NEWS | Dec. 26, 2007

Interns provide insight to technology, policy solutions

By SSgt. Alicia Prakash U.S. Strategic Command Public Affairs

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. – Two teams ofGlobal Innovation and Strategy Center (GISC) interns disclosed study results on topics of National Security interest during a presentation Friday. The GISC provides unique global strategies, timely courses of action and new operational tools and analyses in support of the United States Strategic Command missions.

The University of Nebraska graduate and undergraduate students worked about 480 hours over four months to create technological solutions and policy recommendations on the topics of space debris and tunnel detection in the United States.

""An outside look could shed some light on things from a different point of view,"" said Elizabeth Durham-Ruiz, Global Innovation and Strategy Center Partnership Group chief. ""That is why we have the intern program. ""

One of the six-person teams had to formulate a solution for eliminating both current and future space debris. The debris is categorized into three areas: geostationary, medium-Earth and low-Earth orbit. The intern team keyed in on curtailing the low-Earth orbit debris which is below 2,000 km in altitude.

""We focused on the low-Earth [orbit] debris because it has the greatest orbital velocities and contains higher conjunction velocities,"" said Edward Dale, University of Nebraska-Omaha student pursuing a bachelor degree in Computer and Electronic Engineering.

To reduce and eliminate space debris, the team of interns proposed technology solutions to include improved tracking capability and tethers incorporated in the construction of satellites and the use of ground-based lasers for small debris and orbital rendezvous technology for large debris. The policy recommendations included standardized space terminology and collective international responsibility of space debris clean-up.

""There is no legal salvage taxonomy in space,"" said Stephanie Silva, University of Nebraska-Omaha Masters of Public Administration degree student. ""Even though there are no property rights, per se, there is Russian debris; Chinese debris; U.S. commercial debris and NASA debris. That is one of the reasons why we would work to make it an international effort. ""

While the space debris intern team looked to international forces as a way ahead for solutions, a second team of interns looked to the United States to create solutions for tunnel detection.

The tunnel detection team was tasked with the detection, monitoring and remediation of tunnels in the United States. Based on the interns' research, there are 71 tunnels: 70 along the U.S. /Mexican border, one along the U.S. /Canada border. The tunnels are broken down into three categories: unimproved, improved and drainage.

They determined the best technological solutions based on depth penetration, accuracy, cost and soil moisture. Seismic and acoustics, electromagnetic induction and ground penetrating devices were considered the best options of technology for unimproved and improved tunnels. And, a system of motion detectors with infrared, ultrasound and microwave technology would be best suited for drainage tunnels.

""We feel that this is the best fit solution for the problem especially due to the wide-spread availability of the sensors as well as their low cost,"" said Lance Allen, pursing a Master's degree in Architectural Engineering with an emphasis on Structural Design at UNO. ""The developed robust sensor installation would have to be durable, water proof and undetectable to intruders. ""

The interns researched data transmission systems and data retrieval processes to be implemented for monitoring the tunnels and determined the solution would take two phases. Initially in the high-risk regions based on current assessments, a permanent seismic array would be developed; electromagnetic readings would be taken to create a baseline for future tunnel detection assessments and watering systems in the drainage tunnels. After the first-phase results are satisfactory, the second phase would be implemented. The second phase would employ the recommended technologies to all the necessary areas based on the risk assessments.

In addition to technology upgrades, the interns suggested policy initiatives. They decided coalitions between the U.S. , Mexico and Canada should be formed and memorandums of record should be established.

""Since memorandums of understanding and agreement do not currently exist for tunnel detection or tunnel remediation, these coalitions would initiate discussions to both create and act on these important documents,"" said Noelle Obermeyer, pursing a bachelor's degree in economics and information systems at UNO.

The topics for the interns, space debris and tunnel detection, were suggested to the GISC Partnership Group by NASA and the Department of Homeland Security, respectively. However, the students conducted the research for their topics through open-source media and determined the subject matter experts to communicate with.

""The GISC took the time and effort to "" let the students actually form first-hand opinions based upon the information they were able to obtain,"" said Durham-Ruiz.

She said the teams were able to visit twice as many off-site locations to include the Boeing facility in Los Angeles, which hosted the interns from the space debris project.

This internship program included students from three University of Nebraska campuses: Lincoln, Omaha and The Peter Kiewit Institute.

Thefirst GISC internship program, in January 2007, was a communications study, comprised exclusively of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students. The interns explored methods of communications in the Pan-Sahel Africa to find effective ways to deliver credible information to a local population. They found the region to be poverty-stricken and possible breeding grounds for terrorists because of that.

The next internship is set to begin January 7. The topics will be focused in the areas of cyberspace and Middle Eastern economics and energy.