Let's Talk UNLV

On this episode of Let’s Talk UNLV hosts Tanya and Guest host Danielle get the opportunity to learn all about UNLV’s Space program from student representative Petar Matejic. Tune in to this episode to hear from an inspiring student whose dreams have led him and other students to outer space! Petar explains the current initiatives and needs of the program, and how getting involved is not as difficult as one might think.

Petar Matejic, Lead Engineer of RebelSat UNLV at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, is working to send Nevada's first satellite into orbit. But before we're in space, we need to have solid leadership here on Earth.

Petar Matejic, a visionary entrepreneur and inventor, emerges as a luminary in the global tech arena. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Matejic's journey to pioneering heights began with groundbreaking internships at NASA, Firefly, The Boring Company, and SpaceX, showcasing his versatile expertise in aerospace innovation. His trailblazing spirit led him to co-found RebelSat UNLV, a pioneering initiative culminating in Nevada's inaugural satellite launch. This achievement marked a turning point, propelling the university into the community of space technology.

Matejic's visionary leadership and drive came to the fore with Vista Space, a venture co-founded by Matejic and former SpaceX employees as part of the Winter 2024 cohort at Y Combinator in San Francisco, aiming to revolutionize structural battery packs for small satellites.

What is Let's Talk UNLV?

Rebels, tune in to 'Let's Talk UNLV' with Dr. Tanya Crabb and Dr. Sammie Scales. Your express pass to everything UNLV — campus highlights, programs, and the latest buzz. Join us weekly as we chat with student leaders, administrators, and faculty, diving into the core of what makes us Rebels.

The program brings guests from different areas of UNLV every week to discuss campus highlights, programs and services, research interests that are essential to being a Rebel. Let’s Talk UNLV places its emphasis on connecting with student leaders who represent the voice of students on our campus. Guests also include administrators, faculty and staff responsible for upholding the mission of the university, which is teaching, research and scholarship.

Short, sweet, and Rebel strong – subscribe now for the inside scoop!

Welcome to Let's Talk UNLV podcast at KUNV 91.5. You're here with Tanya and Danielle who's subbing in for Keith. So Danielle, Let's Talk Weekends, what did you do with yours?

Man, it's kind of a blur. You know, this is finals week, so mostly homework. Mostly homework, unfortunately nothing exciting, but looking forward to this weekend and the holidays.

Yeah. Homework isn't exciting?

I'm kidding.

I could pretend it is if you'd like, but honestly, no.

How was your weekend? You know, it was kind of a low-key weekend, just sort of chilled and trying to, you know, we started watching Potter last week and we're still trying to get through Potter. We're down to the last Harry Potter. I think, what is it? Number seven, part two. Part two. Yeah, I forget how much my heart broke like with each episode.

The last one is like probably the best one. Three and the last one. Love those episodes.

Three are probably good. Oh my God. I've actually never seen it. So you know, the best part is watching them grow. Okay. You get to see them go from 10 year old like 18 year old little babies up to yeah it's a it's a beautiful story about friendship and just you know persevering through difficulties so yeah if you ever get a chance to watch it you might want to

yeah give it a shot I I always thought the idea of Harry Potter was cool I just never really got to and to I guess like fantasy based stuff but I'm definitely planning on it this winter break.

Wonderful. Yeah, it's not all it's a suspension of disbelief in a way, but it's not like yeah, that's that's totally she builds a world that is that's feasible. Even though you know that it's not real, it's kind of easy to immerse yourself in it. So, welcome, welcome, welcome. I want to take a second to introduce you. Well, actually, I will let you introduce yourself. So we're here with Peter. Can I, can you help me pronounce your last name? Matej? Matej. Okay, that's why I needed your help. And we're here discussing the UNLV space program. And you are their lead engineer? That's correct. Yeah, I'm the project lead and slash lead engineer of the program. Okay, like so first and foremost like I did not know This was a thing I'm glad you're here and I would love to hear

