By Robert Bell

In movies like The Martian, the brave explorers descending on Mars are always people.  But the real first Martian explorers have been robots in orbit and on the surface.  Even when we finally get to the point of human flights to Mars, one thing is certain: satellite technology will play a critical role in observation and providing dependable communications with Earth.

Earlier this year, SSPI launched a joint project with the Students for the Education and Development of Space (SEDS).  It was a competition for student teams to develop detailed technical and cost plans for putting communications satellites into orbit around Mars to support exploration and colonization. 


Eleven Teams Learn the Satellite Trade

We were looking for new ideas – but more importantly, we were looking to use the hot-and-heavy interest in Mars these days to excite students about the satellite business.  Even the most space-crazed young people hardly know that our robust, profitable business exists or that they can start a career in it.  Student competitions are a good way to change that reality. 

Eleven student teams from US universities signed up for the competition. SSPI assembled its own team of Mentors to advise each student team; you can follow this link to see the complete list.  Five teams made it to the finish line with completed reports, which our team of Mentors reviewed and rated.  And on Saturday, November 14 at SpaceVision 2015, I had the privilege of presenting cash awards to three student teams:


University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Chris Lorenz, team leader

First prize


University of Central Florida

Diego Ospina, team leader

Second prize


University of Michigan

Robert Gitten, team leader

Third prize


In coming articles, I will share the highlights of their proposed missions to Mars, share video interviews with the teams, and provide a link to download the full reports.