2017 BIG Idea Competition Announced

2017 BIG Idea Competition Announced


On Friday, July 22, 2016, NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) announced the 2017 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, a university-level design competition that calls for teams of 3-5 students to submit robust proposals for in-space assembly of spacecraft – particularly tugs, propelled by solar electric propulsion (SEP) – that transfer payloads from low earth orbit (LEO) to a lunar distant retrograde orbit (LDRO).

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD) and managed by NIA.  Based on a review of the proposals due on November 30, 2016, four (4) teams will receive a $6,000 stipend to facilitate participation in the BIG idea forum where they will present their technical papers and concepts to a panel of NASA judges. The 2017 BIG Idea Forum will be held at NASA Langley Research Center, February 15-16, 2017.  The winning team will receive offers to participate in paid internships with the GCD team at LaRC, giving students an opportunity to further develop their concept under the mentorship of NASA experts.

Full competition details, including design constraints and submission guidelines, can be found on the BIG Idea Website (

NIA POC:  Shelley Spears;; 757-325-6732

NASA LaRC:  Mary E. Wusk;; 757-864-3830

2017 RASC-AL Competition — Official Announcement


On Friday, July 29, 2016, NIA announced the 2017 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Challenge, a university-level design competition that calls for teams of university students to submit robust proposals for new concepts that leverage innovations to improve our ability to work more effectively in microgravity, by responding to one of four themes:

  • A Lightweight Exercise Suite
  • An Airlock Design
  • A Commercially Habitable LEO / Mars Habitable Module
  • A Logistics Delivery System

NIA conducted an intensive and targeted promotional and marketing campaign for the 2017 RASC-AL Competition that included a full service website, electronic and print marketing collateral, and personalized emails to over 2100 targeted engineering deans, department chairs, and faculty.

Based on a review of the abstract and video proposals, due January 19, 2017, and a second down select based on a mid-project review in March, up to sixteen (16) teams will be selected to submit full technical papers and present their concepts to a steering committee of NASA and industry experts at the 2017 RASC-AL Forum in Cocoa Beach, Florida May 31st – June 2nd, 2017.

The finalists will receive a stipend to facilitate their team’s full participation in the Forum.  The top two winning teams will receive a travel stipend to attend a technical conference, like AIAA Space 2017, to present a condensed version of their technical paper to the scientific and engineering research community.

Full competition details can found on the RASC-AL Website (


The RASC-AL Challenge is sponsored by the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) and managed by Shelley Spears and Stacy Dees of the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA).

NIA RASC-AL POC:  Shelley Spears;; 757-325-6732

LaRC RASC-AL POC:  Pat Troutman, Space Mission Analysis Branch,; 757.864.1954

FAA Awards Cooperative Agreement on the Study of Damage Modes in Lightweight Sandwich Structures Using Analysis and Testing


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) most recently awarded a cooperative agreement onthe Study of Damage Modes in Lightweight Sandwich Structures Using Analysis and Testing to support research at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Dr. Ronald Krueger, Associate Research Fellow at the National Institute of Aerospace, will serve as principal investigator (PI) for the technical effort, with support from Dr. Leif Carlsson, Co-PI, Florida Atlantic University, and Dr. George Kardomateas, Co-PI, Georgia Institute of Technology. Overall project management will be handled by NIA’s Director of FAA Programs, Mr. Peter McHugh.

The work done under this cooperative agreement will provide a methodology to assess the impact of weather and environment on sandwich composite structures ability to survive under conditions encountered during the service life of current and future civil aircraft.  Delivery of this methodology will assure that designs incorporating sandwich composite structures in the future provide the equivalent or better level of structural safety in advanced materials as that found in historic aircraft designs.

Typical damage modes observed in light honeycomb sandwich structures are face sheet/core disbonding and core fracture, both of which can pose a threat to the structural integrity of a component. These damage modes are of particular interest to certification and aircraft safety technology authorities since in-service occurrences such as rudder structural failure and other control surface malfunctions have been attributed to disbonding. Extensive studies have shown that face sheet/core disbonding and core fracture can lead to damage propagation caused by internal pressure changes in the core due to ground-air-ground (GAG) cycles.  Future composite structure applications, including for instance, composite sandwich construction of the fuselage of business jets that see higher altitudes than transport aircraft, are also driving a need to understand the phenomena of disbond growth under generalized load conditions including maneuver and meteorological (e.g., gust) conditions as well as related environmental conditions such as heat and moisture. The ability to identify, predict and prevent disbonding has important safety implication as loss of structural integrity or components in flight can be catastrophic.

The specific objectives are divided into three parts.  These parts are aligned with the FAA plan for sandwich structures characterization as developed by the task team from the Composite Materials Handbook CMH-17 Disbond/Delamination Task Group. The first part, performed by NIA, will support the development of an analysis and test capability, in support of advanced aircraft materials safety and certification activity at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City. The second and third parts will support the broader FAA aircraft structures and certification safety effort by characterizing damage modes in sandwich composite structures and reactions of such structures to environmental conditions. In particular, the second part, performed by Florida Atlantic University (FAU), will focus on the development of characterization test methods and associated data reduction techniques. The third part, performed by Georgia Institute of Technology (GT), will focus on the development of closed form algebraic expressions for the energy release rate and the mode mixity for a disbonded sandwich construction.

NIA POC: David Throckmorton, Vice President of Research,, 757.325.6724



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