Higher Education Competitions

Higher Education Programs

The National Institute of Aerospace works alongside NASA Centers and STEM Industry professionals to provide university-level competitions that test the limits of possibility. NIA currently manages three competition programs for NASA: the Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkages (RASC-AL) Aerospace Competition, the RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition, and the Break-through, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. These competitions challenge university-level students at U.S.-based institutions to develop pioneering ideas and concepts pertaining to the aerospace industry.

Team holds prototypes during RASC-AL competition
The RASC-AL Aerospace Concepts Competition is open undergraduate and graduate students. It gives them an opportunity to participate in high-level relevant aerospace research – addressing an overall mission architecture. Competition themes vary each year and challenge students to formulate innovative concepts. Selected teams will present their technical papers and research posters to a panel of NASA and industry experts at the annual RASC-AL in Cocoa Beach, FL. Top winning teams are awarded with a secured presentation slot at the annual AIAA Space Conference.

Robo-Ops invites undergraduate and graduate students each year to create a multi-disciplinary team to build planetary rover prototypes and complete a series of tasks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) Rock Yard. To simulate how robots and astronauts will work together in the near future on human space exploration missions, teams will operate rovers remotely while a skeleton crew serves as the on-site pit crew.

Student teams are required to pass a mid-project review, submit a technical paper and poster, and conduct public and stakeholder engagement activities. They must demonstrate participatory exploration approaches for future NASA missions through the development of a team website, blog or social media.

Student shows how mechanism works during BIG Idea presentation

The BIG Idea Challenge seeks novel and robust ideas and applications relating to the theme each year. Teams of undergraduate and graduate students will submit their proposals and videos of their BIG idea for review. Selected teams will continue in the competition and submit full technical papers on their concepts.

The final five teams will have the opportunity to present to the BIG Idea Forum. Eligible team members may compete for a select number of internships.