Six Irvine high schools joined forces to attempt the first successful high school-based nano-satellite launch in the US, on March 22, at The Cove @ UCI. The program called Irvine CubeSat STEM Program was founded by two Irvine dads and boosted with a $150,000 investment by founding partner, Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF).
Together, these students will assemble, test and launch a miniature satellite, called a CubeSat, into low Earth orbit. If the program’s first CubeSat launch is successful, it will be the first high school team in the United States to launch an operational CubeSat into orbit.
The CubeSat launch is scheduled for Spring 2017. Students from the six high schools will spend the next year on an exciting journey to design and build the satellite, working with the nation’s leading scientists as consultants throughout the project.
“This innovative alliance is the result of the Irvine community coming together to fuel students’ interest in science and related areas of exploration,” said Neda Eaton, president and CEO of IPSF. “We’re excited to support their efforts to expose young learners to real-world applications and eager for Irvine to be a model for other districts, who will be able to benefit from this program long-term. Irvine CubeSat has the potential to give local high school students unprecedented access to space and spark an interest in STEM.”
Typically, a program like Irvine CubeSat would be seen at NASA, or a handful of elite colleges and universities. Through collaboration between private and public organizations including IPSF, Irvine CubeSat founders, space industry leaders, and the Irvine and Tustin Unified School Districts, this trailblazing program has been developed for the high school level. If the program’s first CubeSat launch, called IRVINE01, is successful, it will be the first high school team in the United States to launch an operational CubeSat into orbit.
Irvine High Schools Join Forces to Build and Launch Nanosatellite into Low Earth Orbit
Under this collective impact model, the initial goal of the Irvine CubeSat STEM program is to unite the City of Irvine public high schools in partnership with industry experts to assemble, test and launch a CubeSat spacecraft, a type of miniaturized satellite for space research made from commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components for its electronics and structure.
Beckman High School, Irvine High School, Northwood High School, University High School, Woodbridge High School and Portola High School (opening in fall 2016), are each forming teams with 25-30 students. The kickoff event for the Irvine CubeSat STEM program will be held March 22, 2016, at The Cove @ UCI. Each high school team then will assemble and test one component of the project over the next year, then come together in the spring of 2017 to launch the satellite.
This collaboration is key to the success of the program. By dividing tasks among several schools, this encourages the teams to work collaboratively together, with one common goal, and avoids information overload for any one school alone – as others have attempted in the past, which created stumbling blocks nearly insurmountable for a single school to overcome.
Irvine CubeSat student teams include:
• Beckman High School: Team Avionics
• Woodbridge High School: Team Communications
• Northwood High School: Team Power
• Irvine High School: Team Propulsion
• University High School: Team Prime
• Portola High School (opening in fall 2016): Team Biotech
Opportunities for learning will continue well past the launch date, too. The CubeSat’s planned orbit is approximately 500 kilometers above the Earth. Once the CubeSat is successfully launched, all students will have access to engage in a variety of orbital maneuvers and experiments, including operating the CubeSat to position the antennae, solar panels and camera in training operations. The CubeSat also will collect data that all students can practice evaluating and share for further analysis.
Two Irvine Dads Offer Specialized Backgrounds to Create Irvine CubeSat STEM Program
Brent Freeze and Kain Sosa conceived Irvine CubeSat in October 2015 to encourage local public high school students to think beyond the classroom when it comes to STEM education. The Irvine neighbors are leveraging their professions in business technology and science to create a work-based learning project (WBLP) as a way of fostering interest in real applications that use STEM skills.
Freeze is the founder and chief technology officer of Sorlox Corporation. Sorlox began as a DARPA seed-funded startup in 2010 to develop fusion power generation technology for the U.S. Army. It has since patented this core technology in the US and abroad. Earlier in his career, NASA awarded Freeze a fellowship for advanced space propulsion.
Sosa is a business analytics executive with a background in health care, high-tech manufacturing, consumer packaged goods, retail and media. In 1999, he formed Bilingual Interactive after researching psycholinguistic processes in bilingual populations at University of California, Santa Barbara.
