On the 21 October, around sixty pupils from the the southwest of England and Wales – including seven from BGS – took part in the Bristol regional heat of the UK Space Design Competition. This is a multidisciplinary space-themed competition designed to be a simulation of life in industry! It is supported by the Space Science Engineering & Environmental Foundation (SSE²F). Students from multiple schools are combined to form an engineering company and take on the task of designing a crewed space settlement within our solar system. To mark National STEM day, one of the participants, Lower Sixth student Carlos, has written this blog post reflecting on the experience of taking part in this demanding STEM competition.
The laughter slowly subsides just before the judges finish teasing us and reveal the winning team. A stirring silence. ‘And the winning team is…’. Fingernails dig into palms. It comes down to this decision, whether we would return home or continue to the national final in London.
‘Kepler Automation!’. It was as if the room fractured in two. The losing team, letting out whimpers of disappointment for their Herculean effort, and from us, an explosion of elation and cheer. Was there much else to say? It was a hell of an effort from us, and the plucky six of us are only so glad to be part of the winning team, part of the multi-stage rocket on a trajectory to success.
We are the champions.
The UK Space Design Competition is a charity that organises events for schools to highlight the talent of their brightest students in head-to-head heats. These are organised both across the country and online, in collaboration with other space design competitions worldwide. In these events, teams of Years 10 to 13 students are tasked with designing a settlement in space. Taking place first are the regional heats. This is where groups of pupils from a variety of schools from each region are split into two companies, to compete against each other. The aim is for each company to present to the judges a proposal for a space settlement. Companies are given the duration of the day, an array of fictional contractors and a detailed set of requirements. So, it is no wonder that the UKSDC prides itself on being an accurate simulation of real space programs, decades into the future.
On the 21 October, around 60 pupils surrounding the southwest of England and Wales took part in the Bristol regional heat. Playing host was the University of Bristol. The panel of judges were various local aerospace enthusiasts. Some were engineering students; others were volunteers for the group of charities surrounding the UKSDC. Securing a win here would guarantee us all a place in the national finals, taking place over two days at Imperial College London. Then, and only then, would we then be able to potentially be in the final 12 chosen for the international final – at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
After being split into the two companies by school, came the election for the Board of Directors. As a bunch of non-sleep-deprived rookies with one month of practice, we saw our advantage. Charlie first made the bid for the president of the company, selling his charisma and competence in various subjects. Unfortunately for him, he lost to a Year 13 student who made the winning team four times! I put my case forward as the President of Business, emphasising my leading role in the Young Enterprise group at BGS. Still, we were left with zero executive positions. But clearly, we had not lost. There was a challenge to get on with.
The first few hours passed instantly, and we had settled into our positions. I felt right at home in the structural department, as yet another boy fervently sketching and crunching numbers behind my laptop. Structural engineering involved finding the volumes for the living spaces and how these would be constructed. Taking care of Mission Systems using 3D models was Aarush, visualising the dimensions my department had made on his laptop with Blender. That would help to explain how the purpose of the settlement would be carried out. Coordinating the infrastructure of the settlement was done by operations, with Miranda presenting and leading the findings by the medley of engineers. Tom discussed the human factors and psychology of the residential area. It had caused us at the structural department considerable consternation when they suggested we construct an indoor garden for the crews’ mental health. That put our conflict resolution skills to the test. Calculating the cost of everything was equally convoluted – the job of Charlie and Kandara – where it took a meticulous effort to do all the calculations to get a realistic number. It was a frantic job for them, making pie charts and looking up contractor rates right to the end. Other departments even finished first and went to help.
All too quickly, we had run out of time. There was a break for pizza, gossip and plans for our presentation.
First to present were our rivals at Earhart Advanced Industries. This was followed by a round of questions to all in the company. Our turn couldn’t arrive soon enough. The president, company members from the other school, Miranda and Tom all stepped down to present the day’s work. Stoically, they kept composure and our admittedly better slides showed to the judges all that they needed to know. The losing company was respectful. Our team had won.
Everyone had great fun that day, pushing their skills and each other to their limits. This competition put our problem-solving, communication and creativity in the limelight, applying subjects that we study, in real-world scenarios. It was the ultimate insight into careers in aerospace, working with others, reaching for the stars. We certainly can’t wait to go to London; the deciding round that sends us back home, or hopefully to the Kennedy Space Centre. So come March, with some luck, we won’t disappoint.
To all the brilliant pupils from the other winning companies: bring it on!!
I would like to thank the BGS STEM department for the incredible opportunity to attend this event.
Carlos, Lower Sixth