International Space Settlement Design Competition

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Anita Gale, founder of the International Space Settlement Design Competition

The International Space Settlement Design Competition, more commonly known as "Spaceset" or "I-SSDC", is an annual competition founded by Anita Gale and Dick Edwards, and is supported by NASA. The competition targets high school students and recreates the experience of working on an aerospace company's proposal team. The teams are asked to envision space colonies in accordance to an RFP (Request for Proposal).


It all started in 1983, when plans were being made by the Boy Scouts of America for the 1984 National Exploring Conference. The steering group for the Science and Engineering Cluster wanted to do something related to space. Nobody on the committee knew much about space. However, Evelyn Murray from the Society of Women Engineers knew Anita Gale, who worked on the Space Shuttle program. Letters followed, recommending and expanding ideas, and concluding with a telephone call between Gale in California and Rob Kolstad (a member of the steering group) in Texas. During that conversation, they brainstormed and created the basic structure of the event, that it would be both a design competition and a management simulation game. Gale and Dick Edwards wrote the materials for the game. The first Space Settlement Design Competition was conducted at Ohio State University (between thunderstorms and tornadoes) in August 1984, with about 75 participants. It was wildly successful. Even astronaut Story Musgrave stopped by to watch design presentations.

The Explorers' Science and Engineering Cluster (headed by Brian Archimbaud) was so impressed by this event that they decided to make sure it would continue in some form. Eventually, Dr. Peter Mason and the Space Exploration Post at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, agreed to try it out on a local level. The first SpaceSet (post member Nathan Hawkins came up with the name) was held in 1986. Eighteen SpaceSet competitions were conducted at JPL, with continuing participation by Anita Gale, Dick Edwards, Rob Kolstad, and Dr. Mason. As many as 160 young people participated each year, with a different design challenge each time. The competition's organizers requested space settlement designs in Earth orbit, on Earth's moon, on and in orbit around Mars, and on and in orbit around Venus (including some global atmospheric alterations to make it habitable). One Earth-orbiting settlement was required to be capable of moving to another solar system.

The first annual national competition was organized when SpaceWeek International Executive Director Brian Archimbaud considered that a Space Settlement Design Competition would be appropriate to include in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the first lunar landing, in July 1994. The national event took place July 17 through 19, 1994, in Washington, D.C. Astronauts and cosmonauts recruited as volunteers for this event were so impressed with its educational value, that they insisted that it continue as an annual event.

After Brian Archimbaud left SpaceWeek International in 1994, the organization decided not to continue supporting the program. Epcot in Walt Disney World agreed in 1995 to help Gale and Edwards meet the promise made to the astronauts and cosmonauts. In 1996, the competition acquired new hosts, the Center for Space Education and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Sponsorship by the Boeing Company made continuation of annual International Space Settlement Design Competitions possible. In 2001, the KSC venue of the competition was moved to more spacious facilities at the Kurt Debus Conference Center, operated by the KSC Visitor Complex. In 2005 this facility was unavailable due to a planned Space Shuttle flight, and alternate arrangements were made at hotels in Titusville. When a 2006 Space Shuttle flight again made KSC facilities unavailable, the competition's organizers decided to permanently move finalist competitions to the Gilruth Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Volunteer efforts that make the competition possible are contributed by members of Sections of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Texas and Orange County (California), the Society of Women Engineers in Texas, the Boeing Company, NASA JSC, and other entities in the area around JSC.

In addition to SpaceSet at JPL, local events based on the Space Settlement Design Competition format have been conducted for NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (Antelope Valley and Victor Valley, California), NASA Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas), and NASA White Sands Test Facility (Las Cruces, New Mexico).

The idea of a semi-finalist competition was first suggested by Mark Shaw from Brisbane, Australia. In 2004, advisors of a finalist team from Patiala, India, asked if a competition could be conducted in Asia. Within months, procedures for the first-ever semi-finalist competition were developed by Gale and Edwards, with Abhishek Agarwal in India, and travel was arranged through a generous donation from the Boeing Company. The first semi-finalist competition was conducted at the American Center in Delhi, India, in December 2004. Mark Shaw assembled a committee that conducted the first Australian semi-finalist competition in January, 2007. Starting in 2008, the local JSC event was declared an International Space Settlement Design Competition semi-final, and regional competitions selected finalists from Latin American and Eastern Europe. A semi-final for the UK and Western Europe was established in 2010.

