New Institute Executive Director at ODU Wants to Tell Virginia’s Aerospace Story
November 15, 2019
When David Bowles thinks of the aerospace assets in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore, he sees potential.
The popular image of NASA nationwide is of Mission Control in Houston, or space flights blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. But Virginia has one of four active launch pads in the United States for material bound for orbit, as well as a thriving aeronautical research hub.
"Florida is known as the 'Space Coast.' There is no reason we couldn't be the Air, Sea and Space Shore," said Bowles, who began his role Oct. 10 as executive director of the newly established Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy (VISA), a research enterprise of the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) at Old Dominion University.
Bowles worked at NASA's Langley Research Center for 39 years, starting in 1980 in materials research. He retired in at the end of September following four years as Center director, starting as founding executive director of VISA about a week later.
Through his new role with VISA, Bowles wants to leverage the research strength of NASA and Virginia's strong public universities, along with the entrepreneurial power of Virginia companies. "We have had a strong relationship with Old Dominion University over the years. That's what NASA Langley is - a research center," Bowles said.
"It's a very exciting time in spaceflight and autonomous flight. The cost of entry has come down considerably, allowing a lot more companies into the field."
Bowles sees his role as a facilitator, bringing research resources together with companies seeking to use the existing assets in space flight and autonomous systems here. "We want to be the central hub and catalyst for realizing the full potential of aerospace in the state," he said
"Dr. Bowles brings great experience and credibility to VISA and our efforts to help develop the research and commercial opportunities around the Wallops Flight Facility," said Morris Foster, the University's vice president of research. "ODU is the closest research university to Wallops and has the chance to be the academic leader in spaceflight and autonomy enterprises at that unique facility."
Bowles had been looking for an opportunity to get into an educator role. He also feels a special kinship with Old Dominion, having worked over the years with University aerospace engineers Bob Ash and Oktay Baysal, among others. His stepdaughter earned an engineering degree from Old Dominion as well.
He's familiar with the story of how Old Dominion University kept the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport afloat in the 1990s, running it in a partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Bowles' goal is to help VISA be an important vehicle in telling the Virginia spaceflight and autonomous systems story. "This is our chance to differentiate ourselves in this industry. We have elementary schoolkids sending up CubeSats (tiny satellites). There is tremendous potential to tell this story to an international audience," he said.
The Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy was approved in the last session of the Virginia General Assembly to leverage the Commonwealth's expanding space facilities and growing capability to support advances in satellites and autonomous systems, the sensors they carry and the data they produce.
VISA has already received a $1.5 million grant from the Virginia Research Investment Fund to establish the Virginia SmallSat Data Consortium, a collaborative research center, co-led by Virginia Tech, with the objective to provide greater access to commercial satellite data.