Student-Led Workshop Program Details

caltech space challenge

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September 12-16, 2011
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91125



The Keck Institute of Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology invites current fulltime graduate and undergraduate students from all over the world to participate in the Caltech Space Challenge. The challenge consists of an intensive one-week mission design competition where students will be challenged to develop a mission to send astronauts to a Near-Earth Object (NEO) and return a sample. Students will be supported with guest lectures and workshops from top scientists and engineers from NASA-JPL, Caltech and other premier institutions.

Participants will be involved in a week-long team exercise to develop a comprehensive 90-180 day manned mission to a Near-Earth Object (NEO) featuring a stay-time on NEO of about 7-14 days and sample return. About 20 student applicants will be invited to the competition with travel and living expenses paid. Students will be divided into two multidisciplinary teams. NASA-JPL and Caltech faculties will mentor the two teams to develop the human to NEO mission based on methodologies followed at NASA-JPL. Teams will prepare and present Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and Comprehensive Design Review (CDR). The challenge will conclude with final presentations at Caltech, the submission of a final report, constructive feedback for both teams, and the announcement of the winning team. The report will provide a complete description of the mission design, key technologies needed and their readiness level (TRL), the operating costs, timeline, etc. Students will benefit tremendously by working in a multidisciplinary team, learning about project management and systems engineering. It will also give students the opportunity to connect and interact with top scientists and engineers in industry.

Objective of the program:

This program is directed towards the President's initiative of sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025. The proposed objective is to conduct a 5 day student competition on designing a manned mission to a Near-Earth Object (NEO). This competition will bring together students from various disciplines, equip them with necessary tools, and challenge them to produce a viable mission design. The student designs could then serve as a starting point for a NASA NEO mission or help identify potential international or commercial collaborations capable of such a mission. Lectures and workshops will also be provided to participating students on topics such as conceptual mission design, human spaceflight challenges, and recent advances in space studies.

The primary objectives of this competition are the following:

  • Apply theoretical and systems engineering knowledge to a real mission design.
  • Provide an atmosphere to work in a highly multidisciplinary and teamwork oriented environment.
  • Develop innovative strategies and solutions which could be applied towards a future mission to a NEO or deep space.
  • Inspire young minds about the space program.
  • Promote interaction with scientists and engineers from Caltech & JPL.
  • A positive message for space organizations regarding feasibility of manned mission beyond LEO.


  • Undergraduate or graduate students from any nationality.
  • Students are required to submit the described application form online, which includes a short essay, résumé, and letter of recommendation.
  • Since a mission design involves a highly multidisciplinary work force, students from any discipline can apply.

Disciplines (Not limited to):

  • Aerospace/Aeronautics/Space Systems.
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electrical/Electronics Engineering
  • Computer Science/Software/Animations
  • Physics/Applied Physics
  • Chemistry/Chemical Sciences
  • Applied Math
  • Business/Project Management
  • Medicine
  • Graphic Design/Graphic Arts

Financial Support:

  • Participation in the competition is free of charge.
  • All living expenses and food will be covered.
  • Travel expenses will be partially covered (upto $600 for international students and up to $300 for domestic students for economy class travel)

For questions contact: Prakhar Mehrotra, Jon Mihaly, or Michele Judd