We invite you to join us for a Q&A session on Monday, October 23rd at 3:30 PM EST.
Dial in Number: 1-844-467-6272
Passcode: 618481
Please use the button below to submit questions for the Q&A session.
Deadline to submit questions is 9:00 AM EST on Friday, October 20th.

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?

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.

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 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 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 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.