Tell me about you and LV space program. Sure. Yeah. I mean first of all, I just wanted to thank you all for letting me on to the show to have the opportunity to speak about this and just create more of an awareness of UNLV as a space-faring school. I just realized something. Yeah, I'm so sorry. I jumped into the

questions without asking you your origin story. Sure. Yeah

So I guess to to talk about that a little bit. I'm currently a senior here at UNLV majoring in mechanical engineering Currently I'm slated to graduate in this upcoming May so I started going to UNLV in the fall of 2019 where I kind of just came in not really knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in the realm of engineering and rocket science but in terms of how I'd get there you know I had I didn't have a single clue about that, so I kind of just, you know, followed each step along the way with the idea in mind that I want to eventually work on rockets and spacecraft. What step along the way would maximize my opportunity of being able to get to that goal? So that really entailed me just getting involved with the existing SEDS UNLV organization, which is our rocketry group on campus, building a rocket, launching that learning from that experience, and then eventually starting Rebelsat UNLV, which is our premier spacecraft organization here on campus. And we're about two years old now. We currently have about 400 people involved, so it's pretty big. And I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend two rotations at NASA supporting the Artemis program, as well as see some of the stuff that I have developed with my own hands actually go into orbit with Firefly Aerospace. And then currently I'm working at the Boring Company as a tunnel engineer. So really my main goal by the time I graduate is to inspire as many people as I possibly can while achieving the things that most people, I guess frankly think that isn't doable here at UNLV. I want to flip that narrative and show that it is actually possible.

Yeah, I mean, that's amazing. It's like really cool work. Not gonna lie to you, I know nothing about space and rockets, but... No worries. Yeah, like I didn't, like Dr. Krabb said, I did not know that was something we had here at UNLV. So I'm kind of curious to this satellite project, I think, that is underway. And it sounds like you guys are interested in getting more students involved.

Absolutely. So the really unique thing about Rebels at UNLV is that we're not your average organization ran by students. We're an organization ran by students trying to emulate the experience for students as if you were already in the industry. So, you know, from from the experiences that I was able to pick up as well as other people who are involved in the team as a lead engineer, they have experiences in the industry. What they do is they bring that back to UNLV and pretty much provide that to the students. So I'll give an example. Typically when you think of an engineering project you might think of a group of students, all engineering majors, working together on a whiteboard figuring out what what the best solution is for a problem. The way we go about things is we actually have dedicated groups called subsystems. So when you have a spacecraft you have your communication subsystem, you have your structure, you have your electronics, your software, payload, so on and so forth. And each one of those groups is guided by a subsystem lead who's a student who has in-depth experience on that specialty and then provides that opportunity to students who want to get involved, whether they know anything about rocket science or not. Typically, when they come in, they don't, and that's completely fine. We give them that opportunity to learn. And they learn and grow a lot. But aside from that, we also try to operate as if we are a new space startup. So that entails also having a dedicated operations team, which is focused only on all the non-engineering aspects. So we're talking about recruiting, marketing for our website or social medias, as well as our finances, because you know, you could build a satellite, but if you're not able to pay for a ride into space, then it's kind of pointless. So we have a team of folks who are, it's just a huge multidisciplinary team, and frankly, it's something that I haven't seen anywhere else at UNLV, and it's just really inspiring to take a step back and look at in real time.

So as we take a step back, I really love that there's sort of an adjunct to the program itself, you know, and like you said, if you don't have funding, you've just built a giant paperweight.


So tell me more about the program. Like, how did you come to find out about the program? Give me sort of an overview for someone who's interested in this program what would they

need to know sure so really we're open to literally anybody who wants to learn anything about spacecraft and it doesn't even have to be spacecraft specifically what i like to do during interviews is ask our prospective members what's a skill that they want to work on just generally speaking. And nine times out of 10, they'll say something that we can provide for them. So let's say that, let's just ignore engineering for a second. Maybe the student says that they want to work on their graphic design skills. OK, we have lots of opportunities for that. We're creating posters. We have a website that we really spend a lot of time perfecting on. We have physical marketing materials that we would like to distribute at our recruiting events and things like that. And we really try to put ourselves out there with a sort of prestige so that when somebody sees us as a prospective member, they can say, oh, this organization, I can tell, takes their project pretty seriously, but also has a really nice environment to them working in the team. So for anyone who would like to join, I would just say, you know, as long as you're willing to put in the time to pick up a skill that you want to learn, this is a fantastic opportunity to do so. Everybody's very inclusive. We don't care if you're an engineer or not. We just care that you're able to deliver and ultimately support the mission of not just just RebelSat-1, but also putting UNLV on the map as somebody who's gone to space. Because I'll give you a fun fact, actually. I mean, I'm not sure how fun a fact it is, but there's only a handful of states in this entire country that have never launched before, and Nevada's actually one of them. Really?


