Frequently asked questions

The following questions and answers originated from the CTE Mission: CubeSat virtual information session, held on September 1, 2020. The session recording and Q&A summary are intended for informational purposes only, and all information presented here is superseded by the challenge’s rules, terms and conditions.

For further questions, please reach out to hello@ctemissioncubesat.com.

Challenge background

What is a CubeSat prototype?

A cube satellite, or CubeSat, is a standardized small satellite that was invented with students in mind. A CubeSat prototype is low-fidelity models of a CubeSat that have less testing, technical and regulatory requirements to design, build, and launch. These hands-on education tools can house a variety of sensors, cameras, and other instruments and can conduct a wide range of experiments (“missions”) in orbit — from identifying and tracking wild animal herds to gathering atmospheric data for weather prediction. In the process of building a CubeSat prototype, students learn creative, collaborative, and technical skills. Review this illustrated diagram and NASA’s foldable CubeSat model to learn more about CubeSat prototypes. 

What is “CTE”?

CTE stands for “career and technical education,” and is a program funded under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 as amended by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). This funding provides nearly $1.3 billion annually for career and technical education (CTE) programs. High school CTE programs seek to prepare students for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers. For more information on CTE, please consult the U.S. Department of Education’s Perkins Collaborative Resource Network website, which includes your local CTE state director’s contact information

What experience and skills should students have with aerospace and CubeSats leading into the project? 

No prior experience with CubeSats is necessary to participate in the challenge. Prior experience with certain technical skills (such as experience with coding, electronics, project management, or various engineering skills) can be helpful to have on a team; however, the challenge is open to all levels and will provide additional resources and mentorship  from subject matter experts during Phase 2 to help teams learn by doing.

Eligibility

Who can participate in the challenge? 

The challenge is open to high schools eligible to receive funding under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 as amended by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) — schools do not need to be receiving funding currently, but must be eligible to receive Perkins V funding. The challenge is only open to high schools in the United States (read more about eligibility), though any interested school may view and access the open resources available on the resource hub, or join an eligible school’s team.

How can a teacher determine if their school is eligible for Perkins funding? 

If you are unsure whether your institution is eligible for Perkins funding, please check with your school’s administration, visit your state’s department of education website, or contact your local CTE state director. If you are still uncertain about eligibility, please email hello@ctemissioncubesat.com

Can a community college, university, nonprofit organization, for-profit entity, faith-based organization, or private school enter the CTE Mission: CubeSat challenge?

No, you must be an eligible entrant to be considered for finalist selection. You may partner with a team that is led by an eligible high school to submit a mission proposal.

What is the role of the team lead and who qualifies for that role?   

The team lead serves as the primary point of contact for the challenge, and will be responsible for submitting the team’s mission proposal via Luminary Lightbox and for determining the distribution of prizes, if selected as a finalist. The team lead must be a CTE teacher or CTE coordinator employed by the submitting team’s school and over 18 years of age. Refer to the rules, terms, and conditions “VII. Submission Information” for further details. 

What should a team look like? For example, how many students should be on a team, and what class subjects should be participating? 

Teams may consist of any number of teachers and students, and may include a mix of grade levels and subjects — from engineering and computer science to business and art. Teams are required to identify a team lead who is a CTE teacher or CTE coordinator. 

How many teams can a school have?

The rules, terms, and conditions do not state a limit on the number of teams a school can have.  As a reminder, the mission proposal must include an email stating permission to participate from the team lead’s school principal or a district-level administrator.

Phase 1

Are there any material requirements or costs to participating in the challenge?

No materials are required to develop a mission proposal; however, teams may choose to tinker with low-cost instruments and materials, such as computer boards, lightweight cameras, or balloon kits, to help determine what to study and how to fly their missions.

What technical support do teams get in putting together their mission proposal? 

Teams have access to the resource hub, which includes a curated, free list of recommended resources and activities to help them put together their mission proposals. Resources and activities come from aerospace and education leaders including MIT Media Lab, NASA, and EnduroSat. The resource hub is organized to help teams put together the five sections of their mission proposal, covering orientation, school & team, mission objectives, subsystems, and mission planning. Teams are encouraged to seek out additional in-person or virtual support from organizations, businesses, and subject matter experts.

Phase 2

What is the “flight event” mentioned in Phase 2?

Finalists will plan and conduct their own flight events within Phase 2, and launch their CubeSat prototypes safely according to their proposed method. Flight events can be creative and unique to teams’ capacity and interest, and will be conducted by each finalist at a time and place of their choosing. Finalists will document their experiences in a flight report, which will include both a written report and visual portfolio of their experiences (e.g., photos and/or videos), and submit these at the end of Phase 2.

Do the winners launch to orbit or sub-orbital flight? 

No, flights are not expected to be sub-orbital or orbital at this time. Teams are asked to design and build CubeSat prototypes and not space-ready CubeSats. Each finalist will choose how to fly their prototype; for example, by tethered balloon, high-altitude balloon, glider, drone, or amateur rocket. Creativity is encouraged.

Would the students need to collect data once the CubeSat is launched and analyze that data?

Yes, finalists will use their CubeSat prototype to collect and analyze data according to the mission objective detailed in their mission proposal. Finalists will complete and submit flight reports at the end of Phase 2, which include their flight data and insights gained from the data, as well as any insights from their failures, if data is not successfully collected.

How functional should the final prototype be? 

Finalists should design and build their CubeSat prototype with the intention for the various subsystems — structure, power, launch, computing and payload, and communication and/or data storage — to be functional. If the prototype fails or does not function as planned during the flight event, teams should document and reflect on the failures in their flight reports. 

What financial and technical support do finalists get in Phase 2? 

Each finalist will receive a $5,000 cash prize and other in-kind prizes donated by challenge sponsors, which may go towards prototype and flight costs. The team lead remains responsible for determining the distribution and use of prizes. Finalists will also receive tailored technical support and mentorship from subject matter experts to help build and launch their prototypes. To learn more about prizes and sponsors, see the about the challenge page

Is there a way to complete Phase 2 tasks even if not selected as a finalist? 

Yes, even if not selected as a finalist, any interested school is encouraged to continue working towards building and launching a prototype. Any public materials posted on ctemissioncubesat.com can be utilized, and we encourage any and all schools to document their progress and experiences, using #CTEMission on any social media posting or sending any blogging updates to hello@ctemissioncubesat.com to share progress with the challenge community. 

Miscellaneous

Will the entrants own the rights to the IP of the product that they develop?

Yes, entrants retain ownership of their concepts, including any software, research, or other intellectual property (“IP”) that they develop in connection with CTE Mission: CubeSat, subject to a license granted to ED as described in the rules, terms, and conditions “Submission License” section.

How can we stay up to date on what’s happening with the challenge?

To receive challenge news and updates, sign up for the CTE Mission: CubeSat newsletter.

Who can we contact with questions?

For questions regarding CTE Mission: CubeSat, please contact hello@ctemissioncubesat.com. Anyone interested in involvement at a national level may contact the CTE Mission: CubeSat Program Manager Albert Palacios albert.palacios@ed.gov.