University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Wins NASA/NIA BIG Idea Challenge

A group of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took top honors in NASA’s first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge.Credits: NASA

Credits: NASA

A group of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took top honors in NASA’s first Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. The BIG Idea Challenge is an engineering design competition sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development (GCD) Program and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.  The challenge solicited ideas to increase the lift-to-drag ratio on the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) in ways that could potentially help NASA land heavier payloads with even greater accuracy on missions to a variety of destinations. HIAD is an inflatable device designed to slow down a spacecraft upon atmospheric re-entry to Earth or other planets. The other teams that reached the finals of the competition were from Georgia Tech, The State University of New York at Buffalo and Purdue University. The final four teams presented their concepts in a design review held Monday, April 25, at NASA’s Langley Research Center. The winner, as selected by a panel of experts, was announced in a ceremony held the next day. The University of Illinois team, led by professor Zachery Putnam, received first place for using a combination of moveable mass and a cable system to morph the HIAD shape and provide direct lift control. “Now is the time when revolutions in technology and engineering will be the markers of tomorrow’s success in space exploration,” said Mary E. Wusk, acting director for GCD at NASA Langley.  “We recognize the value in engaging top talent from America’s brightest collegiate students and faculty, and are making university collaboration a priority to remain at the forefront of these revolutions.” For more information about the BIG Idea competition, visit

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*Source: NASA

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