Three faculty at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have been awarded $890,000 by the Air Force Office of Space Research to test how recently developed materials react with plasma beams during spacecraft propulsion. Assistant professor Robert Wirz and professor Nasr Ghoniem of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and associate professor Suneel Kodambaka in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering are co-principal investigators on the study.
The award is one of 29 Air Force grants totaling $12.7 million distributed to university investigators "who are underpinning advances in surface chemistry and physics, computing and networks, electronics and electro optics, neuroscience, fluid dynamics, robotics and autonomous systems, and biological science and engineering." The UCLA project was selected from 260 proposals and was awarded the largest sum the Air Force Office of Space Research offers. 
The grant will be used to build the UCLA Plasma Materials Interaction Factility, which will allow researchers to observe the interaction of the material and the plasma in a manner never before possible. Currently, the analysis of materials bombarded by plasma can occur only after an extensive cool down; this facility would enable researchers to observe the reaction as it occurs.
"This facility will provide a leap forward in space travel and communication by demonstrating materials that are ideal for long life and high-power operation of electric thrusters and spacecraft communication systems,” Wirz said of the project. “Such technologies will enable exciting space missions such as asteroids retrieval, and ambitious missions to other planets and their moons.”