In 2008, the competition was recognized with presentations of two awards to Gale. The National Space Society presented the Space Pioneer Award in the category of Educator. The Boeing Company presented the William Allen Cup for Exceptional Volunteer Service.

Competition outline[edit]

The International Space Settlement Design Competition is split into two rounds, the qualifying round and the international finals. While entrants are usually teams with a high school affiliation, independent teams are allowed provided they are also in the high school age group. Teams have come from Pakistan, India, Australia, Austria, China, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Romania, and England, as well as the United States. One notable coalition team in the competition history's past including members from Argentina, Austria, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, the Ukraine, and the United States.

The competition uses a fictional organization called the Foundation Society to create a futuristic setting for the competition. From there, four fictional companies are created with sizes varying from few to dozens, depending on the attendance, and they must compete for a "contract" with the Foundation Society. The Foundation Society creates a futuristic setting for the competition, around twenty years in the future, and competitors must use plausible extensions of current technology in their proposals (i.e. no "cold fusion" or space elevators).

The four fictional companies vote for a company President, Vice President, and are allotted adult "CEOs", who are engineers with experience in the field, to advise them. Companies are given an RFP to which they respond in a paper and slideshow proposal which includes illustrations, diagrams, calculations, and references. On the final day, all four teams present their proposal to a panel of professional judges, generally from the aerospace industry, and must answer a series of questions regarding their proposed design.

Qualifying round[edit]

The qualifying round is known as the Space Settlement Design Competition (SSDC), regionally held twice, generally in the October and April prior to the international competition. The competition lasts 21 hours, and a few hours after the proposal presentations, the judges announce the winning team, whose members then become eligible for the international competition. A few weeks after the April qualifying round, 12 members from both rounds, which may be eight members from the October team and only four from the April team, are invited to the international competition. The President and Vice President of both of the winning October and April qualifying round teams are automatically invited back and have a say in who else from their team they wish to return.

The October and April competitions are regional for the United States, while it differs in other countries. In 2005, 2007 and 2009, regional qualifying competitions were introduced for the regions of Asia, Australia and Europe respectively. These competitions involve various tasks, ranging from vehicle design to settlement design. The arrangement of these competitions is much like that of the international finals, with teams organizing slide presentations and presenting them in front of professional judges. Before the introduction of the regional qualifying competitions, teams from these regions had to qualify through the main qualifying round.

International finals[edit]

At the international competition, held around the end of July or beginning of August, a new four companies are created, and each team from various countries is allowed to bring 12 members. Before 2006, companies were composed of two teams, but companies have since been formed with more teams and members (three qualified teams in 2009, and three qualified teams and one invited team in 2010). These companies are then given another RFP to complete a slide proposal for in 43 hours. Unlike in the qualifying round, companies are also offered "Red Team runs" on the second day of the competition, during which they have the opportunity to present their slides in front of judges prior to the final presentation for feedback.

Components of proposal[edit]

There are a total of five major sections. These sections are based on the various factors required in a colony's design and function.

  • Structure oversees the design and materials used to build the colony, as well as the overall design and allocation of interior and exterior spaces. Different structure details are included in this section; examples include the living spaces, the colony's corridors, spacecraft nodes and ports, and the sections of the colony for business or industry. The section details how the inside of the station looks like from the inside, the artificial gravity, and the method and schedule of construction. Methods of expansion and repairs are also objectives in this section.
  • Operations is where the choice and justification for the colony's location is explained. They also determine the colony's infrastructure and facilities, how different facilities are connected, and calculates on the logistics of food production, powering of the station, communications, waste management, day/night patterns and climate control. This section also projects the needs required for long-term projects, such as establishment of terraforming stations for expansion. Mining and supplies (both raw goods and agricultural) specifications are outlined in this section.
  • Human Factors designs the interior living space of the colony, making it as "Earth-like as possible". It gives the details of the colonists' needs, their education and jobs, the recreational opportunities, and available medical systems. The well-being of the colonists, from the psychological factors to the physical needs of food, housing and exercise, are determined within this section. This section also designs the community, a task which includes the zoning of residential, commercial and public facility buildings and the transportation system. The number and design of tools and spacesuits to be used in everyday use as well as in special areas (such as the zero-g or the low-g sectors of the colony) are also detailed in the Humans Factors section.
  • Automations Design and Services determines the automated factors of the station. The section must specify how robots will be used in the colony's construction, to transport people and materials, repair the colony, the computer networks, and the control of data. They design how computers will be used on the colony, how robots look like and are used, and the usage of these components during emergencies (such as solar flare, meteor impact, meteor shower, or hull fracture). This section also outlines the use of automated factors for the colony's functions.
  • Business Development is the section responsible for selling the proposal to the Foundation Society. All details of business endeavors must be described in depth, along with being connected to the overall mission of the settlement. This section is connected to other sections on matters of commercial opportunities, industrial manufacturing costs, research development, and maintenance costs.

