RASC-AL team

Our Texas ASE/EM students are taking the solar system by the horns.

Advised by aerospace engineering and engineering assistant professor Brandon Jones, aerospace engineering students in Texas RASC-AL qualified as semi-finalists in NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition where student teams from universities across the country submitted proposals for in-space transportation concepts. Teams were asked to design solutions to one of four problem-solving themes: creating artificial gravity in deep space transport, analyzing propellant resupply capability, planning architecture for lunar sample returns, or designing a reusable hybrid propulsion stage, the subject of Texas RASC-AL’s design.

Students in Texas RASC-AL recognized that the biggest hurdle in a manned mission to Mars isn’t just getting to the Red Planet but returning to Earth. Guided by industry advisors UT aerospace engineering alumnus Travis Imken of NASA-JPL and president of Austin business ECA Design Christopher Aldridge, the team created a design that incorporates solar electric propulsion with traditional chemical propulsion methods to increase efficiency traveling through space and to Mars.

The electric propulsion method carries the Hybrid Astronomical Orbiter (HAO) through space while the chemical system is used only within Martian and terrestrial spheres of influence. Their final product details an innovative taxi system meant to deliver payloads from Earth to Mars and vice-versa. Students also maximized cost effectiveness by designing their HAO with the ability to be refueled in parking orbit around the moon, saving billions of dollars.  

Texas RASC-AL must now submit a mid-point project review before going into the final phase of the competition. If they are selected as finalists, team members will need to construct a 15-page technical paper and present their work to judges at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From there, two winning teams will be selected to receive a travel grant to present their designs at a technical conference such as AIAA Space.

Students would like to see their design come to life in manned missions to Mars between the years 2030-2046 and springboard human exploration through the entire solar system.