April 12, 2021

SIOUX CITY, IA (April 12, 2021)—Does your bucket list include a trip to the asteroid belt? What would it take to live and work in space? How would we build a permanent base among the stars? Some local high school students recently competed in a contest to design a space settlement that would serve as an MRO (maintenance, repair, and operations) base for space travelers passing through the asteroid belt in the year 2081.

On the weekend of March 26th, 81 students from Iowa, South Dakota, and Texas competed in an engineering and industry simulation competition called the Space Settlement Design Competition (SSDC). The year’s virtual competition marked Northwest AEA’s 17th year of collaborating with aerospace engineering professionals to provide high school students with a firsthand experience of what it is like to work in a company setting on a large, complex project.

Students were split into three aerospace “companies” that each were divided into different engineering “departments:” automation, operations, structural, and human engineering. The heart of the contest is the Request For Proposal (RFP) that is released at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning of the contest. The RFP is a six-page, single-spaced document that outlines the requirements for a space settlement, “Astoria,” that is to serve as an MRO in the asteroid belt.  The RFP included practical considerations such as timelines for construction of the base and materials to build it with; the air, food, and water needed by 3,000 people; docking stations for spaceships needing repair; and other living concerns, such as exercise and entertainment needs of the space-based permanent residents.

Students raced over a 24-hour period to design the 35-minute, 50-page proposal that would most impress a panel of judges that are real-life aerospace engineers. These judges scored the proposals and chose a winning company to award the contract.

Twelve students from the winning company also qualified to compete in the International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC) held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July.  There they will compete with other students from the United States, India, Australia, Europe, Asia, and around the world. This year’s qualifying students and alternates include students from River Valley, Panorama, Madrid, Sioux Center, Sioux City, and Lawton-Bronson.

If you have any questions regarding the SSDC, or if your school is in the Northwest AEA territory and you are interested in having students compete in next year’s competition, please contact Adam Moss at Northwest AEA, amoss@nwaea.org.


With offices in Sioux City, Sioux Center, Cherokee, Denison, Le Mars and Onawa, Northwest Area Education Agency (AEA) works in partnership with public and accredited private schools in a 10-county area of northwest Iowa to help assure that all children reach their full potential. The AEA provides special education support services, media and technology services, a variety of instructional services, professional development and leadership to promote school improvement. The Iowa General Assembly created the state’s AEA system in 1975. It is widely regarded as one of the finest in the country. For more information about Northwest AEA, visit www.nwaea.org.

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