Students Will Launch Rockets to the Edge of Space for $1 Million Prize

One new rocket challenge is encouraging diversity and offering a staggering $1 million prize.Each team will work to create a liquid-propelled, single-stage rocket capable of achieving a 62-mile (100 kilometers) altitude with an ultimate deadline of Dec. 30, 2021. Whichever team accomplishes this goal first will take home the $1 million prize. This altitude is the Karman line, which typically represents the boundary between Earth and space — so these student teams will be sending their rockets up to the edge of space. The launches will take place at Spaceport America in New Mexico. For increasing diversity and interest in STEM fields, “we think space can be a great example to achieve those goals,” Landon Taylor, the CEO of Base 11, said in a news conference Wednesday (June 6). At this same conference, former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin discussed how increasing diversity improves problem-solving in teams.

This challenge will provide students with hands-on experience, which is essential because, as Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of global affairs, Americas, for Dassault Systèmes, who is a partner of Base 11, said in the news conference, “in the real world, the answer is not in the back of the book.”

With this “hands-on experience, safety is the top priority,” said Michelle Murray, deputy manager of the Operation Integration Division at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in the news conference. The FAA will be working with Base 11’s safety council to ensure that all Base 11 launches at Spaceport America will meet FAA requirements and focus on safety, according to Murray.

The Base 11 Space Challenge has so far garnered serious support from all corners of the space community, said in the news conference. A number of organizations from aerospace, government, and academia like Caltech, Verizon, and UCI Applied Innovation are sponsoring the competition. Leaders and innovators like Dr. Peter Diamandis, X Prize founder, and Franklin Chang Diaz, the first U.S. immigrant astronaut, have also voiced their support for the challenge.

Each phase of the competition will come with a small prize, and the first phase of submissions will be due March 2019. For this first phase, students will have to provide their preliminary designs, which will include a rocket design, a safety plan, and an outreach and diversity strategy. Following the first two phases, the students will put their creations through static fire testing, a process where the rocket’s engines are fired up but the craft doesn’t leave the launchpad.

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