Purple Ducks place second in national space challenge

CareerTech represented TWICE in StellarXplorers VII top 10.

Francis Tuttle Technology Center’s Purple Ducks beat out 209 teams from across the country at the national StellarXplorers VII High School Space Challenge.

(L-R): Bryan Kitzrow, Sean Rice, Renardus Herholdt, Samual Doerflinger (Team Captain), Clark Howard & Charles Koutahi

StellarXplorers is an Air Force Association program designed to inspire students to pursue education and careers in STEM fields that use space system engineering.

During the competition, teams defined orbits and spacecraft components and launched vehicles to meet a set of mission requirements. The students had to choose where to launch from, what equipment/sensors to choose for the payload while staying within the weight and cost constraints, and what orbit to select for the satellite to optimize its objective. The scenario used actual “real-life” situations, numbers, and constraints. Teams also gave a presentation to a panel of experts.

While preparing for and participating in the challenge, students develop skills such as teamwork, time management, communication, conflict resolution, leadership, risk assessment, critical thinking and relevance. They use problem solving-methods with complex open-ended situations.

The Purple Ducks team members were Sean Rice, Renardus Herholdt, Sam Doerflinger, Clark Howard and instructors Bryan Kitzrow and Charles Khoutai. The Oklahoma City students finished just a few points behind the Africanized Killer Bees, which represented Aurora Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol, from Portland, Oregon.

Charles Khoutai said teams get to work with STK, a software platform that allows students to analyze the complex missions and operations in space.

“We never know what skills will open doors to for our students,” Khoutai said. “But with the establishment of the newest branch of military, “Space Force,” the relevance of space missions becomes real. 

CareerTech offers a state-approved course that aligns with the competition and includes earning an STK certification in level one and two.

Along with bragging rights, each of Francis Tuttle’s second-place team members received a $2,000 scholarship from the Department of the Air Force STEM program.

“The AFA is very proud of all the students who competed in the StellarXplorers National Finals,” said retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright. “Not only were they among the top teams this season, but they competed in the midst of a pandemic.”

Stephen K. Gourley, StellarXplorers program director, said, “These very talented competitors represent the next generation of the technical workforce the nation needs. 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.”

Edmond North’s Alex Loney, national TSA vice president

According to the AFA, nearly half of the StellarXplorers are underrepresented minorities and over a third are female. Sponsors of the program include Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Air Force STEM Program and L3Harris, with additional support from the Educational Alliance of Analytical Graphics Inc., Space Center Houston and Coyote Enterprises. 

The Stars AFJROTC team from Edmond North High School also competed in the finals and placed in the top 10. One of the members of that team was Alex Loney, national Technology Student Association vice president: https://tsaweb.org/about/people/national-tsa-officers.  

The CareerTech STEM division partners with the local Gerrity AFA Chapter to support StellarXplorers teams in Oklahoma. The two partners will join forces with the FAA to provide training June 9-10 for teachers interested in competing and/or adopting the course next year. For additional information, visit the Oklahoma CareerTech website at www.okcareertech.org/educators/STEM and select Professional Development.

Related content: Oklahoma News Report story on StellarXplorers

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