Undergraduate Team Wins 2nd Place in AIAA Space Systems Design Competition

September 28, 2020

image of astronaut on moon with roverA team of nine undergraduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics took second place in the 2019-20 AIAA Design Competition in the Space Systems Design category. The students entered the competition while taking the Space Systems and Spacecraft/Mission senior design capstone series taught by Adam Nokes.

The competition, sponsored by the AIAA Foundation, offers students the opportunity to gain experience working on simulated real-world problems while receiving constructive criticism from technical experts. For the competition, students are required to complete all of the primary design steps to determine a solution to a Request for Proposal (RFP) including developing and testing a hypothetical solution, evaluating its effectiveness and doing a cost analysis. The work culminates with the team’s submission of a final report in response to the RFP.

The UT Austin team – the Fighting Mongooses – was selected for their Omond House Lunar Base Camp report. Team members are all recent Spring 2020 graduates of the ASE/EM department: Pablo Anguiano, Andrew Jones, Nathan McCanna, Jessica Pronga, Matthew Sconzo, Rohan Sikdar, Kieran Smith, Jack Sparkman and Hannah Rens.

This year’s space systems design challenge required students to develop a fully functional, detailed design of a lunar base camp for a planned lunar expedition in 2031. The camp will sustain a crew of four for 45 days while crew members perform tests of deep space exploration and surface habitability. Teams were also asked to design and define the necessary systems to launch and deploy the base camp as well as details for how to keep astronauts safe and healthy during the duration of the expedition, all within a budget constraint.

The Fighting Mongooses selected a location near Shackleton Crater as their lunar landing site for its favorable lighting conditions and potential for scientific operations. Because there are currently no permanent base camps on the Moon, three generations of habitat structures were designed to help gain an understanding of how lunar construction will develop over time, with the third generation structure designed to be built from materials found on the Moon. Habitat designs include living space, a system to minimize radiation exposure, life support systems and power, storage and communications systems. Launch and deployment plans and costing methods are also detailed in the report.

lunar base camp structure image
Mockup of the Omond House Lunar Base Camp exterior structure.


Some highlights from the judges’ comments on the UT team paper:

"A very credible solution, excellently conceptualized and presented."

"This team did an excellent job in both the technical content and presentation of the data to support their work. It was an enjoyable read and clearly demonstrated that the team had a solid handle on the requirements and technical constraints."

Nokes, who said the competition is very rigorous, was encouraged by the team’s results.

“These students were all members of the Student Chapter of AIAA at UT Austin, but this was the first time our department had an entry in this design competition that was also a senior capstone design project and I'm encouraged by the results,” Nokes said. “I'm planning on advising another AIAA Student Design Competition this coming academic year and this was a great way to kickstart UT ASE/EM involvement!”

Hannah Rens, who is now working as a project engineer at Boeing, said that working on this project was a one of the most fun parts of senior year.

“We all got to specialize in different pieces of the mission and put the knowledge we’d gained in almost four years of classes, internships, research, and orgs to use,” Rens said. “Our team spent hours working together to solve problems and the RFP left plenty of room for us to come up with innovative solutions."

The team won a cash award for their placement and their paper will be hosted by the AIAA website.