AURORA | Colorado Skies Academy is go for takeoff.

The Cherry Creek School District school board conditionally approved the new charter school in the district last week, which will provide space- and aviation-centric educations to middle schoolers when it opens next August.

The brainchild of former Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry, the curricula will include designing science experiments to be tested by researchers on the International Space Station, tackling Mars colonization, and working with real planes to learn Newton’s laws of physics.

Colorado Skies Academy will enroll about 225 students next year. It is only the third charter school in the school district, and will occupy 15 acres on Centennial Airport owned by the Wings Over the Rockies new aviation and space museums.

Barry, a former combat pilot and CEO of Wings Over the Rockies, said the goal is to prepare the next generation to work in Colorado’s burgeoning aerospace industry, which is suffering from a shortage of employees.

“The whole campus that we’re trying to build is unique in the country,” Barry said. “We’re not going to solve the pilot shortage, air traffic shortage, or engineer shortage, but we can serve as a model for how these partnerships fit together. That’s what’s unique.”

The museum campus broke ground this summer, making way for a variety of education, entertainment and industry projects at Centennial Airport.

The idea behind the academy is that students learn best with hands-on, project-based curricula, said Kathleen Fredette. She’s a science and technology educator at iLead Schools, a California-based charter school network that has spearheaded Colorado Skies Academy and will be behind the operations there.

Students will have access to technology and facilities at the airport as well as experts and employees in the aerospace industry, sh said.

One project, already implemented at schools in California, is called Dream Up to Space. Students there reached out to scientists and connected with a professor at UCLA, who helped them design a study involving bacteria. The testing will be carried out by astronauts on the ISS in low orbit.

The project-based learning will take a multi-disciplinary approach in line with Colorado science and core standards, Fredette said.

“When kids are next to and watching and listening to – not only a guest presenter – but actually working alongside them, they go, ‘Oh, I never knew that job existed, and, ‘Oh, maybe I could do that,” Fredette said.

Barry said the nascent museum project will also work to set up student internships with companies based in the area. And there’s no shortage.

There are more than 400 aerospace firms in the state, according to data from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. That equates to about 163,000 existing employees and a $3.2 billion payroll, making Colorado the largest space economy in the U.S. in 2013, according to the most recent statistics available.

But the academy isn’t off the ground yet.

iLead Schools is searching for administrators, staff and teachers, and school board members.

Most importantly, iLead Schools is looking for funding, according to spokesperson Dave Cieslak. In Colorado, charter schools are funded equally with traditional public schools, but per-pupil funding lags behind most of the states in the country.

iLead staff will act as “coaches” to educators and write pre-established curricula, Fredette said, but the school staff will be based locally. She said there is no shortage of prospective students, too. Hundreds of teachers and students have expressed interest.

The Cherry Creek School District Board of Education approved the charter last Friday after a lengthy-back and forth with iLead Schools that included public meetings and testimonies.

The approval is based on the stipulation that the academy submits procedures for special-education and other requirements.

Colorado Skies Academy will be only the third charter school in the district. The autonomous public schools have become prevalent in neighboring Aurora Public Schools and Denver Public Schools districts.

“We look forward to the Colorado Skies Academy team working closely with the district to meet the conditions we have outlined and to create a successful school that ultimately reflects the high standards of the Cherry Creek School District,” said David Willman, president of the CCSD Board of Education, a statement.