New to Southeast Asia, the Thai Space Settlement Design Competition (Thai-SSDC) is a branch of the International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC), a NASA legacy educational initiative for teenagers aged 14-18. Its goals are to allow Thailand’s most talented teenagers to work with real-life rocket scientists and aerospace engineers from space agencies around the world in an exciting game competition which could even see them competing at the ISSDC Global Finals at the Kennedy Center, at NASA (Merritt Island, Florida, USA).
The Office of National Higher Education Scientific Research & Administration Policy Council (NXPO) is an autonomous public agency that has been involved with many previous aerospace educational programs and which presently serves the youth of Thailand.
On March 1, 2021, a meeting was held between the executives of the NXPO and the executives of the Thai-SSDC which explored the possibility of a mutual collaboration between both parties. Attending on behalf of the Thai-SSDC were Chairman Jason Jellison, Operations Manager Oranush Kunatirojana, and Youth Ambassador Sittisak Muangkaew, with Treasurer Jon Santangelo and Co-Director Imran Farzal joining by way of teleconference.
Thailand’s well-known qualified astronaut and satellite engineer Phirada Techavichit helped coordinate communication for both organisations. The meeting formulated a general list of ideas. On April 27, 2021, the NXPO generously agreed to sponsor the first 10 high school teams which enroll in the competition, as well as to cooperate on an outreach to the Thai school system.
“I’m absolutely overjoyed that the NXPO and such a large international coalition of experts have joined hands to make this happen for the youth of Thailand,” Chairman Jellison said. “The current health crisis has made today’s times very painful for our young people, but to think that out of all of those closed schools, out of all of today’s historic pain, suffering and darkness, to think that out of all of that gloom, that now our young people will have a new shot at the stars; it’s simply overwhelming, and I thank the NXPO for their gracious generosity.”
“Many Thai teenagers are frustrated with today’s school closures, not seeing their friends, and stress from online learning.” Jellison continued.
“The world has changed dramatically since COVID-19, and we’re all running to catch up. In reality, there are many young Thai people who look up at the stars and dream of what’s up there. Now, these special young people can express themselves in a new and exciting way, and quite a few of them could really live to see their dreams come true.”
The ISSDC started at NASA in 1984, and the Thai chapter is hosted by Astrium Competitions. It puts 14- to 18-year-old high school students into the shoes of real-life engineers. A school team is composed of approximately 10 students, one of whom must be competent in English. A representative team is formed, and the team files a ‘Request for Proposal’, which outlines their own idea for new technology which would be needed in an outer space settlement. The Request for Proposal is the very same document that a real engineer uses to file their designs, and it is precisely those engineers who review the students’ plans.
When a plan is approved by active and/or retired aerospace engineers, the student team is directly connected with the engineers who approved their plan. They all spend several months working together on the student project. Students ultimately work out the engineering problems largely of their own accord, with these knowledgeable engineers and scientists shining a light onto their path.
Normally, it costs a representative team a flat fee of B5,000 to enroll, or about B500 per person. Participation fees are not settled yet, but Operations Manager Oranush Kunatirojana advises the Thai-SSDC tries to keep fees as low as possible for the students, and that the Thai-SSDC staff are mainly volunteers who work with no salary for the benefit of Thailand’s young people.
The NXPO is assisting the Thai-SSDC by sponsoring the B5,000 entry fee of the first 10 school teams, and registration is now open. The first Thai national round is scheduled to be held in Bangkok in November at a location yet to be announced. Top placing teams will get the chance to compete at the Asian Finals in India, in January 2022. The top finishing teams from the Asian Finals will get the chance to compete at the ISSDC Global Finals, at the Kennedy Center, in July 2022.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.” said Jellison. “I encourage any student who has dreamed of living and working in outer space to form a team and go for it.” He continued by saying that the ISSDC is a life-changing event which has built many careers in the space industry and contributed to many prestigious university enrollments. Entire young lives are often transformed before their onlooking families’ eyes.
The Thai-SSDC can be contacted in either English or in Thai, but the language of all international aerospace events is English. General Thai and English-language enquiries can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the Thai-SSDC Facebook site.
Headmasters, teachers, and the media can send special enquiries directly to Mr Jellison at his personal email address, email@example.com, and curious readers can look at many inspirational videos of past national and global competitions throughout the world for free on YouTube by typing in “ISSDC.”