Given their careers, STEM education is a hot-button issue for both Freeze and Sosa, and both lament the loss of hands-on STEM learning in public school curriculum. They envisioned the Irvine CubeSat program to reach a wider audience and stimulate opportunities for young women and minorities in the growing STEM workforce. The program is addressing another issue, too, by engaging young women in STEM discovery. Nationwide programs attract an average of 22 percent of females. In contrast, enrollment in the Irvine CubeSat STEM program is 33 percent female.
“I want Irvine kids to feel the entrepreneurial bug as I did – especially young women and minorities – and see how learning science, technology and other disciplines will help them pursue their dreams,” Sosa said.
In addition, Freeze and Sosa hope to inspire students by putting them into real-world situations of testing and integrating technology and working with professionals in teams to forge relationships that last well past the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program.
“The program is meant to engage all local public high schoolers because each school can participate in experiments post-launch. Irvine CubeSat will help prepare youth for careers requiring STEM education and proficiency in related fields,” Freeze said.
Leading Companies and Universities Lend Their Expertise
In just four months, Freeze and Sosa tapped their connections and recruited major companies and universities to join the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program. Their companies, Sorlox Corporation and Bilingual Interactive, are serving as consulting partners. Other organizations stepping up include Accion Systems, EXA (Ecuadorian Space Agency); Tyvak; Innovative Space Logistics; Brown University; California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Montana State University.
Plus, the program has gained the attention of two heavy-hitting advocates: Dr. Pamela Clark and her colleague, Dr. Charles Norton, the head of NASA-JPL’s CubeSat programs, who has overseen upward of 20 missions. Although they’re not working in an official NASA/JPL capacity, they’re passionate about inspiring another generation of scientists. Clark and Norton see the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program as a way to get more students ready to pursue science-related careers and are lending their expertise to help develop the program. They also will advise students during the project and serve on the panel of experts that will convene to evaluate the program through each milestone.
Teachers from each school are also developing curriculum so that the program can be replicated in other school districts in the future. A key member of the curriculum team is University High School teacher Tinh Tran, recipient of a 2015 Innovative Teaching Award Program (ITAP) grant from IPSF.
“My grant from IPSF enabled me to use space technology as a platform for student learning two years ago, and what I taught is becoming a reality for students through IRVINE01,” Tran said. “IPSF unlocks opportunities for our schools to collaborate with industry and institutions of higher education. Local technicians, programmers and operators are connecting with us to help train students, who are learning how technical education is relevant outside of the classroom and applicable to their interests. In return, these companies are gaining a sophisticated pool of talent to meet their future workforce needs. Plus, colleges and universities are receiving students with a very solid technical foundation.”
IPSF Helps Bolster Lowest Funded School District in California
IPSF stepped up as a founding partner of Irvine CubeSat, as part of its 20-year mission to enrich the educational experience of each child in every school. The organization has committed to raising the funds for Irvine01, the first mission of the multiyear program, and is actively seeking partners to join them. Eaton points out that IPSF’s investment, and others like it, is needed to help Irvine schools lead the charge in innovative STEM education and succeed, in their own version of the space race for the 21st century, and beyond.
Although the state constitution affords a basic free education for youth, current funding is inadequate to meet the needs of the 32,000 students in 35 schools in Irvine. Funding for students in California ranks 46th in the United States, and Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) is one of the lowest funded districts in California. According to IUSD officials, California schools spend $3,459 less per student than the rest of the United States, and IUSD receives $1,502 less than the average California school district.
“IUSD continues to rank among the lowest funded school districts in the country,” Eaton said. “Without the support of IPSF and the entire Irvine community, opportunities like the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program would not be available to our students. Along with funding, we’re lending our expertise to the program and leveraging our network of community support. And because of our close relationship with IUSD, we’re able to focus our efforts on the funding needs that will have the most impact.”
About Irvine Public Schools Foundation
Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF) is a nonprofit organization with the mission of enriching the educational experience of each child in every school. Founded in 1996 by concerned parents and community leaders, IPSF sponsors enrichment programs and provides financial support to ensure a world-class education in Irvine schools. In addition, IPSF excels at uniting local corporate and community partners, parents and residents in raising funds to nurture student potential. Each year, IPSF provides millions in funding to Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) to support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education, small-group learning, after-school and summer programs, grants for classroom innovation, and support for athletic trainers and school nurses. For more information about IPSF, visit ipsf.net.