The Irvine CubeSat STEM program includes Irvine Unified School District students from Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University and Woodbridge high schools, and Tustin Unified School District students from Beckman High School.
The program has been ongoing since early 2016 with the goal to launch a full-functioning 30-pound nanosatellite (approximately the size of a milk carton cut in half) 350 miles high into orbit around the earth. Each high school’s team is responsible for a different part of the satellite – avionics, communication, propulsion, etc. – with each group working after school and with leading scientists in various disciplines toward the goal.
The first launch carried the Mission IRVINE01 satellite. It blasted into orbit November 11 from the world’s only privately owned and operated orbital launch facility: Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. It was the first commercial launch of Huntington Beach-based Rocket Lab’s innovative Electron rocket. Partnering with the local company afforded the students an opportunity to learn about the production of the Electron launch vehicle firsthand.
“We have some of the most talented, dedicated and engaged students and teachers who have worked diligently on this incredible achievement, said IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker. “This is such a spectacular reflection of what’s possible when a group of relentlessly committed and passionate people come together to support our students. Congratulations to the Irvine CubeSat team.”
Once launched, students tracked the satellite’s orbital path and made radio contact with the CubeSat, confirming that it reached orbit and is functioning as expected. Aboard Irvine01 is a low-resolution camera that will take pictures of Venus, bright stars and other celestial objects. Data from these images can be used to calculate distances to planets and determine the pointing accuracy of the satellite.
NASA Spaceflight launched the second satellite, IRVINE02, on December 3 from Vandenberg Air Force base. It is the largest satellite ridesharing mission ever launched from the U.S. with 64 satellites from 34 organizations representing 17 countries. Irvine CubeSat is one of only two high schools chosen by NASA among 34 teams selected to participate in the prestigious program. Typically, a program like CubeSat would be based at NASA, or at an elite colleges and universities.
Irvine02 is a more advanced twin version of Irvine01, containing electric thrusters and a high-power laser for rapid transmission of data down to the Earth ground station. Once in lower Earth orbit, the cube satellite will take photos of stars and other celestial objects.
“What started as a crazy idea to change the way that students experience STEM education, has evolved into one of the most progressive high school space programs in the country and a truly invaluable experience for all involved,” says Neda Eaton, President & CEO, Irvine Public Schools Foundation. “Over the past two years, our students faced many real world obstacles that provided them with an even better understanding of the aerospace industry. They met these challenges head on, and we are so proud of their hard work and dedication to this program.”
IPSF provided seed funding to help start the multiyear STEM initiative. For the past three years, IPSF has continued its commitment to raise funds and administer the program each year. Other corporate sponsors include the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Cisco, FivePoint, Google, Ingersoll-Rand/Trane, MEGGiTT Defense Systems, Inc., Microsemi, and Resilient.
“This is an important achievement for our students and the entire district,” says Terry Walker. “IUSD’s robust science education from grades K-12 incorporates the Next Generation Science Standards, which support education for all students in science and engineering to provide the foundational knowledge for those who will become the next scientists, engineers, technologists and technicians of the future. That future is now for some of our high school students,” he says. “We hope that all students will see this example and know it’s possible to build and launch a satellite into space as an IUSD student and that they too will be inspired to shoot for the stars themselves.”
Irvine CubeSat STEM Program plans to build 10 more cube satellites all the way through to Irvine12. There will be opportunities for today’s elementary and middle school students to work on future satellites when they get to high school. There will also be opportunities for current high school students. To learn more, visit irvinecubesat.org.