April 15, 2020

AFA's StellarXplorers Announces 2020 National Champions

The Air Force Association (AFA) announced today the National Champions of the sixth season of its StellarXplorers National High School Space Challenge. After four rounds of rigorous competition, Team "Rocket Men" of the Bergen County Technical School in Teterboro, New Jersey was crowned the 2020 National Champions.

The National Finals Competition was changed to be a virtual event in March due to COVID-19, however due to nationwide shelter in place restrictions the StellarXplorers Program Office made the decision to award the top teams from the semi-final round as the overall winners of the competition.

Of the original 213 teams from across the nation and two overseas locations, "Rocket Men," captained by Yoshiki Kakehi, posted the best total, aggregate score by just a small margin.  Second in the competition is Team "Africanized Killer Bees," the Aurora Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol team from Portland, Oregon; in third place is the team from the "Fighting Hornets" of the School of Engineering and Bioscience at Pueblo County High School in Colorado.

"AFA is delighted that each year the students competing in StellarXplorers bring excitement and passion to the competition," said AFA President, Lt Gen Bruce "Orville" Wright, USAF (Ret.). "With the creation of U.S. Space Force in December 2019, space has been rightly elevated as a key part of our nation's defense strategy, StellarXplorers is preparing the next generation of space warriors."

Over the course of the four rounds of competition, the teams were required to define orbits, select spacecraft components, and choose a launch vehicle to meet a set of mission requirements.  All the competitors exhibited and sharpened their skills in analytics and problem solving, while the more successful demonstrated exceptional teamwork and leadership.

"Space is inherently exciting. Many students often miss the interesting engineering opportunities space provides due to a lack of exposure," said Team Director, Nick Elefther.  "This is why participating in StellarXplorers has been a great experience for our students. It has provided a structure for learning along with the motivation to solve challenging problems in a competitive environment."

The USAF STEM Program provided $19,000 in educational grants to these teams.  Grants are awarded to each member of the first place, runner-up, and third place teams.

"Once again, over the course of another successful season, our competitors have shown they have the 'right stuff' to lead the future of US space," said Stephen K. Gourley, StellarXplorers program director. "We are exceptionally proud to have inspired and motivated over 3,000 students in the last six seasons to pursue education and careers in many STEM fields, not only in aerospace engineering.  Our sincere thanks go to our 2020 enabling sponsors, USAF STEM, the L3Harris Foundation, the Aerojet Rocketdyne Foundation, Rocket Lab, and SpaceX, along with our Educational Alliance of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI), Space Center Houston, and Coyote Enterprises Inc. (CEI)."

StellarXplorers is an AFA program aimed at inspiring students to pursue education and careers in STEM fields using space system engineering. To date, almost half of the participants are under-represented minorities; over a third are female, a testament to the exciting and engaging nature of space and the competition.

Registration is currently planned to open 1 May for teams of 12 to 18-year-old students for the seventh season (2020-21 academic year) with Finals scheduled to be held in Colorado Springs, CO. To learn more about this program, visit StellarXplorers' website.