Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Design Competitions relevant to Space Settlement

Continuing last week's post about Settling the Solar System, my Engineering Outreach page includes a list of STEM competitions that students could participate in and learn from. (Feel free to suggest others in the Comments.) One of these competitions is the International Space Settlement Design Competition, with regional and local events in many areas.

I participated in the Johnson Space Center event for three years, teaching the "Operations" materials to high school students before they dug deep into their designs. "Operations" covered the logistics of resupply, resource utilization (agriculture and in-situ resources), design for safety (consider separating industry from residential sites. A thoughtful design can do this better in space than on Earth, since they don't have to share atmosphere.)

In preparation for the training, I would be given a packet (~1 inch thick) full of articles with ideas and resources for the class. The first time, if I recall correctly, I received the package the night before I was to teach. Just reviewing it was inspirational to me, as I haven't had the opportunity to be involved in this type of planning.

Each year, I had different partners to team-teach the materials. One year it was a pair of young Mission Operations Directorate engineers. Another year it was a seasoned industry professional, I ran into her again at the International Conference on Environmental Systems later.

Also, each year the challenge changed. One year would be a space station at one of the LaGrange points, another year would be a lunar settlement, then a Mars settlement, and then another location like a lunar pole.

One of the ideas mentioned in the package I received, was that the atmosphere was thinner at the locations being considered. Mars' atmosphere is 100 times less dense than Earth's, and the Moon has no atmosphere at all. So a person (in a spacesuit) riding a bike would have less resistance to their forward motion, enabling them to accelerate more and travel faster between pressurized settlement buildings.

Here in Huntsville, the Space & Rocket Center with Marshall Space Flight Center offers an annual Human Exploration Rover Challenge. (Until recently, it was called the Moonbuggy Race). This event has divisions for both high school and college students to design AND BUILD a vehicle, then race it around an obstacle course.  Now, where the bicycle illustrated in the SSDC package was for one-person, this Human Rover is required to have two drivers: one male, one female. For additional information and rules, please check the official website. This year's competition will be held in 10 days, so consider doing it next year.