Contact Us:

Shelley Spears
Director, Education & Outreach

Shannon Verstynen
Outreach Program Manager


Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkages (RASC-AL)

3 RASC-AL Competitions, 3 Ways to Enagage

The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkages (RASC-AL) portfolio contains three premier and distinct university design challenges that address NASA’s new approach for future human space exploration (as outlined in NASA’s Voyages Document). These university reach-back design challenges prompt collegiate students to investigate, plan and analyze space exploration design at differing stages of development: Human Scale Architecture and Systems; Systems (specifically Robotics Systems); and Individual Components/Elements.  In each of these programs, students develop concepts that may provide full or partial solutions to design problems and challenges currently facing human space exploration.  Inclusion of Faculty Advisor participation is paramount to the success and academic rigor of the competitions. Through the RASC-AL challenges, NASA gains access to fresh, innovative concepts from the top-minds at America’s best engineering schools.

Human Scale Architecture and Systems Level

The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts–Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Aerospace Concepts Competition is the patriarch of the NASA/NIA RASC-AL programs and serves as a foundation for the application-based nature of the other RASC-AL competitions.   RASC-AL offers graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to become involved in high-level relevant aerospace research – addressing an overall mission architecture.  Participating RASC-AL teams choose from a handful of themes that challenge them to develop innovative concepts for lunar habitation, or human missions to Near Earth asteroids or even Mars, for example.   Student-teams present their research to a panel of NASA and industry experts at the annual RASC-AL Forum.  The oral presentations are augmented by the submission of a technical paper and a research poster.  Top winning teams are awarded with a secured presentation slot at the annual AIAA Space Conference, where they can present a condensed version of their RASC-AL concept.

  • High -level presentations to a panel of NASA/Industry Judges
  • Purely conceptual
  • Provides innovative ideas
  • Poster Presentation
  • Technical Paper
  • Graduate and Undergraduate Division
  • 14-18 teams annually

**Important Dates: Abstract due Jan. 19, 2013

Systems Level (Robotics Systems)

The RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition (a.k.a., Robo-Ops) focuses on a specific system in an interplanetary mission – robotics.  Robo-ops annually invites undergraduate and graduate students to create a multi-disciplinary team to build a planetary rover prototype and demonstrate its capabilities to perform a series of tasks in field tests at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) Rock Yard.  Selected teams receive a small stipend to offset the cost of rover development.   A unique component is that teams operate rovers remotely from the mission control center of their home universities, while a skeleton crew of other team members are permitted to join the rover at the JSC Rock yard to serve as the team’s on-site pit crew. This robotic manipulation (complete with communication delays) replicates how robots and astronauts will work together in the near future on human space exploration missions.  Student teams are required to submit a technical paper and poster, as well as conduct a dynamic Education & Public Outreach (EPO) component that demonstrates participatory exploration approaches for future NASA missions.  This includes the development of a team website, social media, and an outreach video.  Winning teams are awarded cash prizes.

  • Design and build rovers
  • Test rover capabilities at NASA JSC Rock Yard
  • Demonstrates hardware, software, and communications issues relevant to NASA
  • Poster Presentation
  • Technical Paper
  • Robust Education and Public Outreach Component
  • Up to 10 teams annually

**Important Dates: Project Plan Submission Dec. 9, 2012

Component/Element Level

The RASC-AL Lunar Wheel Design Competition is the newest addition to the RASC-AL portfolio, drilling down to the component/element level.  The Lunar Wheel Competition invites teams to provide external design concepts for a Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) wheel with capabilities to traverse planetary surfaces, particularly the moon and Mars.  Selected teams are required to build 4 prototype wheels that can be tested while mounted to utility vehicle in field tests at the NASA JSC Rock Yard, and are presented with a small award to offset the cost of wheel development and testing.  Teams also present their wheel concepts to a design review panel of SEV engineers.  Presentations are based on the team’s technical paper that details the wheel concept’s path-to-flight (how the design can be applied to actual planetary exploration on an SEV).  Winning teams are awarded with cash prizes.

  • Design and build 4 wheels
  • Rigorous physical prototype test at NASA’s JSC Rock Yard
  • High-level design review presentations with NASA SEV engineers
  • Has the potential to produce real materials, structure, or design for an actual SEV wheel
  • Up to 8 teams annually

**Important Dates: Project Plan Submission Jan. 19, 2013

For more information about the RASC-AL Programs, please contact Shelley Spears at or Stacy Dees at




100 Exploration Way
Hampton, VA 23666