Bob Smith's presentation at the Launch Texas event with a full auditorium

Earlier this month, the Cockrell School of Engineering, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and the Texas Innovation Center officially kicked off our new space tech entrepreneurial program, Launch Texas. Hundreds of students, faculty, alumni and members of the space tech industry came together in Mulva Auditorium in the Engineering Education and Research Center for the Go For Launch event, which featured alumnus and CEO of Blue Origin Bob Smith, a panel of experts on the future of the space economy and presentations by student founders of space tech startups.

Smith (Ph.D. Aerospace Engineering 1991) participated in a conversation with Kathleen McElroy, a professor in UT's School of Journalism, answering questions that ranged from the realistic nature of sci-fi movies to books he is currently reading to the future of the space economy. Smith also took questions from the audience and then visited with aerospace engineering student groups afterward.

Bob Smith speaking at the Launch Texas event

A Texas Engineering student asking a question from the crows at the Launch Texas event

The panelists on stage for the Space Innovation and Technology panel at Launch Texas

Smith’s conversation was followed by a special panel on space innovation and technology in the new space era moderated by alumnus Matt Chasen (B.S. Mechanical Engineering 1998, MBA 2004), founder and CEO of LIFT Aircraft. Panelists included Phnam Bagley, founding partner of Nonfiction and a futurist/aerospace architect; alumnus Payam Banazadeh (B.S. Aerospace Engineering 2012), founder and CEO of Capella Space; Todd Humphreys, aerospace engineering professor; and Meagan Murphy Crawford, co-founder and venture partner at SpaceFund.

The panelists weighed in on the past and current ecosystem built around space, the fundamental space research areas and what’s exciting about those, where investments in space tech could be made and what life will look like in the future with this new space economy.

The final portion of the program featured two UT startup pitches by student business founders who received inaugural Launch Texas funding to support their ventures:

  • Alex Nettekoven, a Ph.D. student in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and founder of Multi AI, a company which provides the next step in autonomy for drones, aircraft and vehicles through its cloud-based mission planning AI.
  • Hailey Nichols, who received her master’s degree in aerospace engineering at UT Austin this year and is founder of Locus Lock, which provides a robust software-defined radio to the market, giving end users precise heading and positioning that can be used for positioning, navigation and timing.

Both student founders were presented with inaugural Launch Texas Commercialization Fellow Awards.

The event closed with a reception and student project showcase that included the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab, Texas Aerial Robots, Longhorn Rocketry and more.

the student startup founders presenting on stage at the Launch Texas event

Launch Texas event attendees talking in front of a model rocket

Go For Launch was made possible by the McKnight Family, Antler and MITRE. View more photos from the event on Flickr:

The Launch Texas program offers a space tech graduate specialization for master's and doctoral students comprised of topics in aerospace tech. It also provides students with the crucial entrepreneurial education needed to start their own space tech companies. The program will produce a new class of space-tech entrepreneurs who will help grow the Texas space economy, while bringing together the aerospace community, academia and VCs. The inaugural cohort was welcomed this fall. Learn more about Launch Texas in the new issue of Longhorn Liftoff.