Word count & reading time: (1050 words – 8 minutes)
Welcome back to the Space Design Competitions – unique, impactful, and exhilarating space STEAM-a-thon events that get you conceptually designing space habitats for up to 80 years in the future…
The last article introduced you to the competitions and to what the Space Science & Engineering Foundation is all about. Namely, it introduced the challenge posed to the students as well as the internal framework of the competition. This article will dive a little deeper into the structure of a typical SDC.
Before getting into the details, however, take a minute to watch this video reviewing 14 years of the UK competition.
Why do event durations vary?
The SDC is an immersive aerospace industry simulation whose duration depends on the tier of the competition. For example, a National SDC (e.g. Portugal’s PTSDC) typically lasts 12 hours on a single day, the Regional (e.g. Europe’s EUSDC) typically lasts 36 hours across a weekend, whilst the International Competition at NASA lasts almost 3 days!
Regardless of the duration of the event, the schedule remains largely identical. The complexity of the challenge, however, determines the time allotted to the participants. Sounds logical? Great! Onwards to a typical schedule.
(More on the tier system will be provided in a future article).
So, how does the day look?
For convenience, we’ll split a typical 12-hour competition into 3 phases: Inauguration, Design Process, and Final Presentations.
Phase One: Inauguration Ceremony
The day is kicked off by introducing the participants to the event and its expectations. To shift everyone into gear, a fun and short context-specific space quiz is run. The results are not relevant to the final design assessment, but the quiz goes a long way to wake everyone up!
After the welcome, the participants go straight into their pre-assigned company groups where they break the ice and get to know one another. Each company can have up to 50 participants with at least 2 adult supervisors (the CEOs) whose sole task is to facilitate the design efforts. Remember, the entire design proposal is participant led!
The key task here is for the company to elect, amongst themselves through majority vote, who will take the main leadership roles: the Company President, Vice President of Engineering, and the VP of Marketing & Sales. Next, the company must decide how they will split themselves into the 4 company departments, and who will be elected as the Head of Department (HoD):
- Structures — responsible for the overall structural design of the settlement (e.g. interior/exterior drawings, configurations, construction materials, etc.)
- Operations — responsible for defining the infrastructure and utilities of the settlement (e.g. location of facilities, transportation, operation to support construction, functionality & usability, etc.)
- Human Factors — responsible for ensuring human safety, livability, and comfort of the settlement (e.g. designing workplaces, homes, and communities)
- Automation — responsible for designing and providing digital and robotic services to support the operations of your settlement (e.g. numbers, types, and designs of robots and computers needed)
Each role and department has specific responsibilities which can be further explored here.
Depending on which role you have selected or for which you’ve been elected, all participants will then take part in a Technical Training Session led by an experienced SDC alumni, who will elaborate on the expectations for each department.
Phase Two: The Design Process
The bulk of the day resides in the design of the settlement! With the knowledge of who sits in each leadership role and how the company efforts will be split, the only thing left is to understand the design requirements for the day. What is the challenge? What are you designing, and where? What specific demands are being made by the client?
Answers to all these queries are made clear in the most important document of the day: the Request for Proposal (RFP). Typical of industry, a client will create a list of design requirements in an RFP, providing it to a handful of prospective Prime Contractors, asking for a design that best suits their needs. That is the role of each of the companies in the SDC: to design the settlement based on the needs of the client. The design that aligns best to the needs of the client is awarded the contract and wins the competition.
The companies are handed the RFP, unique for each event, and then proceed to delegate the tasks internally and to create their proposals ahead of the submission deadline.
Phase Three: Final Presentations
After what we are certain will be a rollercoaster of a ride (all SDC alumni are now smiling as they reminisce), the design proposals are submitted and individually presented to an expert panel of judges consisting of the client as well as representatives of academia and industry. Typically, presentations last for 20 minutes with 10 minutes of Q&A.
After each of the presentations has taken place, the judging panel then takes time to deliberate on their decision. Whilst this is going on, the participants have the opportunity to share their experiences, to reflect on them, and to decompress after 8 hours of solid (and often stressful) design efforts.
The day concludes when the judging panel returns to announce which company impressed the client enough to be awarded the design contract!
Being part of the winning company is not the only takeaway from the competition. Although this achievement should not be shrugged off (only 50 students in the entirety of the UK claim this victory each year at the National Finals – UKSDC), the breadth of the experience equips every active participant with an array of skills to take forward into further studies and their careers. More on this too in a future article.
I trust this explanation has clarified what you can expect from taking part in an SDC. As always, if you have an interest in participating or have queries, drop us a message! We’re happy to help.
Stay tuned for the next article which will dive deeper into the various roles you can take in the SDC!
- Want to get involved in this rapidly growing network of space education enthusiasts? Register your interest to volunteer here: eusdc.org/volunteer-registration
- Want to follow the news and events in the European context? Check out the EUSDC website here: eusdc.org
- Want to find out more about the organising charity? Check out the SSEF website here: ssef.org.uk