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).

A Q&A Session for the 2018 Competition was held on Monday, October 23rd. To view a transcript from the 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.

NEW THIS YEAR: 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.

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


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 abstract is accepted?

Yes, absolutely. We understand that sometimes things change between the time abstracts 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 abstract 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 abstract 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 abstract.

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 abstract, and may have marked the abstracts 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 abstract 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 2017 RASC-AL Forum will be held May 31-June 2, 2017 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 2016 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 Tuesday, June 21st and remaining through the dinner awards ceremony on Thursday, June 23rd. There will also be an optional early registration and networking event on Monday, June 20th in the evening.

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 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.

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.

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.

Are we allowed to have the same advisor as the advisor of a team who we pair with for the competition?

No – unless that mentor is also a faculty member at your university. Each team must have a faculty member from a university attended by at least one of the student team members. Joint teams (one team comprised of students from different universities working on a single paper) may share an advisor from the lead institution.

What are the responsibilities of the advisor of the team if the team gets through the abstract 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 full-time 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?


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, Compliance Matrix, and appendices are excluded as a part of your 15 page total limit. They do not count toward the minimum or the maximum page limitations. However, please note that Appendices are to be used ONLY for references.

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

For theme 1 & 2: The theme states that the propulsion stage must use no more than 750 kW BOL solar arrays. Does that array power limit apply to the overall system or only the propulsive stage?

The 750 kW limit applies to the overall system (both propulsion and habitat) in both Themes 1 and 2.

For themes 1 and 2: The theme description states "Launched partially fueled on a block 1A SLS, or partially fueled with the baseline habitat (~20 t without logistics) on a block 2B SLS." Does this mean our design can pick either SLS 1 or SLS 2 to launch on, or must we be compatible with both?

You team can choose either the SLS 1 or 2 to launch on.

For themes 1 and 2: The prompt for Theme 1 tells us to launch on either block 1A SLS or block 2B, but the prompt for Theme 2 mentions block 1A and block 1B. Can you clarify?

We have corrected this error on our themes page. Both prompts should refer to Block 1A and 2B.

For the Lunar Polar Sample Return Architecture Theme: Are you only looking for water to be returned to and from the moon? And then would that be ice or liquid water if that is the case?

The initial intent would be to bring back soil/regolith/ice samples obtained from rovers on the lunar surface from the lunar surface to the gateway, then from the gateway to Earth via the Orion spacecraft for scientific analysis. If a larger transfer capability were developed, one could explore the idea of sending lunar derived propellants or water if it made economic sense or as a technology demonstrator. A larger capability (block 2) could also be used to deploy rovers/infrastructure/spare parts to the lunar surface. So the focus of the block 1 capability is sample return, block 2 is up to you, but should address a need that cannot be addressed better by some other solution.

Lunar Polar Sample Return Architecture: As far as timeline, is the year 2029 a deadline for block 2 to be ready for deployment and operation? Also since it says we are restricted to one launch, is this one launch for block 1 and one for block 2?

Yes block one and block two would be on different launch vehicles. You tell us when block 2 makes sense for your scenario. Just to clarify, that means the 2029 date is for the Block 1, not the Block 2. It’s up to each team to tell us when they can reasonably do Block 2.

For the Lunar Polar Sample Return Architecture: Where can we find more information on the DSG?

We suggest that you use the NASA Technical Report Server to look up papers concerning the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) by Ryan Whitely and Roland Martinez (both with NASA).

Additionally, you can view this chart on the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) provided by the Steering Committee.

For the Lunar Polar Sample Return Architecture: The requirements say, "The Block 1 ascent transfer vehicle shall be no heavier than 5000 kg in total wet mass on the lunar surface." Does that mass include the mass of the rover as well, or only the ascent transfer vehicle?

The mass limitation refers only the ascent transfer vehicle itself, not any of the systems that are staying behind on the lunar surface.

For the Lunar Polar Sample Return Architecture: Is there a reason we are unable to refuel at the DSG before going to the surface?

