UA’s new Mission Integration Lab ready to help bring in top-dollar NASA projects

A mural adds some welcome color to the otherwise colorless Mission Integration Lab.
A mural adds some welcome color to the otherwise colorless Mission Integration Lab.(KOLD)
Published: Dec. 27, 2022 at 7:09 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona’s Mission Integration Lab is open at the UA’s new Tech Park at the Bridges on Tucson’s south side.

The lab will help both researchers and astronomers from UA and around the world learn more about what’s happening in outer space.

Astronomers are already working on a list of projects, and they add that some of the equipment in the lab can’t even compare to other labs like it.

“Having this facility here will help increase our selectability for future missions,” professor of Astronomy at the UA Christopher K. Walker said. “So just from NASA missions alone it quickly pays for itself. And also, this facility is unique across southern Arizona and other universities. I can’t think of any other university that has a facility that matches this, so it gives us a leg up.”

Researchers say the lab will make both Tucson and the U of A more competitive for top-dollar programs from NASA.

One project being worked on is called GUSTO. It’s a $45 million program that will help people who are working on it map out areas of the universe.

One other project is called TIM. It’s another multimillion-dollar project that will help create a giant map of galaxies over 5 billion years old.

Projects like these will help pay for the building quickly, which then means other money brought in will go to other projects here.

There is a crane with a hook that hangs from the ceiling that can hold 7.5 tons. It can help replicate what these projects are going to go through while being launched on a balloon.

There are also 20-foot doors that swing open to let researchers look up at the night sky and help them test their ability to steer the balloons and payloads.

The UA is investing almost $5 million into this place so researchers on campus and commercial space companies can use it.

”The university has a number of balloon missions and having the ability to put them together in a facility as nice as this is going to make us a much stronger competitor for these types of missions,” professor of astronomy at UA Dan Marrone said. “They give us opportunities to train people to test technologies to make partners with local industry. This is just going to make TIM better, it’s going to make the other project here, GUSTO, better. It’s just going to be fantastic.”

Another can’t-miss part of the building is the mural. Both researchers that spoke with KOLD said they couldn’t say enough about how excited they are to have a beautiful piece of art in what they say is an otherwise colorless building.