UC Berkeley is exploring plans for a potential new venture with NASA’s Ames Research Center that would develop a portion of Moffett Federal Airfield near Mountain View into a mixed research, education and housing site.
During a meeting with the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee of the UC Board of Regents last month, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sought feedback on the new plan and outlined how the partnership would benefit the UC Berkeley campus.
“NASA and Berkeley have benefited from a multidecade partnership that has already resulted in groundbreaking discoveries,” Christ said during the meeting. “We think that this opportunity has great potential to build on that foundation and lead to the kind of transformative relationship that the campus enjoys with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.”
According to Christ, there are three main goals for this opportunity to partner with NASA: to strategically expand the campus’s physical and digital reach to serve its students, to advance discoveries that address world issues and to cultivate a global talent pool.
In 2002, the Moffett Field site was set aside by NASA to be used for educational purposes — the UC system has since been in conversation with NASA about building a physical presence on the NASA Ames campus at the field. UC Berkeley administration joined in on this conversation earlier this year, prompting plans to develop the field in collaboration with the campus.
Currently, Google leases the airfield itself and a parcel of the NASA Ames campus, where it will build 1.2 million square feet of additional space. In addition to Google’s presence on the NASA Ames land, 2,000 housing units will be developed to help alleviate the Berkeley region’s short supply of housing.
The new partnership would grant an allotted 1.4 million square feet and 36.2 acres for development, which could be used to host space for new laboratories and teaching spaces in collaboration with local industry as well as additional housing units.
“The prospects for our faculty and students to collaborate with NASA, industry in Silicon Valley and neighboring educational and research partners are quite attractive,” Christ said at the meeting. “Nevertheless, taking on such a massive development comes with opportunity costs.”
Christ mentioned the need for the UC to have “considerable flexibility” to exit the agreement without financial penalty given NASA’s upcoming lack of authority to issue a ground lease.
The proposed site would also need to be developed without central campus investment, meaning that it could not take away resources from core campus activities. In order to ensure that UC Berkeley’s balance sheet is not used for construction, this new partnership would require additional industry partners and third-party capital.
“Our objective is to raise the bar of what is possible for humanity to fuel innovations in space exploration, technological change, artificial intelligence, environmental sustainability and beyond,” Christ said, referring to how the NASA-UC Berkeley partnership could further the UC’s goals. “We intend to teach more Californians about these technologies and prepare the next generation of scientists, academics, innovators, entrepreneurs and professionals.”