Cal Poly Engineering Professors Plan to Expand CubeSat, Programming Education with Lockheed Endowments

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Two assistant professors at Cal Poly were recently granted Lockheed Martin Endowed Professorship Awards, which will help increase accessibility to space with mini satellites, among other endeavors.

Pauline Faure, assistant professor in the Aerospace Engineering Department, and Maria Pantoja, assistant professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, each received a $25,000 award. The awards recognize faculty members who contribute new knowledge in the field of engineering; partner with industry; involve students with advanced ideas; and enhance teaching by introducing state-of-the-art topics in the classroom.

The awards provide time and resources for professional growth and development to enrich the educational experiences of Cal Poly students. In addition to their mini satellite work, the faculty members also plan to expand the use of parallel computing to study earthquakes, Hawaiian bird calls and wine production.

Faure said her main goal is to facilitate access to space to more people through STEM education, using mini-satellites called CubeSats as a tool.

“This is important because space is supposed to be available to all nations regardless of the hardships they might be facing,” she said. “Yet, space has a reputation of being inaccessible, complex and expensive.”

CubeSats, co-created by retired Cal Poly faculty member Jordi Puig-Suari, have allowed students and private citizens worldwide to become more involved in space research. Several CubeSats developed at Cal Poly have been launched into space.

Faure, who is an advisor to the Cal Poly CubeSat Laboratory, has worked on multicultural satellite projects with members from over 20 countries, from South America to Southeast Asia and Africa. This summer she will travel to Cambodia to provide intensive CubeSat training and help set up a ground station for CubeSat operations.

“Involving other countries benefits U.S. efforts of developing collaborations and partnerships,” Faure said.

At the university level, she said, it provides diversity benefits through the broadening of horizons, thoughts and logic processes of the people involved. On an industry basis, it helps develop networks and share projects while enhancing individuals’ overall understanding and approach to problems that are being addressed with space assets.

To help others learn about CubeSats, she proposes developing satellite kits along with trainings as educational tools.

Pantoja hopes to increase research in parallel programming, which will enhance Cal Poly’s international visibility. Parallel programming is the use of multiple resources — especially processors — to solve problems. 

Cal Poly’s parallel computing facilities help students learn how to create software that can be deployed in distributed systems and that can run faster, she said. But those facilities need to be upgraded — one of the things she plans to do.

“Every three to five years, components should be replaced,” she said, adding that those can be replaced in steps.

Pantoja also wants to involve other departments in artificial intelligence projects that seek to increase production of wine grapes, identify damage caused by earthquakes, and understand the population distribution of endangered Hawaiian birds.

This summer, she will work with local wine producers and begin taking data in vineyards. That project will involve students helping to study different computer vision algorithms to improve wine grape production.

The use of computers in agriculture is not new, she said, but it is growing.

“There are several companies already developing software for ag,” she said.

Maria Pantoja, assistant professor in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department

Pauline Faure, right, with Amy S. Fleischer, dean of the College of Engineering
Pauline Faure, right, with Amy S. Fleischer, dean of the College of Engineering

Contact: Pat Pemberton
805-756-7402, 805-235-0555

July 29, 2019

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