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NASA, UC Berkeley Team Up to Launch Silicon Valley Space Center

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Artist's rendering of NASA's Ames Research Center and Moffett Field of the Berkeley Space Center. The center will be an innovation hub encouraging collaborations among UC Berkeley faculty and students, private companies, NASA scientists and engineers and Silicon Valley's tech industry. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley)

UC Berkeley, in collaboration with NASA and real estate developer SKS Partners, plans to build a 36-acre research park in Mountain View.

The university said in a press release that it will be a place for scientists, students and tech companies to work together, developing innovations in aviation and space exploration as well as climate change and social sciences.

“The planned expansion of Berkeley’s physical footprint and academic reach represents a fantastic and unprecedented opportunity for our students, faculty and staff,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ at a press conference on Monday. “We’re thrilled by the prospect of it. New collaborations can speed the translation of research discoveries into the inventions, technologies and services that will advance the greater good. This is a prime location and prime time for this public university.”

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The park will be on the site of the decommissioned Moffett Federal Airfield, which NASA is leasing to UC Berkeley free for 99 years.

The project’s proposed $2 billion master plan envisions a space in the style of a sleek tech campus and includes office and conference space, laboratories, classrooms and retail stores, set among parks and outdoor work areas. According to speakers at Monday’s press conference, it’s anticipated that the first building could begin construction within three years.

Later on, developers plan to add residential structures to house students and faculty and short-term accommodations for visitors. Pending environmental review, construction is scheduled to begin in 2026.

What specific projects the Berkeley Space Center will work on is up in the air. But scientists are full of ideas. Air transport seems an almost certain focus.

“This is the decade of electric automated urban aviation, and this campus should be a pioneer of it,” said Alexandre Bayen, a UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, in a statement.

He’s interested in designing networks of vertiports, similar to helipads, from which electric air vehicles and flying taxis can take off or land by flying straight up and down.

An aeriel view of a series of large buildings and airplane runways set beside a body of water.
Aerial view of NASA’s Ames Research Center and Moffet Field in Santa Clara County on Feb. 3, 2012. (Eric James for NASA)

These vehicles are not as futuristic as they sound. United Airlines plans to offer electric air taxi service to and from San Francisco International Airport as soon as 2026. 

Claire Tomlin, now professor and chair of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley, said Moffett Field is a great location and an “outdoor testbed” for drone research, too, especially for students in UC Berkeley’s aerospace engineering program.

Of course, the collaboration with NASA also invites opportunities for space research.

“California’s innovation and drive is not limited to Earth,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement. “Berkeley Space Center will help lead the state’s space tech development.”

UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Berkeley Law are currently looking into how to regulate business in space.

More Stories on Space Exploration

“We are chartered to advance world-class research in aviation, earth, space and life sciences, space exploration and cutting edge technologies to support NASA’s mission, to explore and to improve life here on Earth,” said NASA’s Ames Research Center Director Eugene Tu at a press conference on Monday. “We firmly believe that partnering closely with a leading educational institution like UC Berkeley will help us meet our goals for the future.”

Some UC Berkeley classes will take place at the Berkeley Space Center, allowing students to work with researchers and industry leaders.

“The timing could not be better. We are at a major pivot point, if you will, in space exploration. Unlike the last half century, the future of space exploration is going to be much more dependent on and reliant on partnerships,” Tu said. “… changes in technology, changes in the world, especially in the environment that NASA works in, that makes this perfect timing.”

The Berkeley Space Center could be ready for move-in as soon as 2027.

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