The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected New Mexico State University (NMSU) of Las Cruces, N.M., to lead a new center of excellence for commercial space transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced in an Aug. 19 news release. A partnership between government, academia and industry, the center aims to address current and future challenges for commercial space transportation.

Dubbed the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation, the new center is expected to begin operations in September. George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space, said the agency plans to identify initial topic areas and award contracts to NMSU and partnering universities in the coming weeks worth a combined $2 million over the next two years.

“For each dollar that they get from us we’re going to be looking for them to find another dollar from a non-federal source, and that could be a variety of partners, whether from industry or state governments or within the university itself,” Nield said Sept. 2, adding that the FAA expects to invest $1 million annually for the first five years of the center’s operations.

“We have a lot of flexibility in terms of how this is administered. We’re allowed to have contracts, we’re allowed to have grants, it can be a combination of different mechanisms,” he said. “As we go through the program we’ll look at what’s promising and what things aren’t working out as well and where we might need to change our plans going forward.”

Nield said NMSU will lead a team of colleges and universities from across the country, including Stanford University in California, the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion at Florida State University in Tallahassee, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.