The proposal also includes a required section entitled "Schedule and Costs," which describes the construction schedule, detailed by location and stages, and total initial cost, detailed by major section and by stage of construction. An additional section known as "Special Studies" is added only during the finals, which includes plans for emergency procedures to react to two disaster scenarios, as given by the Request For Proposal (RFP). The scenarios outlined change year-to-year.


The colonies involved in the competition appear on a regular cycle over four years, so that competitors will not have the advantage of formerly completing the same proposal personally. The colonies alternate between orbital (qualifying competition) and planetary (finals competition). The name of colonies are pre-determined, but entrants are permitted to modify the name, so long as three ground rules are followed:

  • The name must end with a suffix indicating its location. For example, Earth orbital facilities end with "-at" (at Terra), while Lunar colonies end with "-ol" (on Luna).
  • The name must begin with a letter indicating its position in the sequence of construction at each location. Alexandriat before Bellevistat, before Columbiat, etc.
  • The name must be appropriate and relevant.

Earth colonies (orbiting)

  • Alexandriat (Earth-Sun L5) - A colony built in 2024 to start construction of a solar shield at Earth-Sun L1 to slow global warming. It is now a manufacturing center and maintains the solar shield with 10,000 people. Often referred to by background information, this colony is not part of the competition cycle. Its name is based on Alexander the Great.
  • Bellevistat (Earth-Sun L4) - A second colony built as a primary heavy manufacturing center in zero gravity. It is used for in-space manufacturing. Named as a reference to the Spanish phrase, Belle Vista, or beautiful view. Qualifying competition, recurring.
  • Columbiat (Earth-Sun L5) - A third colony built as a "Singapore-in-orbit". It is also the new headquarters for the Foundation Society. This colony is meant to be the largest of the orbital colonies when it is operational in 2052. Its name originally referenced the Columbia river and its trade qualities; it now has connotations concerning the space shuttle Columbia. Qualifying competition, recurring.
  • Darwinat (Ark Ship) - The fourth Earth orbiting settlement, and the only one required to be capable of moving to another solar system as an Interstellar Ark. It was named for Charles Darwin, an English naturalist who realised and presented compelling evidence that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors. Qualifying competition, discontinued.

Lunar colonies

  • Alaskol - The first lunar colony built. It is used to supply the orbiting colonies with supplies with materials for manufacturing. It is also the center of lunar tourism, located on the near side of the moon. It was named in reference to Alaska, a hostile territory that offered many benefits to the settlers. Finals competition, recurring; 2004 cycle won by Edgewater High School in Orlando, Florida and Budha Dal Public School from Patiala, India; 2008 cycle won by Richard Montgomery High School, Durango High School, and Apeejay School (Indian team).
  • Balderol - The second lunar colony, which serves the same function as Alaskol. It is located on the far side of the moon and acts as a scientific and industrial outpost. It was named in reference to Balder, Norse god of beauty, indicating the unobstructed views from Balderol. Finals competition, recurring; 2005 cycle won by Whitney High School and Budha Dal Public School (Indian team); 2009 cycle won by the Australian Finalists (St Laurence's College, QLD; Strathmore Secondary College, VIC; St Aidan's Anglican Girls, QLD; All Hallows School, QLD), Phoenix Quintessential (Cerritos, California), Eastern European finalists (Romania) and East Chapel Hill High School (Chapel Hill, North Carolina).

