Students Will Launch Rockets to the Edge of Space for $1 Million Prize

One new rocket challenge is encouraging diversity and offering a staggering $1 million prize.

The Base 11 Space Challenge is a brand-new competition to encourage student-led university teams to design, build and launch their own rockets. This challenge aims to dramatically advance engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and increase representation of women and minorities, according to Base 11. Aside from the $1 million grand prize, students will also be able to win smaller prizes along the way.

Each team will work to create a liquid-propelled, single-stage rocket capable of achieving a 62-mile (100 kilometers) altitude with an ultimate deadline of Dec. 30, 2021. Whichever team accomplishes this goal first will take home the $1 million prize. This altitude is the Karman line, which typically represents the boundary between Earth and space — so these student teams will be sending their rockets up to the edge of space. The launches will take place at Spaceport America in New Mexico. [Photos: Take a Tour of Spaceport America]

For increasing diversity and interest in STEM fields, "we think space can be a great example to achieve those goals," Landon Taylor, the CEO of Base 11, said in a news conference Wednesday (June 6). At this same conference, former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin discussed how increasing diversity improves problem-solving in teams.

Two students work together in the Base 11 Space Challenge. (Image credit: Base 11)

This challenge will provide students with hands-on experience, which is essential because, as Al Bunshaft, senior vice president of global affairs, Americas, for Dassault Systèmes, who is a partner of Base 11, said in the news conference, "in the real world, the answer is not in the back of the book."

With this "hands-on experience, safety is the top priority," said Michelle Murray, deputy manager of the Operation Integration Division at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in the news conference. The FAA will be working with Base 11's safety council to ensure that all Base 11 launches at Spaceport America will meet FAA requirements and focus on safety, according to Murray.

Base 11 Space Challenge participants are working hard to build their rockets. (Image credit: Base 11)

The Base 11 Space Challenge has so far garnered serious support from all corners of the space community, said in the news conference. A number of organizations from aerospace, government, and academia like Caltech, Verizon, and UCI Applied Innovation are sponsoring the competition. Leaders and innovators like Dr. Peter Diamandis, X Prize founder, and Franklin Chang Diaz, the first U.S. immigrant astronaut, have also voiced their support for the challenge.

Each phase of the competition will come with a small prize, and the first phase of submissions will be due March 2019. For this first phase, students will have to provide their preliminary designs, which will include a rocket design, a safety plan, and an outreach and diversity strategy. Following the first two phases, the students will put their creations through static fire testing, a process where the rocket's engines are fired up but the craft doesn't leave the launchpad.

Email Chelsea Gohd at or follow her @chelsea_gohd. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.