18:09 PM

Ore. Cadets Returning to StellarXplorers National Finals

The Oregon Wing’s Aurora Composite Squadron is following up last year’s second-place finish with its fourth trip in five years to the national finals of StellarXplorers, the Air Force Association’s national STEM high school competition.

The cadets will compete in the online finals April 16-17 with nine teams from Air Force Junior ROTC and public and charter high schools, all of which emerged from three rounds of qualification competition and a semifinal round. 

CAP accounted for 22 out of 211 teams nationwide participating in the overall competition.

The finalist teams will compete in a rigorous test of designing orbits, selecting spacecraft components and designating a launch vehicle to meet a specific mission scenario with associated technical and programmatic constraints. They will then present their solution and the process they used to a panel of expert judges, along with individually taking a 10-question test on information learned during the competition.

The Aurora Composite team members, all returning from last year, are:

  •  Cadet Lt. Col. Rhett Miller  
  • Cadet Capts. Joshua Vanrenterghem and Luke Van Sickle  
  • Cadet 1st Lt.. Colton Swift

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

Miller is a fifth-year team member and also a CyberPatriot competitor. Swift and Van Sickle are third-year team members. Vanrenterghem is participating for the second time.

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.

The national finals competition is being conducted online for the second straight year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The 54 competitors who made it through this rigorous process represent the best in the nation and we are very proud of their success," said the AFA’s president, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce "Orville" Wright. "Being named a national finalist in any season is a fantastic achievement, but to do so in this year's challenging environment is an even greater accomplishment.

“Not only has the competition become more rigorous, but dealing with pandemic protocols this season stressed our teams even further. At AFA we are passionate about promoting STEM education, and our StellarXplorers program plays an important role in advancing students' interest in these critical career fields," Wright said.

“These very talented competitors represent the next generation of the technical workforce the nation needs," said Stephen K. Gourley, StellarXplorers program director. "With the graying and passing of the Apollo-era cadre, the U.S. needs to find and challenge talented students, whoever and wherever they are.

“We are quite proud of the participants' demographics, all backgrounds, races and genders drawn from urban, suburban and rural populations," Gourley said.

StellarXplorers sponsors are presenting sponsor Lockheed Martin, the Air Force STEM program and L3Harris, with additional support from the Educational Alliance of Analytical Graphics Inc., Space Center Houston and Coyote Enterprises.