Frequently Asked Questions

RASC-AL program staff will respond to questions presented by eligible student and faculty from accredited colleges and universities in the United States (and international team participants formally affiliated with a US-based university team).


An open Q&A Session was held on October 31, 2019 for the 2020 RASC-AL Competition.
Teams are encouraged to thoroughly review the Summary Document of the Q&A session, which can be accessed by clicking on the button below.


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A Q&A Session for the 2020 Competition will be held on October 31, 2019. To submit questions for the Q&A session, please click below.

Who is eligible to participate in RASC-AL?

RASC-AL has graduate and undergraduate competition divisions.
Students studying in any major related to the RASC-AL topics (generally science, medicine, engineering, technology, or mathematics) are most fitted to the challenge.
Students must be enrolled in an accredited U.S.-based university program may participate.
Students and faculty advisors from community colleges are also eligible to participate.
Please visit the Eligibility section on the Competition Basics Page for full eligibility requirements.

A team is classified as an “undergraduate team” if the majority of the student members are undergraduate students. Similarly, a team is classified as a “graduate team” if the majority of the student members are graduate students.

Are international students allowed to participate?

Yes, as long as they are affiliated/partnering with a US university. Neither NASA nor NIA provide assistance in matching foreign universities with US-universities. All teams must establish themselves independently.

Who judges the competition?

The forum competition is judged by a subset of the RASC-AL Steering Committee. The exact make up is dependent upon scheduling and availability.

Can multiple teams from the same university submit different proposals to compete in the RASC-AL competition?

Yes, multiple teams from the same university can submit separate proposals for the RASC-AL competition, and multiple teams from the same university may move on to the next round of the competition if their proposals merit selection into the program.

Our team consists of students from multiple universities. Do we need an advisor from each university?

No. Joint teams (one team comprised of students from different universities working on a single paper) may share an advisor from the lead institution, or have multiple advisors.

However, one of the universities must be designated as the “lead” university. The primary point-of-contact advisor must come from the lead university, and all correspondence would occur through that advisor and the team lead. The joint team will receive one stipend (the same as if the team were from a single university), and it will be sent to the lead institution. It is up to the lead institution to determine how the stipend will be distributed.

Remember, though, that the university faculty advisor is not intended just to be a chaperone. Ideally, the advisor would serve as a true mentor/guide for your project, as we’ve discovered teams always do much better when the faculty advisor is really involved in the project. RASC-AL is not limited to just a student project…faculty are able to contribute as much as they’d like.

Have any of the past participants been able to successfully translate their RASC-AL experience into a professional interaction with NASA on design projects?

Absolutely.

Can team members participate in RASC-AL again for the 2nd or 3rd time if they have previous RASC-AL experiences with a similar topic?

Yes, we will allow team members to participate with previous experiences on the same/similar topic. However, the judges clearly indicated that they do not want to see a “recycling” of ideas from the previous year. They want to see revolutionary, new ideas for that topic. As one Steering Committee said: “After all, it’s not revolutionary if it’s been used before, right?”

Is it possible to bring in additional team members, after the proposal is accepted?

Yes, absolutely. We understand that sometimes things change between the time proposals were submitted and the time the written report is due. We just ask that you list every person who contributed to your project in the final report.

Is industry collaboration, either formally or informally, allowed?

Yes, industry collaboration is certainly acceptable – and encouraged! The RASC-AL competitions are unique university competitions, because they focus on garnering real ideas and concepts that can be incorporated into NASA Human Exploration Operations planning. RASC-AL teams that perform well are often ones that have true support of their faculty advisors and collaborations with industry. We encourage your team to utilize all of the resources you have at your disposal to submit a top-notch proposal response to one of the four RASC-AL themes.

To what depth should our structural systems be analyzed? How much FEM should we provide with our report?

Detailed FEM is probably not needed unless for some key enabling infrastructure. What do you need to assess to develop accurate technology development road maps and associated costs?

