Mission Accomplished: Aerospace Engineering’s Conte Gets Inspired at Caltech Space Challenge

by Davide Conte

During the week of March 22-27, I took part in the 2015 Caltech Space Challenge in Pasadena, CA, as a member of Team Explorer. We were challenged to design a mission to land humans on an asteroid brought back to lunar orbit, extract the asteroid’s resources, and demonstrate their use. By the end of the week, we had gone from being 16 strangers to a strong cohesive team with a robust and innovative design: Mission L-DORADO (Lunar – reDirected Orbiting Resource Asteroid Demonstration and Operation).

Being Team Explorer’s mission architect and working in the astrodynamics subsystem allowed me to continuously interact with everyone on the team. In a matter of a few days, we went from defining our mission objectives and mission requirements, to brainstorming activities to detailed subsystem design. We analyzed the trade space and eventually converged to a final design. In order to do so, we iterated and changed our baseline mission a few times making sure to assess the risks that the new design choices lead to, as well as mitigation strategies.

Throughout the week, we attended lectures in various space-related subjects and received mentoring from former Caltech students and engineers from aerospace industries such as NASA JPL, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. Halfway through the week, Team Explorer worked with NASA JPL’s A-Team, a cross-functional multidisciplinary team of Subject-Matter Experts that helped us refine and improve our preliminary mission design.

It was a very intense, inspiring, and fun week that allowed me to work with some of the smartest students from all over the world and gave me the opportunity to network with the engineers and scientists that make space exploration a reality.

The knowledge in mission design and astrodynamics that I gained during the Caltech Space Challenge will also help me as a Teaching Assistant for aerospace engineering senior courses such as Spaceflight Dynamics (AERSP 450) and Spacecraft Design (AERSP 401A&B).

Meet Team Explorer!


Check out Team Explorer’s Final Presentation:



Davide Conte is a graduate student in aerospace engineering. He is the vice president of the Aerospace Graduate Student Association. A native of Genova, Italy, Davide plans to work on space missions that will push the boundary of human space exploration after he graduates.

Read More
Skip to toolbar