The 2024 Collegiate Space Competition focused on space congestion and orbital debris. Credit: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

SAN FRANCISCO – Boston University took home top honors in the 2024 SmallSat Alliance 2024 Collegiate Space Competition.

For the competition, which focused on congestion and orbital debris, Boston University students proposed pushing defunct satellites from geosynchronous Earth orbit to a graveyard orbit with cubesats.

The proposed GEO Rendezvous and Space Debris Pusher Satellite Swarm, known as GRASP-Sat, is an inexpensive 12-unit cubesat equipped with ion-based electric propulsion. GRASP-Sat would track target debris with onboard lidar, rendezvous with it and move it to a higher orbit by firing electric thrusters powered by solar panels.

The simplicity and low-cost of the Boston University approach appealed to SmallSat Alliance judges, Charles Beames, SmallSat Alliance chairman, told SpaceNews.

Plus, GRASP-Sat would eliminate the need for geosynchronous satellites to maintain enough fuel to move to graveyard orbits at the end of their missions.

“You can use every bit of utility of that satellite until it’s spent,” Beames said.

Georgetown’s Approach

Taking home second place in the Collegiate Space Competition was Georgetown University. The Georgetown team proposed establishing a space station for debris reprocessing and reuse.

“It’s a very cool idea,” Beames said. “They get an A+ for audacity and analysis.”

The Collegiate Space Competition was established in 2023 to highlight space sector job opportunities and to attract talent.

Beginning with the inaugural competition, “it worked,” Beames said. Students who competed in 2023 “were able to connect with companies and get great jobs in engineering, business operations and other facets of these companies.”

A team from the University of Texas claimed the top prize in the 2023 competition.

Planning is already underway for the 2025 competition. Among SmallSat Alliance members, “there’s plenty of interest in in continuing to do this,” Beames said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...