With $1 Million Gift, UCI Aims to Become First University to Launch Rocket into Space

Base 11 summer fellowDonation expands partnership with Base 11 to address STEM talent crisis

April 24, 2017 - University of California, Irvine students will “shoot for the moon” thanks to a $1 million gift from Base 11, a nonprofit STEM workforce development and entrepreneur accelerator. The “Moonshot Initiative” will establish a rocketry program at The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, with the intent of making UCI the first academic institution to launch a liquid-fuel rocket into space.

The Base 11 donation will turn an existing area on the Engineering Tower’s ground floor into a rocketry lab that enables students to design, build and test rocket prototypes between 15 and 50 feet long. It will also fund a mobile operations center and assembly trailer that can transport rockets to test sites and will allow students to make repairs off-site as needed.

“We’ve found that by exposing our students early to hands-on experiential learning, we have better success in keeping them engaged and inspired in their education,” said Gregory Washington, Stacey Nicholas Dean of Engineering at the Samueli School. “This partnership with Base 11 will help us create an exciting and innovative opportunity for our students.”

The first liquid-fuel rocket will be built from a prefab prototype that UCI students will modify to travel 25,000 feet high and then further refine to reach 50,000 feet. The ultimate goal is to construct a rocket within two years that breaches outer space, surpassing the Karman line at about 328,000 feet. The rocketry lab will be complete by summer’s end.

The Moonshot Initiative is the latest effort in a growing partnership between the Samueli School and Base 11. In 2016, the nonprofit funded the UCI Base 11 Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy, which introduces community college students to a variety of engineering concepts by having them design and build an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, and then program it to fly. Last summer, five community college students from across the country spent two months at UCI as Base 11 fellows. (See video here.)

The nonprofit has also funded an academic-year internship program that brings high-potential, low-resource community college students from around Southern California to UCI on Saturdays for valuable exposure to university-level engineering concepts. And the Samueli School leads a pilot of Base 11’s STEM Entrepreneur Program, which combines traditional entrepreneurial education with work at the school’s Institute for Design & Manufacturing Innovation.

“Base 11’s partnership with UCI is focused on executing a workforce development strategy that provides the engineering and computer science talent so desperately needed by aerospace, high-tech and transportation industry companies,” said Landon Taylor, CEO of Base 11. “UCI and Dean Washington are ideal partners who share our vision of solving the STEM talent pipeline crisis by transforming underrepresented women and minorities into STEM leaders of the 21st century.”

 – Lori Brandt