NEWS | Aug. 31, 2012

NRL Supports 8th Annual CanSat Competition

By Donna McKinney

The Naval Research Laboratory supported the 8th Annual CanSat competition where 26 college rocket teams came together from all over the world to compete. This year's mission was to launch an autonomous CanSat (a satellite in a can) with a deployable lander containing one large raw hen egg that cannot be damaged on landing. The CanSat refers to the complete system-the carrier and the lander. The event was held on June 8-10, 2012, in Abilene and Burkett, Texas.

The CanSat is deployed from a rocket at an altitude of about 610 meters (2001 feet). Once released from the rocket, the CanSat descends between 10 and 20 meters per second using any type of descent control system or device. At an altitude of 200 meters, the CanSat reduces the descent rate to within 4 and 6 meters per second. At 91 meters altitude, the CanSat carrier releases the lander that contains one large raw hen's egg. The lander hopefully lands without damaging the egg. The lander cannot free fall. It must contain a descent control system or device to reduce the descent rate to less than 5 meters per second. The carrier telemetry data may be stored on-board for post processing in the event of a communications failure. Teams must build their own ground station. Telemetry from the carrier is displayed, in real-time, on a team-developed ground station.

Teams are given points, and scoring is started early in January for the preliminary design reviews. Scoring continues for critical design reviews, pre-flight inspections, weight, launching, and finally the post-flight reviews. This year's winners were 1st Place: Istanbul Technical University, Team UYARI; 2nd Place: SRM University, India, Team WelkinSat; 3rd Place: India Institute of Technology, Team Garuda; 4th Place: Istanbul Technical University, Team Lagari; and 5th Place: University of Michigan, Team OverEasy. Winners were given a plaque as well as a cash award for their team. This year, the competition was very close, with only 4 points separating the 1st Place team from the 5th Place team. All participants were given certificates of participation.

The competition is open to teams from universities and colleges. Teams must be able to design and build a space-type system, following the approved competition guide, and then compete against each other at the end of two semesters to determine the winners. Rockets are provided, but the teams are responsible for funding the construction of their CanSat and for all travel/lodging expenses.

The American Astronautical Society (AAS) and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) along with assistance from other sponsors have organized this student design-build-launch competition for space-related topics. Although similar competitions exist for other fields of engineering (robots, radio-control airplanes, racing cars, etc.), most space-related competitions are paper design competitions. While these are worthwhile, the CanSat competition gives students the satisfaction of being involved with the end-to-end life cycle of a complex engineering project, from conceptual design, through integration and test, actual operation of the system, and concluding with a post-mission summary and debrief. The sponsors include NRL, coordinated by Ivan Galysh, NRL's Naval Center for Space Technology; NASA; AIAA; Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation; the American Astronomical Society; Goddard Space Flight Center; Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Praxis Inc.; and the Integral Systems, a Kratos Company.

NRL's Exhibits Program was present at this year's competition displaying the Lab's 54-year-old model of the Vanguard satellite that was successfully launched into Earth orbit on March 17, 1958. It is always a big hit with the students. NRL's exhibitor, Gayle Fullerton, Code 3430, also photographed the event.

If anyone at NRL would like more information on CanSat or is interested in participating in any way, please contact Ivan Galysh, NRL's Space Systems Development Department, Space Applications Branch.

Visit the CanSat web site at for more information.