Bede’s Wins Regional Round of Space Design Competition
Picture the scene…
With storm-clouds brooding overhead and the occasional rumble of thunder echoing through the walls, three teams of teenage scientists labour over complex diagrams, scratch out mathematical equations, and leaf frantically through space station blueprints.
Are they humanity’s only hope?
Are they the collective of young minds that will crack open the secrets of interplanetary travel?
Can they, alone, develop life support systems that might sustain human life on a Martian colony?
Despite sounding far-fetched, if you had been a fly on the wall in the Lakeside Classrooms at Bede’s on Saturday 12 November then you would have soon realised these notions were not far from the truth.
The groups had assembled for the regional round of the UK Space Design Competition – a foretaste of what teams can expect in the final, which happens over two days at Imperial College London at Easter – this year hosted at Bede’s and facilitated by Mr Richards.
The day began at 8am with the teams, personnel from the UKSDC and academics from Sussex University arriving for breakfast in the Recital Room.
Following briefings from the UKSDC staff, which emphasised the need to read the Request for Proposal (RFP), the Press Release and Programme booklet, the teams made their way to the Maths block.
The groups had all been assigned companies. Bede’s would be operating as Rockdonnell, Ardingly was given Vulture Aviation and Downlands were Grumbo Aerospace.
Their assignments, whilst arbitrary, were each important since the different companies has specialisms that the teams could draw upon.
Grumbo were specialists in robots whilst Rockdonnell had a background in mining asteroids, and other competitor companies and their own products and services listed in the Programme booklet.
Competition for the project would be fierce.
The starting point of the contest was to present the teams with a scenario set 60 years in the future. They were to produce a comprehensive, costed design and present it to the judges in no more than 30 slides.
Given only 6 hours to develop their presentations, the task was essentially impossible – but then again, for these groups, saying something is ‘impossible’ was clearly asking for trouble!
Previous years have seen teams producing proposals for a variety of space-going vehicles and space stations. This year’s RFP was a radical departure, requiring teams to come up with a design for a mining base on the planet Mercury to be capable of supporting 250 people.
The base was to be built into lava tubes underneath the surface of the planet, and there were specific requirements that teams were expected to include in their proposals relating to access to the outside world, as well as plans as to how, when and where the mining of rare Mercurian minerals was to occur.
After an initial series of technical briefings, which enabled the teams to grasp a basic understanding of critical aspects of the brief, the teams retired to their rooms to start work.
Each ‘company’ had been assigned a person from Sussex University who acted as their CEO and primary technical advisor, with the personnel from the UKSDC acting as a floating technical resource.
Each also had to consider structural design, base operations, issues relating to automation, robotics, computing and provide insight into how humans might cope with living and working in such extreme conditions.
This was Bede’s first time hosting a regional UKSDC event, and whilst we initially had four other schools joining us two withdrew earlier in the week, leaving just the three teams competing.
Whilst this was a disappointment, it in no way detracted from the excellent work the three teams who took part produced!
At the end of a long day, brilliantly supported by our caterers throughout, the teams made their presentations to the judges, which included Professor Claudia Eberlein, the Head of Physics and Astronomy at Sussex University.
Rockdonnell were declared the worthy winners and Bede’s secured a place at the UK finals for the third year running.
To put the impact of the experience into context, students from the other teams asked when the deadline was for video entries (the other route to the UK finals), all discussed plans for entering next year, and all of the children attested that they would have to get their new school to enter a team since they were moving schools.
The volunteers from Sussex University even asked about how they could help at the UK finals!
In short, once people get involved with UKSDC, they are hooked – and when dealing with the young minds we had in those rooms, that is understandable.
For them, the sky isn’t the limit.
For them, it’s the stars.