Space Settlement Design Tournament

How do you build a lunar mining settlement?

What does it take to build a city on Mars? If these questions interest you, you might be interested in a one-of-a-kind experience available now to students in South Texas.

The Space Settlement Design Tournament invites high school students to learn the nitty-gritty of conceptualizing, planning, and pitching plans for future space exploration. The tournament, modeled on and developed in conjunction with the internationally famous Space Settlement Design Contest, offers students unique insight and expertise into one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, commercial space. It is the only sanctioned tournament of its kind in South Texas.

How It Works

Participating students are divided into four teams, each of which is led by a working professional in the space industry who serves as “CEO.” The teams collaborate to develop business plans for companies as though they were competing for a space settlement contract. Over three days, each team works furiously to prepare detailed proposals, which they present to a panel of judges, including current and former NASA executives involved with the agency’s engineering and technology transfer operations. The judges then select the winning proposal.

“I really enjoyed it. It was pretty rough. It’s a challenging experience, and it was good for the mind. You have to deal with a lot. It’s pretty fun, not going to lie.”

Amado Caballero, Pace High School

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it fun?
Yes! Students every year report that the experience is hard and fun. It’s why the tournament has gained an international following. The students who participate overwhelmingly say it’s a lot of fun.

Who can participate?
Any Brownsville-area (including surrounding Cameron County school districts) high school student interested in learning about NewSpace.

Do I have to be a science prodigy?
Developing a settlement in space will require people from all different backgrounds and interests. Obviously many students from the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields typically participate, but so do students interested in business, psychology, medicine, communications and marketing, government, and more. If you are interested in the space industry, we are interested in you.

How hard is it?
Hard, but in the way that anything worth doing is hard. It’s meant to be challenging—it’s a competition after all. All that said, you don’t have to have a PhD in physics to participate. The tournament is designed for high school students, your “company” CEO and a group of expert advisors helps every step of the way.

How will it benefit me?
Previous participants report that skills they learned during the Space Settlement Design Tournament proved valuable in the short and long term. Many credit the tournament with having helped them with their leadership development or improved their ability to work on teams. Others say that the glimpse they got into the space economy through the tournament influenced their career plans.

Can I put it on my resume or college application?
Absolutely. Many participants include it in their college applications. The Space Settlement Design Tournament is widely known around the country and the world as a prestigious and valuable experience.

Will I be on a team with only students from my high school?
Participants get randomly placed on teams, so in all likelihood you won’t be only with students from your school.

What does each student do?
Depends on each person’s interests and skills. Each student gets placed on a team, and each team forms a “company” with a proper management structure and smaller working groups. Some people eat, sleep, and breathe engineering, and that’s what they want to focus on. Others are public speakers and don’t have any special interest in science, and they may focus on the final presentation. Others come from various backgrounds: politics and policy, human resources, business strategy, graphic design, and countless others. Some people are mad organized, and they help keep their teams on track. It’s all part of the experience of finding out how you can best contribute.

How are the proposals evaluated?
Each team must show how they would build an overall settlement. That includes what construction methods, how the construction would get done, and what the community would look and feel like. Then the proposal must determine how much electrical power and water the settlement will need, what computer and robotics systems will be required, how much the project would cost, and how long it would take to complete. The tournament concludes with teams presenting their designs to a panel of judges.

Is this event in person?
No. Because of COVID-19, the event will be held virtually in 2021.

How do we communicate with our teams?
Via Discord. Each team sets up its own Discord server and then specific channels. There are also all-participant Zoom meetings from the organizers for giving updates and kicking off each day.

What is the time commitment?
Three days. You can consider each one will be action packed. From the time you get the assignment and learn the rules, you and your team will be working to develop a professional-level presentation that will be judged by current and former NASA administrators and engineers. Most people who go through the tournament say it was a hard and challenging three days, but that the hours went by quickly.

“I wasn’t entirely sure what a career in the space field was. I didn’t know how a sociology major could get into space. I hadn’t been exposed to how you communicate with people with other skills. The tournament was the closest I could get to touching the surface of what my career could look like. The space industry is a very blank page. All we have figured out is how to write our name and the date. We have complete freedom to write whatever else is on that page. The problems of space are still being discovered, and the answers still need answering.”

Victoria Chaparro, Los Fresnos High School

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