February adjusting it based on feedback from College leadership. We had just had a meeting at which we declared, “set up a meeting with the Dean,” when U-M shut down that very afternoon (Wednesday, March 11). Plans had to be adjusted. The lockdown and isolation measures are necessary to defeat this virus, and my heart goes out to you that have suffered loss during this time. Our inconvenience and delay is small compared to the larger tragedies of 2020, but the impact on the Space Institute was real as several workshops and other events to be held since mid-March were postponed or cancelled.

One fun thing that we got to do was decide on a fun logo for the institute. I hired a local graphic designer for the task, Matt Sturm. He spent time learning about the institute, came up with several possibilities, and worked with us to finalize our selection. We are very pleased with the final product.

There are four major elements in the design – the stars, the rocket, the crescent, and the spheres. Read it as you see fit. The crescent could be Earth, the moon, another planet, or the Sun. The spheres could be stars, planets, or craters. The pointed stars are a different color to represent inclusion of diverse thought and perspectives. The rocket could symbolize many things – such as our emphasis on spaceflight, our connection to student involvement in satellite projects, our engagement with alumni in the aerospace industry and corporate partners, or our connection as a group traveling together on this fantastic journey. You pick. We have several versions of this with different color schemes and word placement beside or below the graphic. Along with the official “Block-M” logo produced for us by University marketing, we will be using this graphic as our unofficial logo.

As we finalize a multi-year budget and really kick into high gear with our activities, I am planning to write a number of these Space Connection posts over the next few weeks and months. Stay tuned for a more regular cadence of posts on this forum.

Prof. Mike Liemohn, University of Michigan Space Institute Director

Be Like Bouman

Jan. 17, 2020

I was one of those fortunate enough to get a seat at a Janurary Astronomy Department seminar, given by Dr. Katie Bouman. She is the person that came up with the signal processing algorithm to achieve the final step of clarity with the data to make the first image of a black hole’s light shadow. She gave an outstanding presentation on the multi-year process that the 100+ members of the Event Horizon Team Collaboration undertook to go from their telescope data across the planet to the final image and new science results. At the end of her talk, she gave glimpses of the continuing advancements that she and the rest of this team are making to get the next images of these far away and very hard to see objects.

Dr. Bouman, now an Assistant Professor at CalTech, is a University of Michigan alumna, having received her undergraduate degree from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department in 2011. That’s right – she did not start her education in astronomy, but in a different discipline. In fact, her PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She enjoyed her signal processing courses so much that she decided this is what she wanted to pursue as a career, and at MIT she joined a group that was part of the EHT Collaboration. What does an electrical engineer have to contribute to astronomy? It turns out, plenty!  

From her presentation, I gleaned that the team would not have succeeded without her contributions, nor would she be where she is today without that team. Her talk was not focused so much on the scientific understanding obtained from the new image, but rather on the group-wide collaboration that led to it. It emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the project, the need for addressing problems from multiple angles, the benefits of bringing together teams of people with many perspectives and backgrounds, and successes that are possible when working in a positive, supportive, and inclusive environment. It was inspirational and motivational for me, and I think the rest of the audience. The line of students wanting to meet her after the talk snaked up the stairs and all the way to the back door.

That interdisciplinary connection is what we want to foster with the University of Michigan Space Institute. We seek to bring together faculty, staff, and students with expertise, or just an interest, in outer space, to work and learn together. We’re excited about this opportunity to help “UM space people” find each other, making connections across disparate fields to achieve something bigger and better than was possible before. We hope that these interactions will lead to diverse teams tackling the big problems in space science and technology, from astrophysics to Earth observations, from astronauts on the space station to getting them safely to and from Mars, from space law and policy to space business and tourism. The Space Institute is here to facilitate the conversations with others who are both within our university community as well as those from beyond our campus.

This is the first of, hopefully, many blog posts here on the Space Institute website. I hope to use this outlet to highlight the people, groups, events, and outcomes of those involved in scholarly activities related to outer space. I will be a regular author of posts but will not be the only one, as others will also contribute stories here. We hope to have our news feed up and running soon, so that this site also becomes a one-stop information hub of all things space across campus. That’s for your patience as we get this Institute moving; I look forward to the many opportunities ahead for this endeavor.

Prof. Mike Liemohn, University of Michigan Space Institute Director



Welcome to the website for the University of Michigan Space Institute

October 14, 2019

We are excited to be launching this new initiative across the campus, bringing together faculty and students with an interest in outer space.

University of Michigan Space Institute logo on star field

The Space Institute will be the central focal point of space-related research across the entire University of Michigan campus, where faculty will be able to creatively and effectively collaborate with colleagues from a broad range of backgrounds. The focus of the Space Institute will include conducting research from space, designing systems to operate in space, and allowing humans to live in space. It will foster connections beyond the traditional departmental boundaries, interacting with people of diverse backgrounds, interests, and talents. With an emphasis on education, the Space Institute will serve as a common entity for connecting students with space-related courses, space-focused student groups, and faculty offering space research experiences and career-enhancing opportunities.

The Space Institute allows the University of Michigan to maintain and grow its place as a premiere institute for space-related research and education in the United States, and the U-M already has many faculty members conducting leading edge space-related research across campus. While the prime locations for these faculty are in the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering (CLASP), Astronomy, and Aerospace Engineering departments, our affiliate list of over 100 faculty spans every department in the College of Engineering, and several in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. We anticipate our affiliates expanding in the near future to include other U-M units such as Michigan Medicine, the School of Kinesiology, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, the University of Michigan Law School, and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The Space Institute will empower the University of Michigan to advance its world leadership in space activities scientifically (including fundamental and applied research), technically (via engineering and project synergies), socially (emphasizing society’s reliance on space), and commercially (through innovations, innovators, workforce education and corporate partnerships). The University of Michigan is a top U.S. public university, and a vital component of the economy of the state of Michigan. The Space Institute will help promote Michigan’s expertise and excellence in space. 

We look forward to working with everyone interested in the creation of this new institute!

Prof. Mike Liemohn, University of Michigan Space Institute Director