KU students nab top prize at international spacecraft design competition

The University of Kansas School of Engineering recently won first place in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ undergraduate team space design competition, KU announced Thursday.

The international contest challenges students to design a spacecraft capable of traveling to and orbiting Mars without landing on the planet. KU’s entry, “Pytheas,” earned the university its first-ever win in the undergraduate competition sponsored by AIAA.

The student-designed craft featured a “hard” capsule with metal walls as well as a “soft” inflatable capsule, both elements of the International Space Station. Team members also designed “Pytheas” to run on solar power, with a nuclear power backup, and conceived a stasis chamber that would allow astronauts to sleep for up to two weeks at a time while en route to Mars.

Seven students, advised by associate professor of aerospace engineering Mark Ewing, came together to design the project over the course of a year.

Portugal’s Universidade De Lisboa took home second place in the spacecraft design contest, while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received third place.

KU’s win follows two others at earlier AIAA competitions this year: the Graduate Team Aircraft Design Competition and the Undergraduate Engine Design Competition, the university said.