Caltech Karman Laboratories – Soon-Jo Chung Labs


Pasadena, CA


California Institute of Technology


CO Architects

Project Size


As part of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT), the Chung Labs labs were built for Professor Soon-Jo Chung’s research, which relies heavily on autonomous systems. The Chung Labs include the Spacecraft Assembly Lab and the Spacecraft Simulation Facility in the basement and sub-basement of the Karman Laboratories.

In addition to a wing of offices and a fabrication and assembly space, the premier feature of the Chung Labs is a super-flat epoxy floor. The floor is used to test GPS units for satellites by simulating the frictionless motion of spaceflight. The units for the satellite are tested on an air bearing – like an air hockey table except the direction of the air blows down like a marine landing craft. An additional sliver of air keeps the units from resting on the surface of the floor and allows for them to move. Because the air bearing below each unit is extremely thin, any undulation in the floor will cause the unit to bottom out. Therefore, the super-flat floor must be installed to one-three-thousandth of an inch over 10 feet. At 500 sf, this was the largest-ever installation of such a floor. MATT did not construct floor but built the entire lab space around it, including all the support and the wall coordinating with the robot arm equipment.

Challenges on the design-build project included building in a basement space with occupied floors above on an active campus and mitigating the impact of noise and debris on sensitive experiments.

Photo Credit: Tom Bonner