Design Competition

The Caltech Space Challenge, one of the top space challenge in the world, is a 5-Day International Student Space Mission Design Competition recently opened for application fo 2019 and organised by California Institute of Technology.

The Caltech Space Challenge was started in 2011 by Caltech graduate students Prakhar Mehrotra and Jonathan Mihaly and was hosted by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) and the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at Caltech (GALCIT). Participants of the 2011 challenge designed a crewed mission to a Near-Earth Object (NEO). The second edition of the Caltech Space Challenge, held in 2013, developed a crewed mission to a Martian moon. In 2015, participants of the third Caltech Space Challenge were asked to design a mission that would land humans on an asteroid brought into Lunar orbit, extract the asteroid’s resources and demonstrate their use. The fourth edition, held in 2017, challenged participants with the design of Lunarport, a launch and supply station on the Moon for deep space missions.

This challenge brings 32 talented and highly-motivated students to the Caltech campus to participate in a week-long space mission design competition. The participants are split into two teams and both teams work under the mentorship of experts from industry, NASA and academia to design their mission concept from scratch to final proposal. This is an unique opportunity for young and enthusiastic students to build technical and teamwork skills, interact with world-renowed experts in space exploration and connect to like-minded peers from all around the world.

The 2019 competition is dedicated to Saturn’s moon Enceladus — initially thought to be a dead body, and the exploration for extraterrestrial life on it.

“Beyond Earth, are there contemporary habitats elsewhere in the universe with necessary conditions to sustain life and do organisms live there now? This question has intrigued mankind for centuries yet the answer remains unknown up to the present day. It is therefore not surprising that the most recent planetary science decadal survey lists the search for life in our own solar system among the key scientific questions for space missions in the near future.

While in the early days of solar system exploration we hoped to find clues to the question of extraterrestrial life within the habitable zone, recent discoveries of internal heating due to tidal effects have shifted our attention to the satellites of gas giants in the outer solar system like Jupiter and Saturn. In particular, Cassini discovered that an object initially thought to be a dead body is one of the most likely harbors of contemporary extraterrestrial life: Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Cassini’s measurements not only reported evidence for a differentiated interior structure with a subsurface water ocean possibly in contact with the rocky core, it also discovered geyser-like jets in the south polar region of Enceladus, dubbed Tiger Stripes. These jets vent water vapor and solid material from the interior ocean into space. During close flybys Cassini’s mass spectrometer detected complex organic compounds contained in the plumes. This finding fueled speculations about the presence of life in Enceladus’ subsurface ocean, but Cassini’s instrumentation was not designed to detect life, leaving this significant question to be answered by follow-on missions.

Ideally, probing Enceladus for the presence of life means accessing not only its plumes, but also the most likely location of indicative biomolecules: the surface orifices of its geysers, located in the south polar Tiger Stripe region. Given the incomplete knowledge of Enceladus’ surface and its geysers, a classic single-lander mission is too risky. But, what if the risk could be spread among multiple small, cost-effective landers? This will be the guiding question of the 2019 Caltech Space Challenge. In response, participants will create a novel mission design to probe for evidence of the presence of life on Enceladus using a network of small landers.

The following items will be required:

• CV/Resume
• letter of reccomendation (request a letter of recommendation from an advisor, supervisor or professor).
• letter of motivation (3000 charachers – 1 page, maximum) – you need to explain the following:
• Why are you interested in the Caltech Space Challenge?
• How will participation benefit you?
• What technical skills would you bring to your team?
• Describe your previous leadership and group project experiences.
• Given your background, what aspect of mission design are you most interested in?
• For art and design applicants, please include some space related artwork

Invited participants will come to Caltech during spring break 2019 and join one of two sixteen-member teams. Teams have just five days to design their mission from scratch to final proposal. Both teams benefit from working under the mentorship of experienced engineers and managers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and private industry. Additionally, throughout the week leaders from the aerospace sector hold lectures to help students contextualize and solve different aspects of their missions. Finally, at the end of the week a panel of judges from industry, government, and academia selects the winning proposal based on technical merit, innovation, and presentation.


Full-time undergraduate and graduate students during the 2018-19 academic year from any nationality are eligible to apply. This includes students who finish their undergraduate degree before the end of the academic year and start a graduate program in fall 2019 (in this case please provide evidence of application to graduate school).


Entering competition you have a chance to:

• Participate in one of the top space challenges in the world
• Work with colleagues who are finally up to your standards of excellence in science, engineering and other disciplines to tackle some of the toughest problems in space exploration today
• Learn in a unique multidisciplinary environment consisting of students, faculty members and some of the sharpest minds in industry
• Connect directly with some of the leading companies in the space industry and have your resume provided directly to them for hiring consideration

Since a mission design involves a highly multidisciplinary work. Disciplines include (but are not limited to):

• Aerospace/Aeronautics/Space Systems
• Geology and Planetary Sciences
• Physics/Applied Physics
• Chemistry/Chemical Engineering
• Biology
• Applied Math
• Business/Project Management
• Computer Science/Software/Animations
• Electrical/Electronic Engineering
• Graphic Design/Graphic Arts
• Material Science
• Mechanical Engineering
• Space Policy


There is no entry fees to participate!

It’s free to enter!

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