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Sirius Potatoes wins StellarXplorers STEM competition

Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, director of space programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, presents an award to Sirius Potatoes from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., April 14, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gooder)

Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, director of space programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, presents an award to Sirius Potatoes from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., April 14, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gooder)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) -- Sirius Potatoes, a team from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, California, recently won the StellarXplorers space system design competition at the Space Foundation’s 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

The StellarXplorers program, a space-focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach competition, is designed to inspire and motivate high school students to pursue studies and careers in STEM. The competition employs computer simulations for orbit generation and propagation, computer-aided system design, system performance assessment and budgetary constraints.

In her keynote address, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, “This year, we saw StellarXplorers expand to 27 teams across the globe and there are plans to expand further in next year’s competition. So needless to say, I think this is fantastic growth; the program is really catching on.”

Teams from across the U.S. and Germany completed the comprehensive curriculum and competed in three qualifying rounds throughout the school year to earn a trip to the national finals. The teams with the top 10 cumulative scores competed in the national finals in Colorado Springs during the symposium, which took place April 11-14.

The members of the national finalist teams were extremely diverse with a broad set of interests from a variety of backgrounds -- nearly 30 percent of the finalists were female; more than half emanate from minority populations; and four of the teams came from Title 1 schools.

“We always encourage Airmen to get out into the local communities and mentor students through our diversity and outreach programs,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force STEM Advisory Council chairman. “StellarXplorers is energizing the next generation of space technologists and the Air Force is thrilled to be part of the program.”

For the final competition, students were required to define an optimal satellite orbit, choose spacecraft components, and select rocket boosters to meet a stringent set of mission requirements in an intense eight-hour period. The next day, teams were required to brief their solution to a panel of experts.

"StellarXplorers has broadened our vision on aerospace engineering with real-life situations,” said Regina Kim, the Sirius Potatoes team captain. “Our team performed exceptionally well and the competition allowed us to learn so much more about space, satellites and engineering."

Full national deployment of the StellarXplorers program will occur during the 2016-2017 school year and the Air Force is helping to grow participation to at least 150 teams.

Airmen can volunteer to mentor a team and help inspire kids to pursue a future STEM career by registering for StellarXplorers III. Registration is currently open and will remain available until Oct. 15.

The following teams competed in the national finals:

- Huntsville High School, Huntsville, Alabama -- Air Force junior ROTC Phantom Panthers

- James Clemens High School, Madison, Alabama -- Jets Engineering

- Boys and Girls Clubs of Carson, Long Beach, California -- Carson 2

- Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, California -- Star Fleet (2016 2nd place)

- Palos Verdes Peninsula High School -- Sirius Potatoes (2016 national champions)

- San Pedro High School, San Pedro, California -- Coalition of Hardworking Aerospace Physics Students

- Rangeview High School, Aurora, Colorado -- Space Raiders (2015 champs; 2016 3rd Place)

- Vista Ridge High School, Colorado Springs -- Stellar Wolves

- Dixie High School junior ROTC, St George, Utah -- Star Flyers

- Kaiserslautern American High School, Kaiserslautern, Germany -- Galaxy Raiders

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