Students To Design Mission Utilizing Asteroid Resources

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

November 7, 2014 – Full-time graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world are invited to participate in Caltech Space Challenge 2015. The challenge consists of an intensive one-week mission design competition where students will be challenged to develop a mission to send astronauts to utilize the resources of an asteroid in lunar orbit. Students will be supported with guest lectures and workshops from top scientists and engineers from NASA-JPL, Caltech and other premier institutions.

The Caltech Space Challenge provides an opportunity for students to actively participate in cutting edge space mission research and learning. Thirty-two students from a wide range of backgrounds will be invited to Caltech, formed into two multidisciplinary teams, and challenged to produce a viable mission design. This confluence of people and resources is a unique opportunity for students to work with experienced professionals in academia, industry, and national laboratories.

NASA-JPL and Caltech faculties will mentor the two teams to help them develop their mission plans. The challenge will conclude with final presentations at Caltech, the submission of a final report, constructive feedback for both teams, and the announcement of the winning team. It’s hoped that the innovative solutions that the teams produce will be considered by NASA when they are designing their future space flight missions.

The Caltech Space Challenge changes each year. This year’s asteroid mission is based on the Asteroid Redirect Mission that has been proposed in order to fulfill President Obama’s vision for the future of space exploration through the 2030’s.

The goal of the asteroid redirect mission is to return up to 1000 metric tons of asteroidal material to a distant retrograde lunar orbit, either by capturing a small asteroid or picking a boulder off a much larger one. Powerful solar electric propulsion would slowly move the asteroid into position. Most viable candidates for the redirect mission could be returned and available for human exploration by 2026 at the latest.

Assuming financial support and technical success of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, the captured asteroid would be the likely destination for an early mission of the Lockheed Martin built Orion capsule. Therefore, the mission is being viewed as a stepping stone on the way to Mars, principally as a mission to test the systems that will be required to send humans beyond the Earth-Moon system for the first time.

Asteroids also contain valuable resources that can be used to enhance human exploration capabilities. A returned asteroid might optimistically contain a significant mass fraction of volatiles which could be extracted and used as fuel for future missions. Caltech Space Challenge 2015 will challenge students to develop a mission in which astronauts make use of those resources.

Undergraduate or graduate students from any nationality are encouraged to apply. Students are required to submit the application form online, which includes a short essay, resume, and letter of recommendation. Since a mission design involves a highly multidisciplinary work force, students from any discipline can apply.

Application materials are due by December 15, 2014 and invitees will be announced shortly after that date. To apply, visit: http://www.spacechallenge.caltech.edu/application/