By Robert Bell. On November 18, SSPI presented a cash prize to the Purdue University chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space USA for their research project, “Lunar Polar Communications Network.”  In the 2017 SSPI-SEDS USA competition, “Connecting the Space Economy,” we challenged students to envision the communications capabilities needed to support a thriving economy in Earth orbit and beyond. 

Advising the Purdue team was SSPI Mentor and Board member Ariane Cornell, Head of North American New Glenn Sales at Blue Origin, who connected them with several of the company’s engineers.  We thank them for generously donating their time and expertise to the next generation.


Purdue University Team accepting their award from Robert Bell of SSPI and Boeing’s Noelle Zietsman

Choosing the Moon

“Connecting the Space Economy” was a broad assignment that required students to select a specific set of problems to solve. The Purdue team chose to focus on supporting lunar mining. They wrote:

These lunar operations would serve as a foundation for future objectives of the space economy while also providing solutions to short-term objectives such as the acquisition of resources, the testing of new technologies and the provision of a communications hub for deep-space missions. Resources available from the lunar surface alone offer immense economic benefits while also serving to sustain surface operations. Water ice to be separated into hydrogen and oxygen propellants or melted down would be a key resource for a lunar station. The mining of asteroid remains Rare Earth Elements and metals ammonia and Helium 3 a valuable candidate for nuclear fusion could also serve to either boost terrestrial economies or enhance production on the Moon on-orbit and beyond.

A lunar base also offers the possibility of a springboard for development of the Space Economy it offers a checkpoint from which future missions and growth can be staged. It has potential as a refueling station to reduce the cost of large missions – such as in Mars exploration – and as a basis of communication∫ being virtually without atmosphere it provides a stronger and clearer point of contact for outgoing satellites and manned missions. Such a base would also serve as an invaluable research center in addition to testing new technologies and procedures for further exploration research at a lunar outpost would provide a wealth of knowledge in the sciences of astronomy astrobiology and planetary geology.

Their solution involved three satellites placed in an ingenious elliptical orbit that provided continuous connectivity between Earth and a lunar base located at the Moon’s south pole. The network would use a combination of optical and RF communications to provide very high bandwidth. The design of the satellites and other systems drew on existing technology from major manufacturers.

Team Members

The Purdue University team is made up of undergraduate engineering students at the School or Aeronautics and Astronautics and active members of the Purdue chapter of SEDS. They are:

Learn More

You can read the full report of the Purdue University team here. See a full description of the Connecting the Space Economy competition, conducted in partnership with the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.