UK Space Design Competition

OIC student Ollie Chan writes about taking part in the 2017 UK Space Design Competition and the difficulties and challenges of designing a space mining camp on Mercury to send metal back to Earth.

Waking up early on a Saturday morning, I went along to find out what the UK Space Design Competition involved. After an enthusiastic yet terrifying speech from a past UKSDC winner, everyone was bombarded with jargon, ideas, considerations, different company names and papers. We were quickly assigned into our teams. I was part of "Grumbo Aerospace" and our mission was to build a mining camp on Mercury and send the metal back to Earth. Sounds fun.

Our group started off by dividing people up into teams with different specialties: structural engineering, operations, human engineering and finally automations. We started off by bouncing around ideas and discussing the mission, what was the situation and what we needed to do to get started. Going through the list of things everyone needed to do was daunting, but all we wanted to do was jump into action and get started. There was a lot of confusion about the specifics of our mission, such as where on Mercury will our mining colony be built, what are the conditions like there and, most difficult of all, how do we get started?

Thankfully, we had incredibly helpful undergraduates and former students of Yasmin Sarwar's to guide us on our way: Sakeena Abbas, currently studying Medicine at Sheffield, Tiger who is studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, as well as Danel who is currently studying Biomedical Sciences at Imperial College.

When everyone split off into their specialties, I bounced around each group to help organise themselves and help formulate their ideas. My job was to make sure everyone was on the same page, but coordinating ten other group members proved to be a challenge. There were many conflicting ideas and suggestions, everyone was getting confused with all the information they needed to retain. One example of this was our plans to get electricity using geothermal plants, but several members kept insisting that using solar panels was preferable. We overcame this issue by hosting hourly meetings to discuss everyone's progress and work, as well as to brainstorm new suggestions. Fortunately this really helped our team work better and more efficiently because visualising our progress made research a lot easier.

Before our meeting with Tiger, we rushed to fill in the framework of slides for our presentation. At this point in time, Human Engineering was struggling to formulate a plan for the two hundred settlers on the planet, like how should roles be split up in the mining camp, will there be law enforcement or an education system, and how long will the astronauts be stationed on the planet. I decided that the best course of action will be to come up with a list of tasks and questions for Tiger. After the meeting, we had a very heated discussion over whether the citizens should be given the option to have children, so as a compromise, we settled on providing them with a nursery in the event that they do decide to have children. I found the meeting with Tiger very resourceful because once that speed bump was behind us we were able to pick ourselves back onto our feet and continue working.

At our 7pm mark, we still had a few problems sorting out costs and the links between the different departments. There were challenges with the water situation and this is when we started subcontracting from different departments. This was quite an easy solution to a small problem because it was easier to let another company sort out the issues for us. If I repeated this competition another time, I would make sure to get as many sub-contracts as possible to start crossing oft problems and scenarios we won't need to sort out. After this, most of the theory had been sorted out and we were ready to fill in the PowerPoint.

At our 3am mark, we were all ready to crash. Most of the PowerPoint had been filled in and we were ready to go 'comatose'. We've begun drawing floor plans and designs for the base but we were still falling behind schedule. After one final meeting and agreeing to wake up at 8am to continue our project, we all went into blissful sleep.

When it was our time to present, I did my best to motivate everyone, telling them that it was time to show the effort we put into twenty hours of work. And in the end I believe that we did as well as we could have done. To reflect, there were a couple of spelling errors and mistakes that could have been avoided, if I were to repeat this experience again I will ensure that these mistakes do not occur. I would also make sure that our team was better prepared and ready to tackle the PowerPoint. Overall I think that I had a very fun time being part of my team, Grumbo, and I believe that I have the skills to take upon similar challenges as a result.

OIC Students at the UK Space Design Competition from Oxford International College on Vimeo.

About the UK Space Design Competition:

The UK Space Design Competition is a science and engineering challenge designed as a simulation of life in industry.Teams are given a list of requirements for a space settlement, and have a day to come up with a detailed design which they present to a panel of judges who include experts in the field and representatives of the UK Space Agency.UKSDC is open to secondary and sixth form students (Years 10 – 13) in the UK, and entry to the competition is via video and regional events. Winning teams from these entry points take part in a residential competition weekend hosted by Imperial College London, and may go from there to the international final at a NASA space center. The aim of the competition is to provide students with the chance to take part in a design simulation that exposes them to the joys and challenges of working in a large industrial team.

Wednesday 8th November 2017

Published by: Oxford International College

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