Beginning in 2017, the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) and Spaceport America came together to launch a competition known as the Spaceport America Cup. This annual event sees academics and industry experts from around the world gather at the world’s first purpose-built spaceport to collaborate, compete, and inspire young people to become the next generation of aerospace engineers.
At the heart of the competition is the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC), where commercial and student teams build and launch-test rockets of their own design. This year’s competition is expected to be very exciting and will see 1,500 international students from over 70 institutions converge on Southern New Mexico this summer to ply their talents and compete for the prestigious Spaceport America Cup!
This will mark the fourth anniversary of the competition and the 15th anniversary of the IREC. It will also be the first year that HeroX – an incentive competition platform co-founded by Peter Diamandis (founder of the XPRIZE Foundation) – will be helping to promote the competition and assist applicants in bringing their skills to the table.
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In the past, HeroX has sponsored such competitions as the Space Poop Challenge, a competition they co-sponsored with the NASA Tournament Lab to design spacesuits that can dispose of human waste. In addition, they also co-sponsored the Sky-For-All-Challenge with the NASA Safe Autonomous Operations Systems (SASO) project to foster solutions to the problem of overcrowded air lanes.
As Kyla Jeffrey, the Director of Customer Success at HeroX, told Universe Today via email:
“HeroX is thrilled to be joining forces with the Experimental Rocket Sounding Association (ESRA) for the 2020 Spaceport America Cup. The 2020 Cup will be the fourth annual Spaceport America Cup hosted by ESRA and the first Cup HeroX has supported.“
“The HeroX platform provides an online community for student teams to interact with each other, share tips, and ask questions. Over the next 7 months, these teams will need to submit progress reports through HeroX on their research and development as they prepare for launches.”
In accordance with the competition’s guidelines, teams are tasked with building single or multi-stage sounding or sport rockets. They can rely on solid, liquid, or hybrid propulsion systems and typically measure between 2.4 to 6 m (8 to 20 ft) in height and 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 inches) in diameter. The final rocket must be able to carry payloads of about 4 kg (8.8 lbs) to target altitudes of either 3050 or 9145 meters (10,000 or 30,000 ft).
After issuing a series of progress reports to catalog their rockets’ development – the first of which is to be issued today (Dec. 13th) – the participants will all meet up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on June 16th, 2020. The event will kick off with the Spaceport America Conference, where teams will get a chance to meet with each other and with industry and academic experts.
On the following day, the teams will begin launching their rockets from the Vertical Launch Area at the Spaceport America campus. By June 20th, the launches will wrap up, the final evaluations will be made, and the winners will receive their awards at an off-site ceremony. The overall winner will be awarded the “Genesis Cup” trophy, which is similar to the Genesis sculpture displayed outside of Spaceport America.
Through HeroX, over 200 university teams applied to compete in the 2020 Spaceport Cup, of which 150 were selected this past October (a full list of all the teams that will be competing this year is available on HeroX’s competition page). This constitutes the largest Spaceport Cup to date, with over 1000 students and 500 faculty representing more than 70 institutions from 18 countries.
“We’re really excited to see the international interest and involvement in this year’s cup,” said Jeffrey. “It offers students from around the world an unparalleled opportunity to get hands-on experience at a world-class spaceport. We’re hoping to see student teams push the limits of intercollegiate rocketry and bring innovative and resourceful new approaches in the latest 2020 cup. We’re also hoping to see new relationships form between industry and academia as students prepare to enter the aerospace workforce.”
Incentive competitions have always played an important role in the history of aeronautics and aerospace. But if there’s one thing that this year’s Spaceport America Cup and the involvement of HeroX demonstrates, it is the growing role that students, citizen scientists, and private industry are now playing in space exploration.
This is one of the defining characteristics of the modern space age, a time characterized by cooperation between countries, between government and industry, and between private and public domains. To keep up to date on the competition’s progress, check out the competition page at HeroX, or visit the Spaceport America Cup site.
Disclaimer: Universe Today publisher Fraser Cain worked at HeroX several years ago.