International competition on asteroid and space debris launched

Earth and Space

An international research network, exploring solutions to asteroids and space debris, has announced a competition for students and researchers around the world.

The EU H2020 MCSA ETN Stardust-Reloaded (Stardust-R) led by Prof Massimiliano Vasile at the University of Strathclyde, has launched the Andrea Milani Challenge in collaboration with the European Space Agency’s Advanced Concepts Team (ESA ACT).

Teams are invited to address two problems in the fields of asteroid deflection and space debris monitoring and detection. The problems are closely linked to urgent global challenges.

Professor Massimiliano Vasile, Director of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and coordinator of Stardust-R, had a prominent role in conceiving the challenge. He said: “This challenge was conceived to stimulate research on space environment management and space sustainability, one of the cornerstones of the Stardust-R project.

“This challenge makes a fascinating preview of what we will see from Earth after DART does its work.”

Professor Christos Efthymiopoulos of Padua University, a member of the team which developed the challenges, said: " Contestants will have to use their skills in math, physics, engineering and computer science but also to look at the sky".

The topics are part of a wider effort by Stardust-R and others which is critical for the long-term safety of Earth from space threats and the long-term sustainability of human presence in space.

The first competition involves tracing the source of hazardous space debris drifting around Earth, while the second asks teams to decipher the precise circumstances of a distant collision between a spacecraft and an asteroid – a scenario which is set to be enacted later this decade by NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) and ESA’s Hera spacecraft.

The challenge is being held in memory of Professor Andrea Milani, a mathematician and astronomer who was a world authority in asteroid impact and deflection and who died in 2018.

The first stage of the challenges is open to all. All participating teams will be given a score, updated after each submission of a solution, and the teams with the best score will be invited to participate in Stardust-R's Global Virtual Workshop on Space Traffic Management and Resilient Space Environment in September 2021.

In the second stage, the top three of the teams involving only students in each competition will be invited to present their approach to a panel of experts at the workshop. One winner for each category will be announced at the workshop closing ceremony, based on their technical approach and innovation in solving the challenge.

Stardust-R is the only Scottish-led international network on space environment management and asteroid exploration.