With $30 million up for grabs, UCF alumni and students are in a race to space.
Ruben Nunez, ’11 | President/CEO, Earthrise Space Inc.
By Angie Lewis, ’03
Like many kids from his generation, Ruben Nunez, ’11, grew up watching Weird Science, E.T. and Star Wars. Little did he know the influence the science fiction and technology in those movies would have on him. But after his parents took him to visit Kennedy Space Center and he had an encounter with one of the astronauts, it all made sense: He wanted to build a spacecraft that would help us explore our universe.
Unable to find a good internship opportunity as a college student, then learning about the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, Nunez decided to start his own company and team to pursue it.
Earthrise Space Inc. (ESI) provides students with experience building real spacecraft, doing so in collaboration with industry and academic institutions. As president and CEO, Nunez, along with three UCF alumni and 33 UCF students, formed Omega Envoy. The team is competing against 22 other teams from around the world to be the first to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, have it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth.
If Omega Envoy wins the money, Nunez says the cash prize will be used to expand his company’s infrastructure and workforce to further develop its technologies in order to increase the reliability of its spacecraft.
“We intend to demonstrate that Florida is the No. 1 place for space, since all the infrastructure and resources needed to build and launch spacecraft can be found here,” Nunez says. “We hope to create technologies to enable pin-point precision lunar landing — technologies which can then be used to explore other places in our solar system. We also intend to be the first commercial entity to offer lunar payload delivery services.” (ESI has already sold $1.6 million in lunar payload delivery services to Angelicvm, a Chilean company also competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE.)
In addition, he says he would use the prize money to hire more engineers and other disciplined professionals with experience, and provide more internships from different majors (e.g., engineering, business, marketing, public relations and art) to increase the symbiotic mentoring methodology they implement to spur innovation. He would also schedule future lunar payload delivery missions with increased payload mass capabilities, as well as create spin-off technologies for use on Earth and further space exploration.
Thanks to Nunez’s ambitious endeavor, ESI has secured a contract with NASA for up to $10 million, through which ESI is providing data from its Omega Envoy spacecraft development and mission. The space giant will use this data in an effort to learn how a small, nonprofit company, like ESI, is able to build a lunar module for a fraction of the cost it spent in its past lunar missions — information that could be imperative to any future NASA operations.
“As the Florida team in the competition, it is important to engage students here in the state who will be the future space workforce,” Nunez explains. “What better place to do that than at UCF and other Florida universities? We want to provide experience and support to students and alumni from our alma mater, increasing our momentum and our community involvement.”
Earthrise Space is part of the UCF Business Incubator and is housed in Central Florida Research Park, which is close to its main workforce of UCF students. Since its inception, ESI has provided internships to more than 60 students, six of whom were hired with companies like Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin and Aircraft Electric Motors.
Since ESI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, it’s seeking other sponsors, partners, donors, grants, contracts and other funding sources in an effort to fulfill its lunar payload delivery service capabilities and to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE.