CU-Boulder Students Take First Place in Aerospace Competition

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June 16, 2011

Hampton, Va. - University of Colorado Boulder undergraduates took first place in an aerospace academic competition this month with their "junk hunter" design concept for mitigating orbital debris.

Eighteen competing teams presented their concepts to a panel of NASA and Industry leaders from June 6-8, 2011 at the 2011 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts - Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Forum held in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Fourteen undergraduate and four graduate teams participated.

The finalists were both undergraduate teams presenting on the "Orbital Debris Mitigation Approaches" theme. Led by aerospace professor Donna S. Gerren, CU's team, REsearch and Development for the Capture and Removal of Orbital Clutter (REDCROC), won first place with its concept solution titled: Junk Hunter: Autonomous Rendezvous, Capture, and De-Orbit of Orbital Debris.

The University of Washington, advised by UW Faculty member A.T. Mattick, took second place in the competition with a concept solution titled: DECOM: A Cost-Effective, Sustainable Mission to Stabilize Orbital Debris Population.

Both teams were awarded with a reserved presentation slot and stipend to attend the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2011 Conference in Long Beach, California. The teams will present condensed 20-minute versions of their RASC-AL presentations at the prestigious conference.

The RASC-AL Forum represents the culmination of several months of competition. Eighteen teams from across the United States and one team with international students from Uruguay, Italy, and Cameroon were selected by the RASC-AL Steering Committee to participate in the Forum. 

The teams designed advanced systems concepts on one of several themes presented to them by NASA. The themes included: Near-Earth Object (NEO) Flexible Mission Architecture Designs, Orbital Debris Mitigation Approaches, Technology-Enabled Human Mars Mission, and Bringing the World Along with Participatory Exploration. Along with the Forum's central oral presentation, teams also submitted a 15-page technical paper and participated in a poster presentation.

Each team's design concept was evaluated by a number of criteria, including: innovative/synergistic concepts/applications to enhance exploration mission architectures; rational of the mission concept; and system analysis - including identification of challenges and issues both to the vehicle(s) involved and human health (if applicable).  The quality, coherence, and professionalism of the presentations were also taken into account.

RASC-AL was formed to provide university-level engineering students the opportunity to design projects based on NASA engineering challenges as well as offer NASA access to new research and design projects by students.

Both industry and NASA representatives attended and judged the entries.

For more information about RASC-AL, visit: 

For more information about the National Institute of Aerospace, visit: 

For more information about the AIAA, visit:


Carol Rowe, 303-492-7426

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