The W.M. Keck Institute for Space Studies will consider such sweeping questions as how the universe began, its ultimate fate and the likelihood that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos, Caltech said Tuesday.
Each year, the institute will adopt one or more of these themes and explore them through symposiums, in-depth research and the development of new technologies for future space missions in conjunction with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which the university manages for NASA.
"Over the last 50 years, the Caltech campus and JPL have been working together in ways that have helped shape the course of space exploration," said Tom Prince, who will be the director of the new institute. He currently directs the computational astronomy group at Caltech.
Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau said, "Keck's mission of encouraging pioneering research aligns perfectly with Caltech's mission to investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology."
JPL Director Charles Elachi said the grant would help keep the United States in the forefront of space research and exploration.
Each project will consist of a year of study, followed by a one- to two-year follow-up phase. In the second phase, Keck will fund laboratory work and develop new technologies identified during the initial phase.
Ideas for projects to be undertaken will be solicited from JPL and Caltech scientists, engineers and outsiders.