3, 2, 1 … Irvine Students’ satellite ready for liftoff

BY TOM BERG

Next month, a satellite named IRVINE01 will launch into space cheered by more than 140 Irvine students — who built it. These students, from six Irvine high schools, have spent the last two years assembling and testing IRVINE01 and a second satellite, IRVINE02, set to launch later this year.

“This is the first effort by a U.S. school to launch multiple satellites over several years,” says program mentor Tinh Tran, director of University High School’s technology and engineering program. “It’s like having a mini space program in high school.”

The program was designed to inspire the next generation of innovators — emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.

A satellite made by Irvine students will launch from India in May. NASA has agreed to launch their second satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in November, and a third satellite next year.

“Imagine being a high schooler who’s able to say you helped build a satellite,” says Tran. “Imagine sitting in a college admissions interview or job interview and pointing up to the sky as that satellite orbits Earth.”

The 2.3-pound, solar-powered satellite, called a CubeSat, is About twice the size of a Rubik’s Cube. It will beam photos of Venus and other celestial bodies to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, to help calculate distances to stars.

“This has inspired me to pursue a career in science and technology,” says junior Lily Litvak, whose University High School team created the satellite’s aluminum-alloy frame. “We work side-by-side with industry professionals and university professors. And we are responsible for finding our own solutions to problems we face during our work.”

Irvine parents Brent Freeze and Kain Sosa created the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program in 2015, and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation provided $150,000 in seed funding for IRVINE01.

Tran calls the program a “game changer” for STEM education in Irvine.

“The Irvine Unified School District has been so supportive,” he says. “We all realize that this program is our ‘moon shot’ in education. It really moves the needle in career and technical education.”

Students plan to launch two more satellites in the next year, both sponsored by a group that knows something about satellites and moon shots. Who? NASA.

Let the countdown begin …

Visit Irvine Cubeset for more information about the program.