Word count & reading time: (1350 words – 10 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 elaborated on the details of what to expect during a typical competition: its structure and timeline. But what exactly is expected of you, as a participant? That’s exactly what we’ll dive into in this article.
Before getting into the details, however, take a minute to watch this video reviewing 14 years of the UK competition.
So what exactly is an SDC, again?
The SDC is an immersive aerospace industry simulation, i.e., a Space Design Competition. It’s an opportunity for you to experience the joys and challenges of complex and multifaceted industry design proposals. You will transform yourself from where you are today into a representative of a fictional company within the space sector some 50-80 years in the future. Much has changed, technology has advanced beyond our comprehension, and the fictional client —the Foundation Society— is keen to hear how your company will address its design requirements.
A few frequently asked questions that may help you…
Question: So, we’re part of a company during the competition. Is that like a group?
Answer: Yes! A group of space enthusiasts just like you. A company can consist of up to 50 participants. Your objective will be to work together to solve the design requirements of the client, the Foundation Society. Such large groups are typical in industry.
Question: Okay… so we’re working in companies and we’re designing something for the client. What are we designing?
Answer: Each SDC has a unique set of design requirements which are provided to the companies by the client in the form of a Request for Proposal (RFP). This RFP is also typical of industry. Each company designs according to the RFP and then presents their proposal to the client at the end of the competition. The most appropriate design to the RFP is the proposal that wins the bid.
Question: Right. So we’re designing a proposal in large groups according to an RFP that must satisfy the Foundation Society’s requirements. What exactly is the RFP?
Answer: The Request for Proposal (RFP) is everything at a competition. Some of the alumni are probably giggling at this point, because they know how often this is stated and yet overlooked in the rush of an SDC. What you find below may help shine a light on the most important document of the SDCs, the RFP.
What is the RFP about?
The RFP outlines all the design requirements of the Foundation Society for your space habitat. It is a list of tasks the client has asked for and that you need to provide. Remember, to win at the SDCs, your sole task is to deliver on the client’s needs better than any other company, which means fully understanding their needs. So please read the RFP!
The RFP is a long, text-heavy, and very detailed description of the requirements, typical of industry. It is normally split into 6 sections of focus:
- Basic Requirements — overall requirements for the design proposal that all departments must adhere to
- Structures — overall structural design of the settlement (e.g., interior/exterior drawings, configurations, construction materials, etc.)
- Operations — infrastructure and utilities of the settlement (e.g., location of facilities, transportation, operation to support construction, functionality & usability, etc.)
- Automation — design and provision of digital and robotic services to support the operations of your settlement (e.g., numbers, types, and designs of robots and computers needed)
- Human Factors — provision of human safety, livability, and comfort of the settlement (e.g., designing workplaces, homes, and communities)
- Cost & Schedule — detailing the departmental costs
Understanding the RFP and what is being asked of you is a crucial part of the design process. Without this understanding, you are simply sharing your bright ideas. Although we ask for you to do so, make sure that your ideas are also solutions.
Question: I got you. We definitely read the RFP and then design accordingly. There are quite a few tasks, though. I don’t like the sound of most, but I do like one in particular. How do we split the task?
Answer: Luckily, you are not alone in this behemoth undertaking of a challenge. You are with your fellow colleagues within your company. As is standard in industry, companies have departments. You will fit into one of them, or perhaps see yourself more fittingly in a leadership role? Regardless, you can design for whichever RFP section suits your interest the most.
What are the companies?
There are 5 different fictional companies that, in industrial terms, are called the Prime Contractors. Within the Space Design Competition framework, you will be assigned to one of them:
- (KA) Kepler Automation — a European multinational who specialises in satellite technology and are leaders in radiation management and habitation control.
- (EAI) Earhart Advanced Industries — the first space contractor in the game. Whilst historically having favoured a cautious solution, they continually advance the state of the art across the entire field.
- (OMTC) Olympus Mons Trading Company — a Martian logistics and resource trading company estimated to be the richest organisation in the galaxy. Information about the workings of the company is closely guarded.
- (DM) DaVinci Meccanica — developed by several Roscosmos engineers with the idea of humanising ecologically responsible space exploration. A pioneering force in the generation of clean energy in space.
- Condor — an Australian process engineering specialist turned launch provider, they have a strong focus on safety systems but know how to innovate, too.
Depending on the size of the competition, there may be only 2 or 3 companies. If the event is at full capacity, you can expect 5 very full companies! More on the company history available here.
As a part of one of the Prime Contracting companies, you may leverage your speciality (e.g., clean power generation) within your design proposal. But what if you want to use someone else’s? As well as the Prime Contractors, there also exist Subcontractors. Thanks to one in particular —Litigation Limiters— you are able to subcontract specific tasks that competing companies specialise in. More on this in a future article.
Each of the companies can be a group of up to 50 participants. Naturally, splitting the company into specific focus groups is a practical method of ensuring the workload is shared. As in industry, this is accomplished through the use of company departments. There are 4:
- Structures — responsible for the overall structural design of the settlement
- Operations — responsible for defining the infrastructure and utilities of the settlement
- Automation — responsible for designing and providing digital and robotic services to support the operations of your settlement
- Human Factors — responsible for ensuring human safety, livability, and comfort of the settlement
At the start of the event, you will have the opportunity to join any of them. Choosing a department that best suits your interests will allow you to explore the topic further, thus gaining an insight into the reality of design in the space sector and challenging you to grow. It is always recommended that you choose a path that best suits you. But do maintain a degree of flexibility!
Somewhat confused on the whole Prime Contractor/Subcontractor business? Don’t worry! More on the use of Subcontractors in a future article. For now, all you need to understand is that you’ll be a representative of one of these companies throughout the entire competition, answering to the RFP.
Next up, we will explore the ins and outs of a typical company. The structure, the hierarchy, the roles and responsibilities, and access to the only adults allowed in the competition: the volunteers!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.
- 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