So we're trying to change that. We have the capabilities of doing so, and we're consistently working with students as well as admin, like our dean of college engineering, Dean Benkat, President Whitfield, even former governess of SELAC has voiced their support for us of putting us in orbit.

Yeah. That is a pretty interesting fact. I didn't realize that many states have gone to space, which is pretty cool.

Yeah, it's really easy when you have a lot of funding, and that's another challenge that we have to face, is not just how can we build this, but also how can we afford to build this as well. So that on top of many other things. Rocket science is never easy, but that's why it's super rewarding by the time we do get into orbit.

Right, it's not rocket science.

It's only rocket science.

It's only rocket science. I love the idea that it's a multidisciplinary approach so that everyone's gifts can be utilized in some way so that, you know, just because you're not an engineer doesn't mean that the door is closed to you. So, how do you get students in, how do they become involved? Like, what are the first steps that they would need to do in order to become involved in this program?


So typically, the onboarding process is, if we run into a student who expresses interest verbally, we'll go ahead and direct them to our website, www.rebelsat.org, and we'll have them go through our application page. That page has a list of roles that are currently open and available that are posted by our leads. It's essentially just like applying to a job. They'll find a role that they're interested in, they'll read the job description, if they like it they'll apply, we get the responsible set up an interview. In that interview we like to, I guess the purpose of our interviews isn't necessarily is like smart or dumb or whatever, but more so how well they fit within the team. And then from there, if they pass the interview process, they essentially get invited to show up to their first subsystem meeting to have the opportunity to meet with the other engineers as well as the lead engineer of that project. And then from there, you know, the lead kind of gives them responsibilities to work on. And from there, they just work on the project. It's pretty straightforward, I would say.

So just first walk through the door, right?

Literally. Yeah.

Take advantage of the opportunity to present yourself.

Yeah. I've really seen a lot of students benefit from taking that leap of faith. I've seen some folks who would come in as freshmen not knowing really anything about spacecraft design. And, you know, but the thing is they'd be inspired by the project so much that they would be willing to put in that work. And then after about like a year or so, they land an internship at a company that they never saw themselves working at because they never thought that they would get in in the first place and now they're there. Building upon those experiences, being able to give that back to RubbleSat, giving that back to themselves and just other people in general, it's really a thing where everybody benefits from significantly. Hearing you talk about it is pretty inspiring. You could tell you're very passionate about UNLV space and RubbleSat, so I'm curious to know what excites you most about this work for you personally? Yeah, I mean for me it's really just having the opportunity to see something that you built with your own hands, see something floating in space. I think as a 21 year old not a lot of people regard as extremely complicated is kind of validating in the sense that I don't think one should be limited based on how old they are in terms of what they're able to accomplish and achieve in life. Not to get too deep or anything, but you know I think I see this a lot in people my age is that they might limit themselves because they think they're too young to pursue something. And that's just something that I want to kind of flip the narrative for and really voice that.

Well, I'm not gonna lie, it sounds so exciting and inspiring. I was like, is there time to shift careers? But no, no. It's just the whole idea, like there are so many buzzwords for me, like, you know, rocket science. And then you talked about NASA and you talked about satellites and I was like, wow, to not be corny and Star Trek-y, but it's a whole new frontier. Yeah, it literally is. It's a whole new frontier and it sounds like this organization is bringing that vast universe of opportunities and possibilities here to UNLV. No pun intended. Lots of puns intended. You'll get used to it. There's not going to be any like live long and prosper. Well, now I've said it. But I love the idea that all of this is accessible to students. And I love also the idea that the, your message to the future generation. So if you if you had a message for the next generation of leadership, what would that message be?

next generation of leadership, what would that message be? Yeah, don't give up. That's it. Like don't give up. So many people tend to want really big things in life and think it might be too big for them. I would say just keep pursuing that as cliche as it sounds. But there's a reason why it's cliche. It's because it's true. So I would just say don't give up. Don't like ignore, ignore age, ignore status, ignore everything, just focus on what you ultimately want to do and what makes you happy in life and go for it no matter what. That's awesome.

