Five teams of high school student engineers have made it to the final round in a competition to build and test designs for radiation shields for NASA's new Orion spacecraft.
The competition is part of the Exploration Design Challenge (EDC), developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin, with support from the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA).
Forty-six teams submitted engineering notebooks with proposed radiation shield designs. After review by Orion engineers, as well as NASA and NIA educators, the five teams selected to move on to the next phase of the competition are:
- Team Titan Shielding Systems of Illinois Math and Science Academy, Aurora, Ill.
- Team ARES of Governor's School for Science and Technology, Hampton, Va.
- Team Aegis of Herriman High School, Herriman, Utah
- Team Erion of Erie High School, Erie, Kan.
- Team LORE of Summit View High School, North Hollywood, Calif.
The high school teams were asked to design shielding to protect a radiation detector on Orion as it flies through the Van Allen Belt, a dense radiation field that surrounds the Earth. Because the belt begins 600 miles above Earth, no spacecraft built for humans has flown through it in more than 40 years. Orion, which will travel to an altitude of about 3,600 miles on its first flight test, will spend a significant portion of its four-hour mission exposed to the effects of the Van Allen Belt.
For the next phase of the competition, the final five teams will build prototypes of their designs, which will be tested by engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., before the winning design is chosen.
The winning team will be announced in April, and their design will be launched into space on Orion later this year. This uncrewed mission, designated Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), will be the first spaceflight test of the capsule that will one day carry astronauts to an asteroid and Mars.
NASA, the NIA and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the Orion program, unveiled the Exploration Design Challenge on March 11, 2013, to give students from kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to play a unique role in the future of human spaceflight. The challenge encourages students in the U.S. and abroad to think and act like scientists and engineers to overcome one of the major hurdles for deep space long-duration exploration: protecting astronauts and hardware from the dangers of space radiation.
More than 125,000 students of all ages, from 81 countries around the world, have taken part in the challenge so far. Although the deadline has passed to take part in the high school competition, students in grades K-12 still have until June 30 to participate in other Exploration Design Challenge activities to have their name flown on board Orion.