Press Release

NASA Announces University Student Design Challenge Winners

By SpaceRef Editor
April 30, 2019
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The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University or Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, are winners of the 2018-2019 University Student Design Challenge.

Both teams and their faculty advisors will travel to NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio for a culminating event in May.

As first place winner, The University of Akron team will pitch their design concept to Glenn’s Center Director Dr. Janet Kavandi and senior management staff. Both teams will then tour selected Glenn facilities and network with NASA staff.

The competition, managed by NASA Glenn Research Center’s Office of Education, is intended to encourage undergraduate student involvement in NASA’s work.

Now in its third year, student teams around the country were asked to conceptually develop one of two projects. For aeronautics, an electric regional jet that is capable of using existing 3000-foot runways at both regional and hub airports; or for space, apply bio-inspired considerations to enable human habitation of Venus. Both teams chose the Venus project.

“Venus is a very inhospitable place to conduct research and exploration; however, it holds critical data about how our solar system was formed, how Earth’s biosphere came into existence and how to predict changes in our own atmosphere,” said Bryan Smith, director of NASA Glenn’s Space Flight Systems. “By utilizing the untapped potential of students across the country, this year’s University Design Challenge helped conceptualize different technologies and processes that could aid in the future exploration of Venus, both on the surface and in the atmosphere, where the information gained will be vital to the future of our home planet.”

The University of Akron team won first place for Gloria Fortis Miles: An Investigation into Our Sister Planet. This study was concerned with scanning for possible life forms within the upper levels of the Venusian atmosphere, collecting vital data about the planet to lay the framework for future manned missions, and setting up an initial base of operations that can be expanded upon indefinitely.

This project also gives insight into how biomimicry can be used for future space technology and builds a foundation for using planes to explore Venus’ upper atmosphere.

Team members are Gabriel Bennett, Sarah Kuchcinski, Andrea Wyder and faculty advisor, Dr. Ryan Toonen.

The Virginia Tech team won second place for Project BESPIN (Buoyant Exploration Solar-Powered Infrastructure), which aims to establish a permanent human presence in the upper atmosphere of Venus using airborne habitats.

Team members are Connor Barney, Eric Chang, Zach Copeland, Larry Gong, Jeremy Gross, Matt Marti, Gavin Moore, Colin Russell, Dmitry Tislin, Colton Vlahos and faculty advisor, Dr. Kevin Shinpaugh.

About the Competition

The University Student Design Challenge is open to full-time junior or senior-year undergraduate students in accredited U.S. academic institutions, and are majoring in science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics (STEAM) disciplines. Students majoring in economics, marketing, graphic arts or other disciplines are also eligible to compete.

SpaceRef staff editor.