College-level students can submit new ideas to the Big Idea Challenge for building solar-powered tugs in space, including modifying launch packages, robotic assembly, and solar panel design. Run by the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Virginia, the competition offers winning teams internships at NASA Langley Research Center and the cost to attend an annual Big Idea forum.
In an annual competition known as RASC-AL, college-level teams can submit design ideas to help NASA astronauts work more effectively in microgravity. Themes include an exercise suite for long-duration missions in space, an airlock to help connect the modules in a deep space habitat, and systems to deliver supplies. The top two teams win a travel stipend to present their concept at an aerospace conference such as the annual meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).
Winners of this NASA award inspired by the Transformer character named Optimus Prime are invited to meet Peter Cullen, the actor who gave his voice to the film, and enjoy a behind-the-scenes workshop at the NASA Goddard facility in Maryland. Applicants from grades 9-12 must design a multimedia poster using a tool called Glogster to suggest a spinoff product based on NASA technologies.
Students from Minority Serving Institutions who are interested in robotics and space exploration can enter the annual NASA Swarmathon, coding algorithms that might be used on a Mars mission one day. Students can enter the physical competition by building a “Swarmie” robotic rover that can collect objects (like Mars rocks), or the virtual competition by programming a digital rover to operate in a simulator. Whichever team collects the most ‘rocks,’ gets cash prizes up to $5,000.
Each February the Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge in Mesa, Arizona, challenges grade school and junior high students to design models and give presentations for a sustainable habitat on a moon within the solar system. The winning team receives an all-expenses-paid trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and the next Fiesta Bowl, a major collegiate football event held in Arizona, where the team will be honored on the field.
This June 20-24, 2017 in New Mexico, more than 110 teams from 11 countries are expected to launch rockets to altitudes up to 30,000 feet to compete for thousands of dollars in cash prizes. The Spaceport America Cup is held at the 18,000-acre commercial spaceport (where Virgin Galactic is headquartered), in cooperation with the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association. In addition to the main competition, individual sponsors offer incentives such as a $1,000 prize from Space Dynamics Laboratory for launching an 8.8-pound recoverable payload.
AgustaWestland, Airbus Helicopters, the Boeing Company, Bell Helicopter Textron, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp sponsor the American Helicopter Society’s student design competition for college teams. Winning teams get a cash stipend; first-place teams receive free registration to the AHS Annual Forum and Technology Display where they can present their designs.