December 3, 2018

On November 10 and December 3, 2018, the students, instructors, and supporters of the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program celebrated two major milestones in the student’s journey to assemble, test and launch their nanosatellites into orbit. The successful launches makes it the first program to launch two all high school student-built CubeSat’s into orbit in less than a year.

The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program (ICSP) is a collaboration between Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF), Irvine Unified School District and Tustin Unified School District (TUSD) to train and inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. It is comprised of students from six different high schools (Beckman, Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University, and Woodbridge) in the city of Irvine, California, and funded through donations through Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

“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,” 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.”

The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program endeavors to provide STEM educational resources to high school students, with the intention of inspiring the next generation of innovative thinkers. This after school program also has a special emphasis on creating opportunities for under-represented groups in STEM-related fields, including women and minorities. The project is the first of its kind in California and is the first high school program on the West Coast to launch an operational CubeSat into orbit.

The students packed up the completed CubeSat at launch integrator, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc., a worldwide leader in nanosatellites, before being transported to the launch site in New Zealand. The launch mission, “It’s Business Time,” marks Huntington Beach-based, Rocket Lab’s first commercial launch of their innovative Electron rocket. Partnering with this local company has provided the students with an opportunity to learn about the production of the Electron launch vehicle first-hand.

Irvine01 took off at 7:50 p.m. PST from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, the world’s only privately owned and operated orbital launch facility. Once launched, students from the Communications team tracked the satellite’s orbital path and on 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.

View 01 Launch

Irvine02 launched with NASA Spaceflight on December 3, 2018 at 10:32 a.m. from Vandenberg, California. This was Spaceflight’s first fully dedicated rideshare mission dubbed “SSO-A: SmallSat Express” aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force base in California later this year. SSO-A is especially significant because it is the largest rideshare mission, with more than 70 satellites manifested, from a U.S.-based launch vehicle.

Now that the IRVINE02 has successfully entered its orbit, students will work to make contact with it to download images and data. The program’s second CubeSat is designed to teach optical communications, transferring data at a faster rate than radio from orbit to Irvine. Students have completed construction of the Optical Ground Receiver & Eyepiece (OGRE) at Woodbridge High School, which will be able to receive the beam from IRVINE02, leading to faster science data downloads and providing students with additional opportunities to be involved in every aspect of the mission.

View 02 Launch


Irvine02 and Irvine03, the next mission of the Irvine CubeSat STEM Program, were both selected to participate in NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative to fly on upcoming NASA-sponsored missions. The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program is one of the only high school-led groups chosen by NASA to participate in this prestigious program, alongside world class universities and research centers.

Being part of the ELaNa program enabled the students to work alongside industry professionals from NASA and launch vehicle integration teams at Seattle-based Spaceflight, providing students with invaluable practical experience and hands-on learning.

Irvine CubeSat STEM Program was boosted by seed funding from Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF) to help start this multiyear STEM initiative. For the past three years, IPSF has continued its commitment to raise funds and administer the program each year. Typically, a program like this would be seen at NASA, or a handful of elite colleges and universities. Other corporate sponsors include the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Cisco, FivePoint, Google, Ingersoll-Rand/Trane, MEGGiTT Defense Systems, Inc., Microsemi, and Resilient. In addition to the funding, IPSF provides oversight, consultation, event management and administrative support of the program.

“We are honored to support enhanced innovation in classrooms across Irvine schools, and are so grateful to our partners who share our passion and have supported this program from the beginning, helping our students reach for the stars,” says Eaton.

For more information, please visit https://ipsf.net/cubesat.