How is the video scored for the proposal submission? Should the video place more of an emphasis on the technical aspects of our design, or perhaps emphasize creativity and innovation?

The videos themselves will not actually be scored – but they are a valuable tool for you to use in ANY way that will help the judges more fully understand concepts you address in your proposal.

Example of how the video can be of benefit to you:
We found that in the past, the judges had trouble visualizing certain systems (water recycling systems, for example) as described in the proposal, and may have marked the proposalss down as a result. By providing them with a video, however, teams have the opportunity to provide animation, 3-D cad models, etc. that provide a better view of their designs. This allows the judges to then better understand the way the water recycling system actually works.

The video requirement is ultimately meant to give your team another way to convey information to the judges in a way that is most beneficial to your team. How you want to do that, and what content to include, is completely up to you.

Does the video section of the proposal submission have to include a live appearance of all team members, or is a picture of the entire team acceptable?

A photo of the team members incorporated into the video is fine. Individual photos are also acceptable.

When and where will this year's Forum be held?

The 2020 RASC-AL Forum will be held June 15-18, 2020 in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Do I have to cover the costs of participating in RASC-AL?

Each team will receive a monetary award to facilitate full participation in the RASC-AL Forum.

Do I have to attend the entire RASC-AL Forum?

Yes, the expectation is that all RASC-AL participants will be at the Forum for the entire duration. It is so important to the overall competition that the judges have actually incorporated participation in all Forum events as part of the evaluation process – it is part of each team’s overall score.

For 2019 forum planning purposes, all RASC-AL participants need to plan on arriving to the RASC-AL Forum no later than 7:30 a.m. on the first day of the forum and remaining through the dinner awards ceremony on the last day of the forum. There will also be an optional early registration and networking event the evening before the first day of the forum.

Is the RASC-AL Forum open to the public?

The event in Cocoa Beach is not open to the public. Family/friends, however, are allowed to attend the RASCAL Forum, but only for your team’s specific presentation. The RASC-AL Forum has a very full schedule, and participants are encouraged to take advantage of any free time to develop their network by getting to know their fellow competitors, as well as the guest speakers and NASA and NIA representatives. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage in conversations with NASA and industry experts, and many students have received job/internship offers from conversations that took place during these networking times.

Although we certainly welcome family/friends during the presentation, we want the participants to be focused on the RASC-AL Forum activities instead of visiting with their friends and families. Please ask any visitors to be mindful of this if they decide to attend. Please notify Stacy Dees with the names of any friends/family members who will be viewing your presentation.

Why does my advisor have to attend the forum?

One Faculty Advisor is required to attend the Forum with each undergraduate team, and is a condition for acceptance into the RASC-AL Competition. Advisors can provide guidance and insight into the team's decisions, as well as acting as a primary contact point between the RASC-AL coordinators and the universities.

Undergraduate teams who do not have a faculty advisor present at the RASC-AL Forum will be disqualified from competing and participation awards will be subject to return to NIA.

Graduate teams are not required to bring a Faculty Advisor with them to the Forum. However, they may bring one if they so choose.

My university is sending more than one team to the RASC-AL Forum. Can one faculty advisor serve all the teams, or does each team have to have a separate faculty advisor?

One faculty advisor can represent multiple teams from the same university.

What are the responsibilities of the advisor of the team if the team gets through the proposal phase?

The faculty advisor does not have many responsibilities until the team is accepted into the final stage of the competition (after the mid-project review). Then, he/she will need to responsibility for accepting the stipend, submitting any university paperwork we require for the competition, and working with the university to make travel arrangements for the team to attend the RASC-AL Forum. The advisor also ensures that teams submit their deliverables by the established deadlines and that Forum registration and payment is conducted on time. Each team must also have a faculty advisor attend the Forum with them (you can share the faculty advisor with another RASC-AL team from your university).

Can we have a technical mentor from NASA who is only there to advise us if we had questions on our project. but still have a mentor from one of our team members universities to act as the chaperone for the competition if it comes to it?

