Sophia’s Space Challenge

806 applicants, 32 participants, 2 teams, 1 UNSW mining engineering student

Sophia Casanova UNSW Mining Engineering PhD Student recently participated in the Caltech Space Challenge 2017.  Chosen from over 806 applicants after a rigorous selection process Sophia took part in the prestigious 5-day international student space mission design competition. 

Formed into two teams, “Voyager” and “Explorer”, students were given a mission design problem to design a ‘Lunarport’ that was capable of providing propellant to fuel crewed spacecraft heading to Mars.  The teams had 5 days to design the best mission plan and present it on the final day to a jury of industry experts. The teams also attended a number lectures from engineers and scientists of prestigious space companies and agencies (Airbus, SpaceX, JPL, NASA, etc.) in order to help them solve the different issues of the proposed mission. 

The Caltech Space Challenge provided a great opportunity to work alongside and learn from some truly inspiring people from around the world

Sophia Cassanova

During the competition Sophia and her team worked on ‘Ice Rush’ (think gold rush on the Moon) for the development of the LunarPort.  As part of her presentation she led on the mining operations and development plan using typical mining planning tools across the full mine life cycle.  Some of the considerations show the parallel requirements to mining on earth.  ‘Primary requirement: to identify water-rich deposits for future mining missions and Secondary requirements: Define composition, water content and extent of the water rich deposits; Characterise terrain and environment; Define accessibility/extractability of the resources.’

Whilst Sophia found herself on the second placed team in the competition Team Voyager, she said of her experience ‘The amount I’ve learnt in one week is incredible!  The Caltech Space Challenge provided a great opportunity to work alongside and learn from some truly inspiring people from around the world. I feel truly honoured to have been a part of such a prestigious competition and cannot express how much I gained from the experience.

We came out of the week feeling like we had achieved what we set out to do and proud of what we had accomplished’.

However the work is not over yet for the Caltech Space Challenge Class of 2017.  ‘Our work isn’t done yet though, both teams are now coming together and are working to combine our concepts in order to develop our ideas further. We are looking forward to presenting LunarPort at a number of upcoming conferences and writing up academic articles in the near future’. 

Watch Team Voyagers final presentation 

Meet the Voyager Team here

Read the full details from the official blog here

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  • Former astronaut Garrett Reisman who now works at SpaceX at the closing ceremony/awards night.
  • Team Voyager hard at work
  • Mission Control JPL
  • Team Voyager with the Mars Curiosity Rover
  • Sophia with the Mars Curiosity Rover