Press Release

NASA Selects 16 University Teams to Develop Deep Space Mission Concepts

By SpaceRef Editor
April 2, 2021
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Sixteen undergraduate and graduate team finalists will proceed to the next phase of NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) program, with the clock now ticking toward June’s virtual 2021 RASC-AL Forum, where teams will showcase their completed work in a competitive design review directly to NASA and aerospace industry leaders.

Finalists include:

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • Project Title: Localized Initial Lunar Architecture Complex (LILAC)
    • Faculty Advisors: Michael Lembeck, Zachary Putnam
  • University of Maryland
    • Project Title: Habitat for Exploration of the Lunar Polar Surfaces (HELPS)
    • Faculty Advisors: Dave Akin, Mary Bowden
  • University of Texas at Austin
    • Project Title: Texas Crewed Artemis Mission Permanent Exploration Residence (CAMPER)
    • Faculty Advisor: Adam Nokes
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    • Project Title: Durable Extended-Stay Lunar Polar Habitat Inflatable (DELPHI)
    • Faculty Advisor: Kevin Shinpaugh
  • University of Maryland
    • Project Title: Mars Lightweight Low-cost Ascent Rocket Design (MALLARD)
    • Faculty Advisors: Dave Akin, Mary Bowden, Andrew Becnel, Jarred Young
  • University of Southern California with the University of Chicago
    • Project Title: Minimum Ascent Vehicle for Interplanetary Crew (MAVIC)
    • Faculty Advisor: Anita Sengupta
  • Villanova University with Drexel University and Rutgers University
    • Project Title: VUDURU MAE Jemison Crewed Ascent Vehicle (JCAV)
    • Faculty Advisor: Sergey Nersesov
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    • Project Title: MAV-1
    • Faculty Advisor: Kevin Shinpaugh
  • Northeastern University
    • Project Title: Venusian Atmospheric and Land Exploration: A Human-Assisted Low-Latency Approach (VALHALLA)
    • Faculty Advisor: Peter Whitney
  • U.S. Naval Academy
    • Project Title: Venus Interplanetary Researcher and Testbed for Uncharted Exploration (VIRTUE)
    • Faculty Advisors: Jin Kang, Ken Reightler, Gurpartap Sandhoo, Tae Lim, Spencer Temkin
  • University of Maryland 
    • Project Title: Venusian Observation through Low-Latency Application of Novel Telerobotics (VOLANT)
    • Faculty Advisor: Andrew Becnel
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    • Project Title: Ceres Human Exploration and Transit Architecture (CHEATA)
    • Faculty Advisor: Jeffrey Hoffman
  • University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez
    • Project Title: Discovery and Endeavor – Ceres Interplanetary Pathway for Human Exploration and Research (DECIPHER)
    • Faculty Advisor: Bárbara Calcagno
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    • Project Title: Project Aurora
    • Faculty Advisor: Kevin Shinpaugh
  • University of Arizona
    • Project Title: Lunar Acquisition Vehicle and Analysis (LAVA)
    • Faculty Advisors: Jekan Thanga and Erik Asphaug
  • University of Texas at Austin
    • Project Title: Regolith-Volatile Extraction and Return Expedition (ReVERE)
    • Faculty Advisor: Adam Nokes

Once selected, teams must further develop their proposals to effectively meet the mission: establish innovative concepts that will allow the expansion of human space exploration to include short-term stays and scientific operations at distant planetary bodies. Projects fall into one of five themes: Durable Low-Mass Lunar Surface Habitat, Minimum Mars Ascent Vehicle, Venus Flyby Mission, Human Mission to Ceres, and Distributed Lunar Sample Aggregation, Analysis, and Return to the International Space Station.

For 20 years, the RASC-AL program has expanded professional space exploration engineering and design thinking into the university realm, bringing new ideas, research and design to the table to further NASA and industry progress toward Artemis and push the boundaries for human travel beyond the Moon into the farther reaches of space. Facilitated by the National Institute of Aerospace’s (NIA) Education & Outreach team, the RASC-AL Challenge happens annually. Student concepts deliver meaningful progress toward scientific and economic opportunities in the new era of human-robotic exploration, starting at the Moon’s South Pole, and expanding to Mars, and then potentially on to destinations such as Venus and Ceres.

“The 16 finalist teams have presented some very unique solutions with the potential to improve our ability to operate in space and on distant planetary bodies,” said Patrick Troutman, human exploration strategic assessments lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “These students bring new concepts to the table that our leaders are eager to see further developed over the next few months.”

NASA personnel and industry experts from Lockheed Martin, SpaceWorks, Cislunar Space Development Company, SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Northrop Grumman selected the finalists based on a review of competitive proposals submitted to the 2021 challenge. Selected projects demonstrate originality and creativity in the areas of engineering and analysis, show feasibility and technical merit, include synergistic applications with NASA’s planned current investments, and best align with one of the 2021 challenge’s five themes. Each team submitted a 2-minute video and a detailed written proposal presenting their concepts for consideration.

Finalists receive a modest development stipend for work on their projects, which culminate in a 15-page technical paper, a 60-minute presentation and Q&A session with the judges, and a technical poster supporting their chosen RASC-AL theme and mission objectives. The top two teams receive a $6,000 stipend to participate in the 2021 ASCEND conference, scheduled for November 2021, where they will present condensed versions of their projects.

RASC-AL is sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and the Space Mission Analysis Branch at NASA Langley and is managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.

For more information about the challenge, visit the RASC-AL website:

For more information about NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration plans, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.