ase bldg news

 This spring, the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics in the Cockrell School of Engineering opened its doors to newly renovated, more spacious home on the Forty Acres. Officially renamed the Aerospace Engineering Building (ASE), the new 86,000-gross-square-foot home – located at 2617 Wichita St. – will foster more collaborative, hands-on educational and research experiences for students who work closely with faculty to solve important global and societal engineering problems.

The ASE/EM department, which ranks No. 8 nationally for both its undergraduate and graduate aerospace engineering programs (U.S. News and World Report), saw tremendous growth over the past 50 years while housed in the W.R. Woolrich Building. In the past 10 years, the department more than doubled its enrollment and the number of student organizations more than tripled, and in just the past five years, one third of the faculty was recruited for their expertise in new, cutting-edge research areas such as autonomous systems, robotics, computational engineering, and space situational awareness. With this growth came the need for a facility capable of advancing the department’s vision for the future.

“Moving into this new home has been incredibly exciting for our department,” said Noel Clemens, chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “The new space reflects our vision for the future, and in the short time we have been here, I can already see that is it fostering a more collaborative and interdisciplinary learning and research environment for our faculty and students. I have no doubt that our community will flourish in this more modern home.”

To help address the needs of the growing student body, ASE boasts a well-lit signature space in the entrance – the McKnight Student Center. Made possible by a $1 million gift from alumnus Thomas McKnight and his wife, Mimi, the center features collaboration areas, a computing center and two dedicated spaces for undergraduate students, including the Cathy and Dan Deans Student Organization Office and a student conference room.

students working in mcknight student center
The McKnight Student Center features a spacious well-lit study area with mixed use seating, collaboration and quiet zones and a computing center.

Excited for something larger, brighter and more modern, students began using their new space as soon as it was available.

“I like that the student center is new, it’s updated, there’s a lot of natural lighting, and it looks super clean,” said aerospace engineering senior Max Bloom. “I can already tell that there are going to be a lot of students spending a lot of time in here.”

The new building also features expanded and improved undergraduate design and teaching labs, giving students more experiential learning opportunities. New labs include the Boeing Aircraft Systems Integration Lab where students will bring their team-designed autonomous aircraft, drones and rockets to life, and the Texas Spacecraft Laboratory where students will design and build small satellites and prepare them for space launch. A new, modern wind tunnel was also installed for teaching undergraduate aerodynamics.

Sabrina Alvarez, an aerospace engineering sophomore and chief engineer of the UAV Austin student group, said the new building has already been a positive change for her team and other aerospace engineering student teams.

“I have spent countless hours working in the WRW Air Systems Lab, watching all of the hardware teams create amazing things from limited materials and in a limited space. Now, we have a state-of-the-art lab with vacuum tables, new machining equipment, more storage and, most importantly, more table space,” Alvarez said. “Each technical aerospace organization works hard to represent UT at their respective competitions, but many nights it was difficult for all of us to work in the same place. Thanks to the new labs and spaces, I cannot wait to see what UAV Austin can achieve.”

Aerospace engineering senior Alexis Zinni, who serves as the student director of the Texas Spacecraft Lab, said students are excited to be in their new and improved lab space as well. The previous space for Texas Spacecraft Lab students was separated into four rooms, but the new space features over 1,500 square feet of space, with windows instead of walls, three screens for presentations, a camera and telemetry feed and two magnetic whiteboards for brainstorming.

texas spacecraft lab photo
The Texas Spacecraft Lab has been expanded to 1,500 and includes a ground station, clean bench, soldering station and vacuum chamber as well as upgraded AV equipment and computer stations. 

“The students and I are beyond thrilled with our new space,” Zinni said. “A ground station, clean bench, soldering station and vacuum chamber are all available to us now, and we couldn't be happier with the amount of computer workstations we're able to set up. It's truly a space that encourages collaboration and productivity.”

In addition to bolstering the undergraduate student experience with bigger, better spaces, ASE/EM research lab space has also increased by 50 percent (combined with new EERC lab space). ASE/EM faculty and graduate students can now collaborate in expanded and updated research laboratories, which include a new space object visualization lab and expanded robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles labs. Research in these new spaces will focus on interdisciplinary problems across cutting-edge fields such as robotics and autonomy, space engineering and technology, and remote sensing.

Collaboration zones and huddle rooms are also strategically located throughout the building to encourage faculty and staff to work together to solve the important technological and scientific problems facing today’s world.

“I look forward to showcasing the new ASE building with a grand opening celebration in the Student McKnight Center in late April,” Clemens said. “It’s the beginning of a new era for ASE/EM at UT Austin, and I can’t think of a better reason for our community to celebrate than this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.”

A grand opening celebration for the ASE building is scheduled to take place on Friday, April 26 from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. with remarks from Cockrell School of Engineering Dean Sharon Wood and ASE/EM Department Chair Noel Clemens, followed by self-guided tours of featured spaces and laboratories.

Supporting the New Home

Generous donors who have supported the new ASE building include:

  • Thomas (BS AS 1970) and Mimi McKnight, McKnight Student Center

  • The Boeing CompanyBoeing Aircraft Systems Integration Lab

  • Daniel (BS ASE 1990) and Catherine DeansCathy and Dan Deans Undergraduate Student Organization Office

  • K.C. Williams (BS ASE 1972), ASE building renovations

  • William Holmberg (BS ASE 1968), gifted sculptures

Naming opportunities for the new home are still available. Contact Bliss Angerman at bliss.angerman@austin.utexas.edu for more information or to make a gift to this new home.

Inside the Building

  • McKnight Student Center

    • Spacious well-lit study area with mixed use seating, collaboration and quiet zones and a computing center

  • Cathy and Dan Deans Undergraduate Student Organization Office

    • Dedicated office for undergraduate student organizations

  • Undergraduate Student Conference Room

    • Dedicated conference room for undergraduate students
  • Boeing Aircraft Systems Integration Lab, Aircraft Systems Fabrication Lab

    • 40% more lab space with separate fabrication and integration labs

    • Modern equipment, including downdraft tables and snorkels to keep dust and fumes down

    • New computers for design, flight simulation and ground station support and in-house 3D printer

  • Texas Spacecraft Lab

    • Formerly separated into four rooms, now combined into a single 1,500-square-foot room

    • Includes a ground station, clean bench, soldering station and vacuum chamber

    • Upgraded AV equipment and computer stations

  • Low Speed Wind Tunnel

    • Used for teaching aerodynamics

    • Brand new design capable of speeds nearly twice that of previous wind tunnel

    • Test section nearly twice as long to allow for testing of larger models

  • Featured Updated/Expanded Research Labs

    • Autonomous UAV Lab

    • Human Centered Robotics Lab

    • Materials Labs

    • Radionavigation Lab

    • Space Object Visualization Lab

    • Vertical Lift Lab

  • Collaboration Zones available to faculty, staff and graduate students