14:06 PM

Ore. Cadets Place 2nd Nationally in StellarXplorers STEM Competition

The third time was the charm for the Oregon Wing’s Aurora Composite Squadron, which placed second nationally in the Air Force Association’s national STEM competition, StellarXplorers.

The team earned a berth in the national finals for the third time, having participated in the overall field four times in the six years the event has been held. This year’s overall competition included 213 high school teams, with 13 consisting of Civil Air Patrol cadets.

The team members are:

  • Cadet Maj. Rhett Miller 
  • Cadet 1st Lts. Colton Swift and Luke Van Sickle 
  • Cadet 2nd Lt. Joshua Vanrenterghem

Maj. Carl Knox is the team’s adult director. He also coaches the unit’s entry in the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program competition.

Miller is a fourth-year team member and also competes in CyberPatriot. Swift and Van Sickle are second-year team members. Vanrenterghem participated for the first time.

The National Finals Competition, originally scheduled to be held this month at Houston Space Center, was changed to be a virtual event in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide shelter-in-place restrictions, however, led to the StellarXplorers Program Office’s decision to recognize the top teams from the semifinal round as the overall winners of the competition.

"AFA is delighted that each year the students competing in StellarXplorers bring excitement and passion to the competition," said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce "Orville" Wright, AFA president. "With the creation of U.S. Space Force in December 2019, space has been rightly elevated as a key part of our nation's defense strategy. StellarXplorers is preparing the next generation of space warriors."

Over four rounds of competition, the teams were required to define orbits, select spacecraft components and choose a launch vehicle to meet a set of mission requirements. All competitors exhibited and sharpened their skills in analytics and problem solving, while the more successful demonstrated exceptional teamwork and leadership.

The Air Force’s STEM Program provided $19,000 in educational grants to each member of the first-place, runner-up and third-place teams.

"Once again, over the course of another successful season, our competitors have shown they have the 'right stuff' to lead the future of U.S. space," said Stephen K. Gourley, StellarXplorers program director. "We are exceptionally proud to have inspired and motivated over 3,000 students in the last six seasons to pursue education and careers in many STEM fields, not only in aerospace engineering.

“Our sincere thanks go to our 2020 enabling sponsors, USAF STEM, the L3Harris Foundation, the Aerojet Rocketdyne Foundation, Rocket Lab and SpaceX, along with our Educational Alliance of Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI), Space Center Houston and Coyote Enterprises Inc. (CEI)."

StellarXplorers is an AFA program aimed at inspiring students to pursue education and careers in STEM fields using space system engineering. Almost half the participants have been under-represented minorities ad over one-third are female – a testament to the exciting and engaging nature of space and the competition.

Registration is planned to open May 1 for teams of 12- to 18-year-old students for the seventh season, with finals scheduled to be held in Colorado Springs.