Norwich University Students Win NASA BIG Idea Engineering Design Challenge with Inflatable Solar Array for Mars


March 9, 2018

A team of five Norwich University students led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Brian Bradke has won NASA’s 2018 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Engineering Design Challenge with its Norwich Inflatable Mars Solar Array (NIMSA).

According to NASA: “In 2017, NASA called for proposals for large power systems that could be used on the surface of Mars. Because these systems need to be in place before humans ever arrive on the Red Planet, teams were required to propose robotic or autonomous solutions for deployment and sustainable operation.”

This is the third year NASA has put on the challenge, which “enlists university teams from across the nation to develop creative solutions to some of the agency’s most relevant challenges,” according to a NASA press release.

“I am proud of our team’s work and performance at the competition,” David Crawford School of Engineering Director Stephen Fitzhugh said. “They are a wonderful example of Norwich students displaying the Norwich value of ‘conceiving as well as executing’.”

Along with Bradke, the Norwich team is comprised of Mechanical Engineering majors: Tyler Azure, of Lino Lakes, Minn. (pictured far right); Nicole Goebel, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (pictured second from the right); Laurie King, of Waddington, N.Y. (pictured second from the left); and Braeden Ostepchuk, of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (pictured far left); and Electrical and Computer Engineering major Charlene Huyler, of Westport, Mass (pictured, center).

King, Goebel and Ostepchuk are also student-athletes who compete for Norwich’s championship hockey teams. Ostepchuk was a member of Norwich’s 2017 national championship men’s hockey team, while Goebel and King are three victories away from winning the women’s hockey program’s second national championship.

“I am continually impressed by our Norwich students,” Bradke said. “They are knowledgeable, well-spoken, motivated, creative and well-rounded young adults that are capable of undertaking any challenge on Earth (or for that matter, Mars!)  I’d put our students up against any other university, without reservation.”

The four other teams in the competition were: The University of Colorado Boulder, which came in second place; Princeton; Texas A&M University; and The University of Virginia.

About the Challenge:

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Game Changing Development Program, and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission directorate, go to: For more information about the 2018 Big Idea Challenge, please visit:

About Norwich University˜

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) 

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Norwich University will celebrate its bicentennial in 2019. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Transformation” here:    

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