AE Teams Take First and Second in Space Design Competition


Aerospace Engineering at Illinois teams took first and second place in the 2011-12 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Foundation’s annual Undergraduate Team Space Design Competition.

The competition required creation of an architecture for a Deep Space Habitation Module that could support a crew of six during a 15-month-long roundtrip mission to a destination within the solar system, for example, the Martian moon, Phobos. Designs needed to focus on the craft’s structure and life support systems, allowing the hypothetical crew to make their journey safely in the microgravity space environment. Focuses lay in the areas of micrometeoroid and debris protection, radiation, thermal systems, power systems, extravehicular activities, and life support systems. Solutions for each design had to include protection from radiation in the space environment, limitation of the mass of air and volume of consumable resources, maintenance of crew nutrition levels, crew resupply challenges and the provision of habitable living accommodations.

Local Space Systems Mission Plan
Local Space Systems Mission Plan

First place and a $2,500 prize went to team “Local Space Systems,” with Wahab M. Alshahin of Palos Hills, Illinois, as team leader. Second place and a $1,000 prize went to team “Exodus Space Ventures,” with Benjamin M. Parks of Oak Park, Illinois, as team leader. David L. Carroll, AE visiting professor, served as faculty advisor for both projects.

For their design, Local Space Systems team members used heritage technology that was either already flight-tested, or technology that had a high Technology Readiness Level (TRL). The team designed the craft for full development by the year 2020 at a total mission cost, including operations and a 10 percent contingency factor, of $15.4 billion dollars.

“The AIAA judges commented heavily on our idea to use the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicles to serve a dual purpose as the mission airlocks, along with being the transport vehicles for the crew from Earth to space,” Alshahin said. “They cited this as a solution that they had not seen before, but also one that seemed to meet all the requirements and provide a significant mass/cost savings. That was one example of how the team was able to use a piece of technology that has already been developed and researched in a new and innovative method.”

Rendering of DSHM design concept at full assembly
Rendering of DSHM design concept at full assembly










Constant revisions were a norm for the team. “Our final design review was due at 6 a.m. on April 12th, so naturally our team was not satisfied with our final deliverable and did not submit it until 5:59 a.m., making changes and updates until the last possible minute,” Alshahin said.

In addition to Alshahin, Local Space Systems team members were:

  • Nikhil Agarwal of Kirkland, Washington, Structures and Radiation Shielding Engineer
  • Eric A. Anden of Hinsdale, Illinois, Power Systems and Thermal Control Engineer
  • Jordan B. Holquist of Springfield, Illinois, Extravehicular Activities Support Engineer
  • Robert A. Lozar-McDonald of Sidney, Illinois, Systems Integration Engineer
  • David W. Slaby of Edwardsville, Illinois, Life Support Systems Engineer
  • Ryan A. Smoot of Bloomington, Illinois, Orbital Requirements Engineer
  • Erik A. Lopez of Los Angeles, California, and Andrew G. Putch of Hoeilaart, Belgium, Freshman Project Aids

The Exodus Space Ventures team designed the Hyperion spacecraft, composed of three modules and an optional fourth module to be used as a biomass chamber to assist other life support systems. An external propulsion module would control Hyperion’s orbital maneuvers, and the total program’s cost was estimated at $15.3 billion, and an additional $2.2 billion for the optional biomass module.

Exodus Space Ventures
Exodus Space Ventures

Parks said the team’s plans to innovatively reduce costs focused on creating a universal design so that multiple modules could be created, reducing the amount of design and specialized manufacturing to be performed. The team stressed that the design’s modularity could allow for it to be used on other missions.

“It was a challenging act to balance all the systems needed to do this, as we needed to optimize our functionality within stringent weight, cost, and volumetric constraints,” Parks said. “Due to the timeframe of the project and the required launch date, our team relied heavily on technology that had already been developed, often implementing existing systems or tweaking them with our own unique ideas.

“The nights were long, the debates heated, and the teamwork strained at points, but we never lost sight of keeping the integrity of our design and creating something that we’d be proud to put our names on,” Parks concluded.

Hyperion: Exodus Space Ventures
Hyperion: Exodus Space Ventures










In addition to the team leader, members of the Exodus Space Ventures team were:

  • Anil A. Mohammed of Glenview, Illinois, Structures and Radiation Shielding Engineer
  • Michael J. Mueller of Arlington Heights, Illinois, Power Systems and Thermal Control Engineer
  • Samantha D. McCue of Bartlett, Illinois, Extravehicular Activities Support Engineer
  • Kapil Varshney of Lucknow, India, Systems Integration Engineer
  • Tyler C. Buell of Somonauk, Illinois, Life Support Systems Engineer
  • Rasheed D. Ibrahim of Normal, Illinois, Orbital Requirements Engineer
  • Zachary J. Lee-Richerson of Peoria, Illinois, and Erin E. Ahern of Hinsdale, Illinois, Freshman Project Aids