Update: Cadets selected to compete in round 2 of NASA space-habitat design competition

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

National Institute of Aerospace officials invited cadets to compete in the next round of the RASC-AL Space Habitat Competition's in March. 

If the team makes it through the next cut, they'll compete in the competition's final round, May 31-June 2 in Florida. 

The cadets are designing a habitat module to use in low-Earth orbit after the International Space Station is no longer available.  

To complete in round 1, cadet researchers submitted the required 5-page abstract and two-minute video.

Teams making it through the first round submit a mid-project review in March containing more design details and development analysis. 

Further thinning of the field will occur at the forum in Florida, when the teams turn in a 15-page technical report and give a presentation.

Eleven cadets led by Cadet 2nd Class Jacob Lutz embarked on this extreme makeover after a lesson left Lutz wanting to do more with space.

“I was working on a rocketry project and I wanted to find a project that would expand my horizons,” he said. “Doing the model rocketry was fun, but we were basically repeating experiments that were done since the 1950s'. I wanted to find a competition that I could do something new and inventive.”

Lutz’s search turned up a collegiate competition run by the National Institute of Aerospace in conjunction with NASA, seeking innovative designs for systems and subsystems to support NASA’s goal of extending humanity’s reach into space.

The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkagehas several projects for graduate and undergraduate teams to tackle. Among these is the need for a habitat module that must be usable on Mars.

 Lutz began the project by gathering a few fellow cadets majoring in the hard sciences. As different skill sets were needed, the team expanded its recruiting and grew to 11 in size: Cadets 2nd Class Connor Reilly, Daniel Arndt,  Colin Zavislak, Rachel Golding and Lutz; Cadets 3rd Class Alex Danchi, Jeremy Schwartz, Wesley Jackson, Christopher Clark, and Phyleoh Castaneda; and Cadet 4th Class Eric Hembling.

 Lutz’s team started work late last fall, and continued their work over the holiday break. The project also ate into weekends and after-class this semester. 

 Among the talent brought in was Cadet 4th Class Eric Hembling of Cadet Squadron 26. He and Lutz had talked about their passion for the aerospace industry, which led to his eventual involvement in the RASC-AL project.

“I was invited to a meeting, stayed around and worked my way into a role on to the project,” Hembling said. The freshman, now a double major in aeronautical engineering and applied mathematics, researched the commercial applications potential and constructed a business model supported by these activities.

The faculty mentor for this project is professor Gary Payton of the Department of Astronautics, the Bernard Schriever Chair for Astronautics, who was named last week as one of the Academy's Distinguished Graduates, and the only sitting faculty member to earn that distinction in the 21st Century.

 “I am really impressed with the enthusiasm of the cadets," he said. "They are delving into an agency they know very little about – NASA – and they’re delving into things we don’t cover in their normal astro-curriculum, such as micro gravity habitats and they have to learn about deep space radiation environment. They also have to learn about the effects of long term micro gravity on humans, and that’s stuff we don’t cover in the normal academic curriculum,” Payton said. 

Payton is a former astronaut who has logged more than 73 hours in space. 

“So, it’s additive to what they teach, and it’s also fun to watch them be so energized, all 11 of them,” he said.