UC Berkeley group reinvigorates campus space technology community with symposium

Daniela Cervantes/Staff

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Space Technologies at Cal, or STAC, held its first Space Tech Symposium on Monday to energize the space community on campus.

The event garnered 160 attendees, ranging from undergraduates and graduates to various individuals from the industry, according to Travis Brashears, co-founder and co-president of STAC. The symposium included three different panels geared toward research, investment and industry, along with an hourlong demo for projects.

“Our mission as a group is to make small incremental steps in research,” Brashears said.  “We started this community of 60 students who love doing research because there was a lack of community for … space and space tech here at Berkeley.”

Ariel Waldman, a NASA adviser and founder of Spacehack.org, was the keynote speaker of the night. Waldman said that through Spacehack.org, she has seen the importance of individuals from different fields coming together, united by an interest in space exploration.

Much to the audience’s amusement, Waldman recalled how a physicist once created a typeface in which all of the letters had the same wind drag. 

“That’s what I love about hacking,” Waldman said. “It’s about creating sparks for future collaborations and future awesome stuff in the world, even if you don’t know where it’s going yet.”

One of the projects displayed at the symposium was a high-altitude balloon that has launched twice this year. Tristan Caro, a campus senior and member of the team, said the team was in the process of creating a “cheap, reusable general platform” for other researchers. Caro added that the purpose of the balloon is to conduct high-altitude experiments in the stratosphere.

Many of STAC’s projects are cyclical in that they can be worked on longer than one semester, according to Chelsey Fang, a campus sophomore studying chemical engineering. Fang was part of the team overlooking TIME II, a second set of microgravity experiments after the first TIME set. Feng added that the reiteration of projects helps students “continually learn.”

Campus sophomore and electrical engineering major Mia Mirkovic said she is part of the team behind the SEED Biosphere Project, which aims to recreate an Earth-like habitat that can be controlled by software. The team uses hydroponic techniques to grow spinach in a contained and controlled environment.

According to Mirkovic, while the project is still in its first prototype phase, the broader goal is to research how humans can use technology to grow organisms on Mars.

“I think that STAC and this event today really have succeeded in initiating a discussion between students, founders and venture capitalists by pushing projects with real research potential to make a difference in the space community,” Mirkovic said.

Francesca Munsayac is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fcfm_dc.