three men talking in front of the doors to the Aerospace Engineering Building at UT Austin

After calling the W.R. Woolrich Laboratories building (WRW) home for 50 years, the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics celebrated the grand opening of its new home on The University of Texas at Austin campus — the newly renovated Aerospace Engineering Building (ASE).

The ASE Building reflects the Cockrell School’s vision to modernize its footprint on the UT Austin campus. Along with the Engineering Education and Research Center — which has invigorated the Texas Engineering community since its opening in September 2017 — and the anticipated opening of the Energy Engineering Building in 2021, this new home for the aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics department is a symbol of growth and revitalization that reaffirms the Cockrell School’s position as a leader in engineering teaching and research.

“Over the coming decades, this building will propel groundbreaking innovations and help Texas Engineers change the world,” said Sharon L. Wood, dean of the Cockrell School, during the ASE Building’s grand opening celebration on April 26. “I can’t wait to see the results.”

The Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, which boasts top-10-ranked undergraduate and graduate programs (U.S. News and World Report), has more than doubled its enrollment over the past 10 years, and the number of its student organizations has more than tripled. Through its thoughtful design and modern features, the ASE Building will accommodate the department’s considerable growth and diversification and serve as a powerful recruiting tool for prospective students and potential faculty members.

The 86,000 gross-square-foot facility features updated and expanded research laboratories, including a state-of-the-art space object visualization lab, updated autonomous UAV and human-centered robotics labs, and collaboration zones for students and faculty. The building also includes improved undergraduate design and teaching labs, providing students with more experiential learning opportunities.

A crowd of people sitting at the Aerospace Engineering Building opening event

A crowd of people gathered around engineering equipment

View photos from the ASE Building Grand Opening event on April 26.

Among the building’s showcase spaces are 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 wind tunnel was also installed for teaching undergraduate aerodynamics.

The new home would not have been possible without the support of many Cockrell School alumni and friends. Thanks to a generous $1 million gift from Thomas McKnight (B.S. ASE 1970) and his wife, Mimi, students will benefit from the McKnight Student Center — an open space on the first floor of the building where students and visitors will be greeted with a well-lit area against a sleek space-themed backdrop. The student center also includes a collaborative learning area, computer lab, student conference room and quiet zone.

Other major contributors to the building include Daniel (B.S. ASE 1990) and Catherine Deans, establishing the Cathy and Dan Deans Undergraduate Student Organization Office; K.C. Williams (B.S. ASE 1972); William Holmberg (B.S. ASE 1968); and The Boeing Company, establishing the Boeing Aircraft Systems Integration Lab.

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 spaces. The former Texas Spacecraft Lab was previously separated into four rooms, but the organization’s new lab 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.

“We are beyond thrilled with our new space,” Zinni said. “A ground station, clean bench, soldering station and vacuum chamber are all available to us for the first time. It is truly a space that encourages collaboration and productivity.”

At the grand opening celebration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends gathered in the McKnight Student Center to hear remarks and enjoy refreshments before going on self-guided tours throughout the building to explore new labs and student spaces and interact with faculty and students about their work.

“We are embarking on a new mission for the aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics department, one that began at the dawn of the space age — nearly 60 years ago,” said Noel Clemens, chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, at the event. “It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the department and an exciting milestone for our entire community.”

Noel Clemens giving speech at a podium for the Aerospace Engineering Building opening event