New rocketry lab at UC Irvine gets ready for summer takeoff

Project leader Isaiah Navarro, far left, a UC Irvine mechanical and aerospace engineering senior, talks about the Rockoon System, his team's senior project.
(Kevin Chang | Daily Pilot)

A new lab dedicated to designing, building and testing rocket prototypes 15 to 50 feet long at UC Irvine is slated for completion this summer.

The new lab, funded by a $1-million donation from the nonprofit Base 11, is being constructed to make the university the first of its kind to launch a liquid-fuel rocket into space.

A mobile command center is also being included, which will allow students to transport rockets to test areas and make repairs off-site as needed.

The ground floor of the university’s Engineering Tower will house the new rocketry lab.

Mechanical and aerospace engineering students currently share labs with other science majors to complete senior capstone projects.

Ken Mease, chairman of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department and faculty advisor to the rocket project team, said the new lab will help minimize the challenge of finding facilities and lab space for all projects.

“Rockets are iconic — it’s majestic, adventurous and powerful,” Mease said. “And with the donation from Base 11, rockets are a great device to engage students to learn and pursue STEM careers.”

Isaiah Navarro, an aerospace and mechanical engineering senior graduating this year, said he wishes he “could fail an exam to stay” and use the new lab.

A team of mechanical and aerospace engineering undergraduates built a prototype for a rockoon, a launch system that uses a rocket and balloons.
(Kevin Chang | Daily Pilot)

“Our project could’ve been built so much faster, if we had that lab space,” Navarro said.

Navarro is the project lead for the students developing a Rockoon System, which is meant to serve as a more economical way of launching cube satellites into space, Navarro said.

Experimenting with the Rockoon System engine will serve the team well once it begins building the liquid rocket engine, Navarro said, as both engines share a lot of the common parts.

Auzzsa Eaton, a biomedical engineer and urban studies major, said she’s looking forward to working on the liquid rocket engine.

“We’ve been sharing labs with other teams all this time, so it’ll be nice to do our own work and test the project in our own area,” Eaton said.

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