This is the difference between block one and block two. Block one is direct, block 2 comes from the DSG, and as you mention, refueling would be a good feature.

For the Lunar Polar Sample Return Architecture There: Could you define "scaleable?"

Scalable refers to being able to expand/extend the system used for the Block 1 mission to being able to complete the Block 2 mission. So, it’s important to show the designs for each Block, however much they want to do trades at a range of design points.

For the Reusable Hybrid Propulsion Stage: We would like to compliment our RASC-AL project (a reusable hybrid propulsion stage for future trips to Mars) by including wants and needs from the "customer's" standpoint. Are there any recommendations or things that have failed in the past that need to be improved?

Heritage/SOA human spaceflight systems typically have the following characteristics that need to be improved drastically to enable sustainable Mars missions:

  1. System reliability: If a critical failure were to occur on the ISS, the crew can abort the mission and return back to Earth – not an option on a Mars mission
    System maintainability: Typically humans spend most of their mission time maintaining the spacecraft, this will not be possible on a Mars mission where the transport is in orbit and the crew is on the surface. Spare parts also make the largest portion of the logistics for a crewed Mars mission (larger than crew consumables) so significant improvements in commonality, board level repair and inset part manufacturing will be required.
  2. Autonomy: Current human missions have thousands of people back on Earth supporting them. This is both a cost driver and a potential risk due to communication delays between Earth and Mars. The transport needs to be operated completely independent from ground control on Earth, and the vehicle needs to be smart enough to detect impending problems before they manifest them selves
  3. Affordability: The current NASA approach spares no cost when it comes to keeping the crew safe and assuring mission success. New programmatic and procurement practices need to be implemented that maintains the level of safety and mission success while addressing affordability.
  4. Architecture: Previous Mars mission architectures have tried to launch a large vehicle in a few heavy lift launches to minimize the complexity of in-space operations at the expense of needing those same heavy lift vehicles. This causes issues with respect to affordability as well as launch sequencing, which creates schedule risk that can further compound the affordability problem.
For the Reusable Hybrid Propulsion Stage: Can we assume that the interface used between the mars rover and our stage is the same international docking system standard or should we be designing how it attaches?

Yes, you can assume the IDSS, as the payload will be delivered to cis-lunar, dock with the propulsion stage (via IDSS), and then the stage can take it to Mars.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Can an external system initiate the Artificial Gravity?

Sure, but how do you stop the artificial G for refueling, docking or maintenance?

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Can you elaborate on this statement: “…can also transport (separately) a fully burdened Mars lander (~50 t) to a Mars 5-sol orbit, and return (stage only) back to cis-lunar space so the stage can be reused." Does it mean a separate mission? Or does it mean the spaceship will carry humans and a lander at the same time?

Separate mission without the habitat (dual use for cargo missions)

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Will humans go on the lander and land on Mars, or is the lander intended for a robotic mission?

The mass given is for a human lander, but the 50t to Mars is the real driver in sizing your system, however there will be no need for artificial G on the cargo mission

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: What does it mean by “...(stage only) back to cis lunar space”?

The stage returns to cis-lunar space so it can be reused again, the payload stays at Mars

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: What is the percentage of mission time when Artificial Gravity will be turned on? 51%? 90%?

You tell us what makes sense and back it up with data

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Is there a tolerance for the artificial gravity acceleration or do we define it?

There is plenty of research out there on what is tolerable to humans. Do not make it up, research and justify it.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Are we designing the hybrid propulsive stage as well?

Yes, you have to design the transportation system, with more emphasis on how the propulsion system works on an artificial g transport, including how much propellant it needs. We have provided a mass for the habitat and its logistics, but it is up to you to come up with the masses of the propulsion systems and the propellant.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: How much modification can be done to the Baseline Habitat? If we wanted to alter/split/reshape the habitat, would that be permitted?

