CU Boulder students show NASA their vision of future space transport

Concept of operations for the University of Colorado team’s entry into the NASA -sponsored Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing Idea challenge that took place Wednesday in Hampton, Va. (Courtesy image).

Four University of Colorado juniors are back from NASA’s Langley Research Center, where they competed Wednesday as finalists in that agency’s BIG Idea Challenge.

The competition tasked students with advancing concepts for in-space assembly of spacecraft, particularly tugs, powered by solar propulsion.

NASA’s challenge to competing students was that their design enable the transfer of payloads from low-Earth orbit to an orbit around the moon, or to a lunar distant retrograde orbit.

CU’s group, whose project was dubbed “Odysseus,” was one of five selected as finalists who made their pitch for an in-orbit assembly design of a spacecraft that can deliver cargo from low-Earth to lunar and Martian orbits.

The competition, which was held Wednesday, was won by a team from Tulane University.

But the CU team, comprised of juniors Justin Norman, Olivia Zanoni, Gerardo Pulido and Gabriel Walker, nevertheless distinguished itself, according to Brian Sanders, deputy director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, who accompanied them to Hampton, Va., returning to Colorado late Thursday night.

“I’m incredibly proud of what the students did, both in terms of paper and presentation, and the feedback we got after the competition from the judges was amazing,” said Sanders.

“These students put in hundreds of hours with great simulations, doing great trade studies, to formulate a mission concept that was highly recognized by the judges as being really unique and practical yet cutting edge.”

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