Monday, June 11, 2018

The Million Dollar Base 11 University Rocket Launch Competition

          By Brian Orlotti

Motivated by the need to attract more students to aerospace engineering and encourage diversity, a new rocket competition has promised a $1Mln US ($1.3Mln CDN) prize for the first student-led university team to design, build and launch a liquid-fuelled, single-stage rocket to an altitude of 100 km (aka the Karman Line, the boundary between Earth and space) by the end of 2021.

The Base 11 Space Challenge, organized by Costa Mesa, CA based Base 11, a nonprofit science technology engineering and mathmetics (STEM) workforce and entrepreneur accelerator, is expected to attract teams from across Canada and the US and will be sponsored by a wide variety of government, academic, industry and philanthropic groups.

The contest will be held at the Truth or Consequences, NM based Spaceport America, which is also one of the sponsors of the event.

Other current supporters include the Pasadena, CA based California Institute of Technology (Caltech),Vélizy-Villacoublay, France based Dassault Systemes, the New York, NY based Deloitte Foundation, the Washington DC based Smithsonian Institution, and the New York NY based Verizon Wireless.

In addition, space industry leaders such as X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis and former US astronaut/plasma engine pioneer Franklin Chang Diaz have also endorsed the challenge.

As outlined on the Base 11 Space Challenge sign-up page:
The Base 11 Space Challenge will motivate universities to bolster their rocketry programs and to empower students to learn far more than the theory of liquid propulsion systems by providing access to critical resources and to world-class experts. 
Students will acquire expertise in rocket safety, learn how to navigate flight regulations, and develop the essential skills of teamwork and innovation that are most in demand by forward-looking companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Google, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Dassault Systèmes, and Boeing.  
Teams will be encouraged to conduct outreach and provide mentorship to community college and high school students to better develop the STEM talent pipeline that includes women and ethnicities traditionally underrepresented in STEM.
The Base 11 sign-up page was built by Vancouver BC based crowdfunding platform HeroX, using partnerships developed earlier with Culver City CA based X Prize Foundation during the Ansari X Prize competition.

The X Prize Foundation was founded by Diamandis in 1995.

The challenge was created to meet several goals:
  • Boosting the space industry’s talent pool by providing hands-on training in industrial safety protocols, systems engineering, propulsion, electronics, bench testing, computer aided design (CAD), navigation, flight regulation, diversity and inclusion, business development, teamwork, and innovation.
  • Increasing minority participation in aerospace-related industries.
  • Levelling the playing field in the space industry by providing high-potential, low-resource students with the skills and resources needed to build their own space startups alongside the larger established players
In addition to the $1 million prize being offered to the first team to successfully launch to the Karman Line, Base 11 will award other milestone prizes for excellence in design, safety, testing, diversity and inclusion, outreach and innovation.

The first such milestone prize expected to be awarded will be $50,000 US ($60,000CDN) for the best engineering design, safety plan, and outreach strategy. That milestone will be awarded at the 2019 Base 11 Aerospace Symposium & Expo, which will be held in May 2019.

Registration opened on June 6, 2018. Participating Canadian university teams include the University of Toronto, University of Victoria, Concordia University and McGill University.

Registered US teams include Purdue University, the University of Southern California (USC), UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and Cal State University, Long Beach.

The advent of the Base 11 Space Challenge, with its broad, well-financed support base, a focus on extending opportunity and a goal of strengthing the space industry as a whole sends a powerful signal.

It is a sign that space advocates can learn from past failures and work together to bake a bigger pie, and not squabble over the scraps of a small one.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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