The Base 11 Space Challenge, with a US$1 million launch prize, is not your typical challenge competition, it’s much more.
The new U.S. based competition open to Canadians, and designed to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers, is being billed as the largest-ever student space competition.
The Base 11 Space Challenge will award prizes in excess of $1 million during the competition that must be completed by December 30, 2021.
The challenge? Student-led university teams must design, build and launch a liquid-propelled, single-stage rocket to an altitude of 100 km (the Karman Line edge of space).
Besides the technical difficulties the teams will face, they must also overcome the financial challenges in designing, building and launching their rockets.
Compton is a small city in south-central Los Angeles County with a working class population and was one of the locations where the 1992 Rodney King riots took place.
The unveiling of the Base 11 Space Challenge on June 6 took place at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton. The location choice was not by accident.
To understand why this challenge came to be and why the event was held in Compton you need to understand what Base 11 is.
Base 11, a U.S. 501c3 non-profit founded in 2009, describes itself as a “workforce and entrepreneur development company” with a focus on high-potential, low-resource college and high school students. They accomplish this by deploying a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) accelerator model in collaboration with their partners from industry, academia and philanthropy.
Their leader, and the person that provides the vision, is Landon Taylor, a self-described corporate strategist. Landon’s Base 11 profile says he “strives to balance his affinity for capitalism with his commitment to human development and economic empowerment for underserved communities.”
The newly announced Space Challenge is just one of the activities Base 11 is currently undertaking. One of their goals set in 2015, which the Space Challenge will contribute to, is getting 11,000 students by 2020 into their Victory Circle. A student enters the Victory Circle when they are either admitted to a four-year university STEM program, or employed in a well-paying STEM job or become a STEM entrepreneur.
In his opening remarks Landon said “many people ask me the question, why Compton, why would you launch in Compton, I mean, I see the people have like, yeah I asked him that why Compton, you could have done it at one of your aerospace companies, you could have done it at one of the elite universities you partnered with, but we said we want to walk the talk, we want to demonstrate an example of our commitment to bring access and awareness to students from all backgrounds, especially students from under represented communities.”
He then went on to say “at Base 11, one of our core strategies is to break down the silos that exist between academia, industry, philanthropy and government. We want to break down silos so that we can can work together towards this common goal of accelerating high potential, low resource students into the victory circle so that they can achieve this goal of 1) being admitted to a four-year studying a stem major 2) getting hired in a well-paced job, and I’m looking at my buddy at SpaceX (in the audience) 3) for them to get trained as STEM entrepreneurs. And so we create those opportunities to break those silos down and today’s event is another example of doing that.”
The goals of Base 11 are admirable, and by announcing the event in Compton the way they did, speaks to walking the talk. But what does this have to do with Canadian participation? Nothing.
Base 11 is a U.S. non-profit whose mandate doesn’t extend to Canada. So why are Canadian universities participating?
HeroX is a crowdsourcing platform company that was born from the XPRIZE Foundation’s Ansari XPRIZE and is one of the sponsors of the Base 11 Space Challenge. As a sponsor they are providing the crowdsourcing platform.
According to HeroX, “in 2011, City Light Capital partnered with XPRIZE to envision a platform that would make the power of incentive challenges available to anyone. The result was the spin-off of HeroX in 2013.”
Founders of HeroX include Peter Diamandis, Emily Fowler and Christian Cotichini.
HeroX is based out of Vancouver and the CEO is Christian Cotichini and therein lies the Canadian connection. It was Cotichini and Base 11 Space Challenge safety expert Adam Trumpour who asked that Canadian universities, community colleges and high school students be allowed to participate.
According to Diane Murphy, spokesperson for the Base 11 Space Challenge, when approached by HeroX to have Canadian participation they evaluated the request and concluded “it was a good fit.”
Students can thank HeroX for making the approach on behalf of Canadian students. It is an opportunity that can’t be minimized, especially given that this specific type of opportunity doesn’t exist in Canada.
It does come with a caveat though. Some of the Canadians who go through the challenge and want to pursue a career in rocketry will have to leave Canada to achieve that dream. At least for now.
There’s a growing Canadian student led movement to get student rocketry and eventually launch capability developed at home, rather than having to leave the country.
Registration for the Base 11 Space Challenge opened up on June 6. Currently there are four Canadian teams that have officially submitted their documents to participate. They are the University of Toronto, University of Victoria, University of Concordia, and McGill University. Also interested in participating are Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
The, up to six Canadian teams, are currently joined by 10 U.S. teams. Teams have until September 28 to register. There will no doubt be many more who join.
Base 11 will distribute US$1.15 million inprizes during the competition as outlined below. Along with these prizes there will be intermittent pop-up challenges with a total of US$50K in funding available. The first pop-up challenge was announced at the unveiling. A prize of US$2500 was announced for the competition logo.
Major sponsors of the challenge include Dassault Systèmes, SpacePort America and HeroX. Companies providing mentors include Boeing, SpaceX and SpinLaunch, though SpaceQ was told more will be joining.
Updated at 10:00 p.m. ET: Adam Trumpour was a key contributor in having the competition opened up to Canadian participation.