As long as your NASA advisor is in no way affiliated with RASC-AL and he/she is NOT a part of the Systems Analysis and Concepts Division (SACD) at Langley (the team who funds/supports RASC-AL), you may work with a technical mentor with NASA in addition to your faculty advisor.

Remember, though, that the university faculty advisor is not really intended just to be a chaperone. Instead, they are required to receive the stipend and follow university protocol to handle travel for each team to the Forum. Ideally, the advisor would serve as a true mentor/guide for your project, as we’ve discovered teams always do much better when the faculty advisor is really involved in the project. RASC-AL is not limited to just a student project…faculty are able to contribute as much as they’d like.

Can a post-doc serve as an advisor for our team?

A post-doc can serve as your official advisor, as long as he/she is employed by the university and can manage a stipend in an official capacity behalf of your team.

What is the maximum number of students who can participate on a RASC-AL team?

There is no maximum. However, if your team is selected to attend the Forum, we will need to know if you plan to bring more than 12 team members.

Can we have a mixed team consisting of undergraduate and graduate level students?

Yes, there can be a mix of levels within a team. We categorize an “undergraduate team” as one having a majority of team members who are undergraduates. (Similarly, a “graduate team” has a majority of students who are graduate students.)

If a student graduates in December, can they still participate in the competition and attend the forum?

Yes, as long as they were students during the Fall semester when you begin working on the project. If they are an undergraduate moving on to graduate level work, they may still compete as part of an undergraduate team without changing the team's status.

Is more than one faculty advisor per team allowed?

Yes.

The website indicates that the Technical Paper has to be between 10-15 pages and that references and appendixes do not count towards the page minimum. Does that mean they do count towards the maximum page count or are the still excluded from that as well?

Cover page, table of contents, references and appendices are excluded as a part of your page limitations. They do not count toward the minimum or the maximum page limitations. However, please note that appendices are to be used ONLY for references.

How in-depth do we need to go into our cost estimates?

The judges understand that teams may not have access to industry or government-level costing tools, and so they will be expecting a level of fidelity reachable with publicly available resources. Please visit the Resources page and click the “Learn More” button under Costing for some resources.

Students can also request access to NASA’s PCEC (Project Cost Estimating Capability), which should be another useful resource.

Are there specific requirements, guidelines, and/or a rubric that addresses which information should be included in each submission?

There are no specific guidelines or requirements for what you should include in each submission. Just make sure that for all submissions you address all aspects of the theme your team chooses, and understand that the judges will be evaluating the submissions based on the criteria listed on the Requirements & Forms page.

Additionally, final technical papers of past RASC-AL winners are listed in the Archives for reference.

What are the methods that NASA uses for projecting future TRL and tech capabilities, and can we make any similar projections for technologies we incorporate into our design?

NASA uses expert opinion to estimate TRLs and maturation of future capabilities. You are free to make your own projections for technologies available in the future, but you must be able to justify and defend your projections.

May we assume that currently planned missions will happen and that we can use their findings, and what level of flight readiness makes them suitable for consideration? (eg. Lunar Flashlight)

Currently “budgeted” missions can be leveraged and you can leverage their findings

My team is looking to commercialize a concept, but we'd also like to submit it to RASC-AL. Can my team still compete when we are already working on commercializing with this particular concept?

Yes, you may form a team of other students and an advisor from your university to support the work and compete in RASC-AL with this concept. However, the minute you submit a proposal to the competition, your idea will be public. Any information conveyed through the RASC-AL competition will be made available for public review and should not include proprietary information.

For the South Pole Multi-Purpose Rover: Is there a constraint on the overall size of the rover?

There is not a fixed size constraint for the rover. However, teams need to keep in mind that the rover will be delivered on a lander being developed in the next few years, so they should keep in mind the capabilities of commercial lunar lander concepts in considering the geometry of their design. The rover would not be delivered on the human class lander, but perhaps a CLPS landing in the 300 to 500-kg range with a smaller than 5-meter fairing.