Martian colonies

  • Aresam - The first colony built outside the Earth-Moon system, Aresam is a Mars orbital colony. The station acts as a port of entry to Mars and a staging area for future activities beyond and around Mars. It was named after Ares, Greek god of war, who was the archetype for the Roman god Mars. Qualifying competition, recurring.
  • Argonom - The first colony on the surface of Mars, this outpost acts as the primary outpost on Mars, focusing on tourism and industry. This colony also establishes scientific outposts. It was named for Argo, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts. Finals competition, recurring; 2006 cycle won by Whitney High School and Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg (Indian team); 2010 cycle won by Whitney High School, Lahore Grammar School (Pakistani team), East Chapel Hill High School (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), and UK Combined Schools (City of London Academy, Pate's Grammar School, and Wallington County Grammar School)
  • Bradburyom - The second colony on the surface of Mars, the colony expands on the purpose of Argonom, seeking out additional natural resources. The main intent of the colony is to act as base for the terraforming of Mars while continuing scientific studies. It was named after Ray Bradbury, in recognition of the influence The Martian Chronicles had on the modern perception of Mars. Finals competition, recurring; 2007 cycle won by Durango High School, Mircea cel Batran Student Research Center Team "B" (Romanian team), All Hallows' and St. Aidan's Schools (Australian team), and Liceo 4 Maldonado (Uruguayan team); 2016 cycle won by Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Kolkata, India, Iowa international school,Iowa, USA, Lahore Grammar School JT Boys, Pakistan, and a team from UK.

Asteroid Belt

  • Astoria - The first and, currently, only colony established in the Asteroid Belt. This station acts as a staging area for future endeavors into the outer solar system, mining and refining operations, both private and commercial, and ship construction and repair. It was named for John Jacob Astor, an investor who became wealthy by taking advantage of opportunities others did not see. Qualifying Competition, replacing Darwinat in the competition cycle, recurring; Delhi Public School RK Puram(Sum 42) from India won the 2016 edition along with Lahore Grammar School Johar Town.
  • Cassendras - Transport colony in a 50-day cycler orbit from Earth to Mars. It is the first and only one of the only fusion powered spaceships available for commercial use. It is named after Cassandra.

Mercurial colonies

  • Aynah - The first colony established in the orbital of Mercury. This station acts as a mining and refining location of a wonder-metal, Reardonium which is extracted on the Mercurial surface. It was named after Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged. This wonder metal is lightweight, strong, self-lubricating and provides protection against heat, cold and radiation.[citation needed] Such a metal's production and export is a high revenue extracting source which gives Aynah its economy. Recurring; 2017 cycle won by Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram(Team 1: Astra and Team 2: Alexiares), Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Little Flower High School, Sushila Birla Girls School, R.N.Poddar School[all from India]; LGS JT (boys), LGS 55 Main and LGS JT (girls)[all from Pakistan].
  • Anconioh - The first colony on the surface of Mercury, seen in the Asian regional semi-finals. It is a moving settlement around the terminator line, constructed for greater production of reardonium.

Venusian colonies

  • Asimov - The first colony established on Venus, floating in the atmosphere at about 56 km altitude. It was developed to experiment with the properties of reardonium and other products under Venusian conditions and for mining purposes. It was named after Isaac Asimov, whose Foundation novels gave the Foundation Society its name. The 2012 cycle was won by the Rockdonnell company, which comprised students from Romania, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

Competition sequence

The appearance of colonies is on a set cycle repeating every four years. The cycle is as follows:

Qualifying Finals
Bellevistat Alaskol
Columbiat Balderol
Aresam Argonom
Astoria (previously Darwinat) Bradburyom
Aynah Asimov


At the international competition, the company with the best proposal is "awarded the contract".

The competition organizers also recognize exceptional participants with several awards at the end of the international finals.

  • Jingle Lutz Award

This award is given in honor of the best female presenter on the final day of the competition. It originated from its namesake, who would sit at the back of competitions and take notes specifically on all the female presenters, to encourage girls to take a larger part in such competitions.

  • Best Male Presenter

The Australian team generally brings with them a plaque for the best male presenter, in response to the Jingle Lutz Award.

  • Dick Edwards Award

In honor of the competition co-founder who died in early 2009, this award was established for the best student leader from each company. The winners are chosen by advisers and company "CEOs."

External links[edit]