I think that's a good message, especially for our students. I kind of actually want to circle back because you guys are looking for people, right? And you kind of mentioned that there's like a variety of roles people could apply for. Is there a need at all right now for specific kind of positions?

Yeah, absolutely. I will say that our engineering team is pretty well supported right now. And you would think that an engineering organization is looking for engineering students, but we're actually really looking for students who want to support the non-engineering side as well. So right now everything that you see on our social medias is run by one person. We need more folks who are interested in working in social media, graphic design, marketing. We need people who are really good at connecting with other people and really bringing out the talent from prospective members. So we need recruiters in that regard. And then ultimately we need people who are working within finance who are able to kind of manage our money, making sure that our expenditures are being spent responsibly and within budget. And I think that's pretty much it, you know, really just making sure that we're able to secure money, reaching out to people, securing contracts, support the engineering team in that regard, and we'll get this thing up into space by 2025.

Okay. It sounds like you guys are just really trying to bring awareness to the project.



Yeah. I think, you know, RebelSat as an organization is really important because we're trying to do something that has never been done in Nevada before, like even Reno isn't doing this right now. But that's just to say that despite the fact we've never done that before, we're still trying. And I think given how hard the team has been working from what I've seen over the past two years, we're definitely going to get there.


Yeah, I'm noticing that you're, you know, you're relatively

young as an organization. But you've, it sounds like you've done so much. Yes. In that limited period of time as an organization with a launch date of what, 24?

Yeah, so delivery of 2024, launch in 2025. Yeah, we've definitely done a lot. Me helping start this organization with a handful of other people, we didn't know anything. We started off with no money, no technical understanding of anything, but just a willingness to do it. And now we have one of the one of the biggest antennas on campus that we constructed outside of Urban Affairs but like within engineering on top of the engineering building we have an antenna that we built. It's live now we're able to track satellites with the received signals so as well as a bunch of other cool stuff that we're working on, but I'll let people check out our social media for that.

Oh, I see. Keeping a little mystery. Yeah. That's a great way to plug your social media. I could tell you or you could go to my social media and check it out for yourself.

At rebels.unlv across all platforms. So there it is.

That was a wonderful plug, by the way. Now I'm curious about the satellite and I'm going to have to wander through campus.

Yeah, yeah, definitely. If you're ever walking past the engineering building, the big orange one, you can see that antenna up there. It's pretty cool.

So what pulled you in?

So I, well, I helped start the organization with a couple of other folks in 2020. But that was really just for the opportunity. So what I saw was an opportunity to start something that I wanted to work on that didn't exist yet. Coming to UNLV, we're not the biggest aerospace school out there, quite frankly, but that I think shouldn't be a limitation for me to continue pursuing my goals as an undergrad. So I was like, okay, we don't have this, let me start it. Let me bring it in and then let's see where it goes. Yeah, so it's like if you don't have it, just start it.

If it doesn't exist, build it.


Simple. Simple.

If it doesn't exist, you want it, build it.

Yeah, like Elon was driving through LA and he was complaining about Traffic and he was just he went on to Twitter and said how nice it would be to You know dig tunnels and nobody else is really digging tunnels too quickly. So he started to start a company for it They just started you can dream it you can build exactly

So we have a few moments left. So we would like to give you the last word. Is there anything you want to share? Anything you want to promote? Any lasting messages or impressions that you would like to release into the universe, pun intended?

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Well, firstly, I wanted to, again, thank you guys for giving me the opportunity to be on the show today, meet with you all and have a discussion about this. this, but I also really want to thank President Whitfield for his support of the program for the past two years, as well as Dean Venkat. Without these folks, as well as many other people, we would not be where we're at today. And, you know, I genuinely hope that as a result of this conversation that, you know, more awareness is spread about what we're doing at UNLV in terms of RubbleSot. And yeah, again, our Instagram is RubbleSotUNLV, so check us out for sure.

That is fabulous. Thank you. Thank you for being here.

Thank you for having me.

And thank you for like broadening my horizons.

Thank you.

And that's a wrap.

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Transcribed with Cockatoo