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The Madison Record

Jets StellarXplorers claim national championship

MADISON – The Jets StellarXplorers team persevered to surpass the other top ten teams to claim the championship at National Finals of StellarXplorers, the National High School Space Challenge. 

The Jets competed with 215 other high school teams from coast to coast in Colorado Springs, Colo. on April 10-14. “Their solution was bold and not foreseen as possible by the judges, who called it ‘brilliant,'” co-sponsor and engineering teacher David Frederick said. Math teacher Krista Givens also co-sponsors.

Jet team members are Chris Day, Ryan Dunn, Jared Gibson, Rosemary Lach and Cade Sparks. They combined their strengths to solve real-world mission scenarios using analytic skills and problem solving. Each team member received a $3,000 scholarship.

StellarXplorer teams encourage high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM. The teenagers tackle the challenging competition in space system design, involving all aspects of system development and operation with a spacecraft/payload focus.

In 2015, five freshmen organized the Jets StellarXplorers team; four of them played on the 2019 team. James Clemens has competed in the finals for three years. A second team formed this year and advanced to national quarter-finals.

Teams received a self-contained academic/education component for online access as a curriculum supplement. They trained for system simulation software (Systems Tool Kit).

At the finals, students received an in-person, 30-minute brief for their satellite challenge. They then had eight hours to devise the best possible solution possible under numerous constraints, like physics, weight, costs and space law.

James Clemens designed a satellite to monitor the South Pole Ozone hole and equipped it with sensors, batteries, fuel and communication devices. They calculated proper orbit, coordinated with the International Space Station.

They selected the optimum site and vehicle for launch while satisfying weight and budget constraints. Their solution had to provide values for the entire flight — rocket launch, orbit, on-board equipment and fuel. Cost overruns resulted in large penalties.

The next day, students faced judges and official scorers to explain their research, solution and defense of any criticisms. They also took a 10-question quiz.

Before the finals, competitors visited the Air Force Academy to view a cadet-run satellite construction and operations center, Space Symposium industry exposition and a reception hosted by United Launch Alliance. Space Foundation headquarters hosted the event.

No prerequisites apply for prospective members of StellarXplorers. The learning experience develops commercially valuable skills and increases appreciation for the critical role of space. “Students interested in working on STEM-type problems in a team environment will absolutely enjoy the StellarXplorers experience,” Frederick said.

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