Out of this world! QE pair in space competition hosted by NASA

Out of this world! QE pair in space competition hosted by NASA

QE sixth-formers Aadil Kara and Brian Kong enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience when they competed alongside other young engineers from across the world in a competition hosted by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The Year 13 pair were part of a 12-strong European Union team who joined up with other finalists from India, Argentina and the USA to form a 60-strong fictional company, Rockdonnell, in the 24th International Space Settlement Design Competition.

Working against tight deadlines over a long weekend, the companies had to produce a proposal to win a contract to build a settlement in space for 10,000 full-time residents on the surface of Venus in the year 2092. The settlement’s role included harvesting raw materials from the planet’s surface, taking advantage of the extreme conditions for specialist manufacturing and beginning work on terraforming – the process of making changes on the planet to make it more hospitable for humans.

During a break on the final day while the judges were deliberating on the results, competition participants were treated to a tour of the vast Cape Canaveral site. The tour took in sights including:

  • The Vehicle Assembly Building – the largest structure in the world when it was built in 1965
  • One of the Saturn V rockets, which remains the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever to have flown
  • The retired Space Shuttle, Atlantis.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Aadil and Brian worked tremendously hard to reach this international final and I congratulate them on their achievement – what a singular opportunity!”

Brian said: “This was one of the best experiences of my life so far, giving me insight into different cultures from around the world and the way business and company management works. I managed to gain so much experience in leading a team of over 60 individuals from different backgrounds, and definitely came away with many new friends.”

The pair’s company finished as overall runners-up in the competition. “The judges praised our design for its expandable, modular structure and for a water distillation system using external heat from the Venusian atmosphere,” said Aadil.

Brian and Aadil were chosen for the EU team following the UK Space Design Competition, which saw a QE team of 12 win the regional round, before the QE boys then participated in the national finals held at Imperial College, London.

Brian, who was the EU’s team student leader, explained that after arriving in Florida, he and Aadil spent an afternoon and evening meeting participants. “We got to know everyone that evening and the night was finished with a Rockdonnell company meeting, where we decided managerial positions of the company. I was voted in as the vice president of the company, looking after marketing and sales.”

For his part, Aadil worked within the operations engineering department to design emergency procedures in response to disaster scenarios.
The following morning, they headed off to the Kennedy Space Center and received technical briefings specific to each department (automation, human, operations, structural and management).

They then set to work. “From this point, it was a race to meet the RFP (request for proposal),” said Brian. “We worked flat-out, before heading to bed for a few hours at around midnight. The following morning was an early start from around 7am and we worked in the hotel in the early morning and late night, and at the Kennedy Space Center throughout the day.

“I was in charge of putting together the presentation and organising the speakers for the final day and so, along with a few members of each department, I stayed up throughout the night to finish our settlement proposal to meet the 7:30am deadline.

“We were first to present to the panel of judges, an array of aerospace experts and business individuals in the industry. Both Aadil and I were presenting.” After the 35-minute presentation itself, there were questions from the judges before the final results were announced several hours later.