Yes it would be permitted, but note that if it does get heavier than the numbers provided for the habitat, your design will be challenged.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Does the 49t thrust requirement for the propulsive stage include the mass of the propulsive stage itself?

You are not restricted on the propulsion system mass, only the habitat's mass.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Are teams limited to one Baseline Habitat or can we use multiple?

Your total habitation system can weigh no LESS than the allocation given, but if you want to split it up for configuration purposes, and take the associated mass penalties, then document what those penalties are and show us your configuration.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: In our abstract, how much should we describe the habitat subsystems? I've read through the baseline habitat report on the theme page of the website and see that it is quite expansive. Should we include assumptions that are included in the baseline habitat report (thermal, radiation, consumables, etc.) or can we skip over those and only cover our modifications to the baseline habitat in our abstract?

You can use the provided documentation as a basis and just describe the required enhancements/changes.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: How much consideration should we give to the life support subsystem in our architecture?

You can assume that the allocation for the DST habitat and logistics covers all your life support needs

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: How much will our subsystems (power, guidance/navigation, life support, etc.) overlap with the habitat module?

The habitat will need to draw most of its power (around 25kw) from the propulsion system, as stated above, all life support is handled by the habitat, avionics could be shared between the two, but that would mean they could not operate independent from each other

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Do we have to worry about inter-satellite link and ground station sizing?

No, assume its covered, assume an antenna/comm strategy for your propulsion stage, but high data rate is not really a requirement

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Do we have a particular orbit we will be starting in? Right now we are assuming that it ranges from anywhere in LEO to Lunar Orbit.

To maintain a valid comparison, start with a lunar distant high Earth orbit (LDHEO) consistent with the EMS documentation. If you can find a departure orbit that works better from an integrated architecture perspective, show the trade and educate us!

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Does the habitat mass limit include the entire transport system excluding the actual propulsion stage, or only the baseline habitat itself? If we wanted to add some structural components external to the actual baseline habitat, would they be included in the 49t habitat limit?

The mass of the baseline habitat is not an upper limit. Rather, it is the minimum value we expect your habitat to be. Implementing artificial gravity will not reduce the mass below this limit and any mass statement for the artificial gravity habitat that has a lower mass would not be considered credible. Instead, we want to know how much mass you add to make the habitat capable of artificial gravity.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Do we have to consider the Mars lander that is mentioned in theme 1?

Follow the same requirements mentioned in Theme 1, which separates the habitat transport and the lander transport. While you do not have to transport the 50 t lander with the habitat, your propulsion system must be capable of delivering said 50 t lander separately (as in, another copy of your propulsion system besides the one carrying the artificial gravity habitat has enough capability to deliver a 50 t lander).

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: If we intend to use SLS Block 1B or Block 2 that comes with the cargo ship, is there a limit for the amount of times the cargo can be taken up or is there only one launch for each, the crew and the cargo?

The fewer the better, but there are no restrictions on how the deep space transport is aggregated and provisioned.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: We couldn't find information on the design thrust that the craft will undergo during the trip. For example, the maximum thrust numbers that the engines will be producing during the trip. Could you point us in the right direction?

During launch on the SLS, plan on Handling 3G loads in the fairing during launch and chemical burn through TLI.

After the chemical upper stage separates, the thrust depends on the engines you select. For the NASA hybrid transport, max thrust during chemical burns was limited to 0.1 G to minimize impacts on the large solar arrays.

For the Artificial Gravity Reusable Crewed Deep Space Transport Theme: Are we allowed to stage the deployment of our spacecraft?

Yes, you can stage the deployment of the spacecraft for buildup (it does not have to come up on a single rocket), and you can preposition consumables at the destination for the trip home, but the spaceship propulsion system and habitat must be available for reuse for the next mission.

For the Reusable Hybrid Propulsion Stage: Can you clarify what the mass limit of the propulsion system actually is?

The 43 t limit is a floor; any redesign of the habitat should not cause the mass to go below 43 t. The transportation system should be capable of transporting a 50 t lander as an alternative payload to the habitat.