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A team of UCF students has been named a finalist in the NASA Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition, which aims to develop innovative technologies that further human space exploration. This is the first time a team from UCF has advanced to the final round in this competition.

The Knights will compete against 15 other collegiate teams, who will present their research at a NASA forum in Cocoa Beach this June. The team includes 19 students from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the College of Business. Mechanical engineering major Austin Hacker leads the team under the guidance of faculty members Jeff Kauffman and Kawai Kwok, and is proud of representing UCF at this event.

Being the first UCF team ever selected as a finalist is an exciting position to be in,” Hacker said. “We are quite proud of making it to the finals, but we intend to keep working hard and win the entire competition.”

A Vital Group of Finalists

The UCF team is working hard on its mission design, which is titled “Project Vitality.” They aim to autonomously develop methane on Mars, with the goal of using it for rocket fuel. Creating the fuel in space reduces the need to transport it from Earth to Mars. Ultimately, it can lighten the load of future missions or leave room for additional scientific equipment to be transported.

This project, along with the rest of the finalists, was chosen for its originality and creativity in the areas of engineering and analysis, NASA stated in a release. The steering committee, which will also judge the final projects at the forum this summer, include industry professionals from Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA.

The team has a received a $6,000 stipend to complete their proposal and presentation, and to participate in the forum. If they earn one of the top two spots, they will receive an additional stipend to present at an additional aerospace conference.

This is Hacker’s second year participating in the competition and he said the best part about it is that he always learns something new. Some of the lessons that he’s learned this year include accountability and leadership and teamwork.

“I am grateful to have a likeminded team that has been committed to putting our best foot forward,” Hacker said. “Now that we have advanced to the finals, we will have the opportunity to demonstrate our ingenuity, passion, and hard work to space industry professionals from companies such as Spaceworks, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and of course, NASA.”