High Schools Showcase STEM Skills in NASA-Inspired Drone Competition
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High school students in Wisconsin got to test their drone skills at the 2022 Aerospace Jam Drone and Sensor Competition, which simulated a NASA Artemis-inspired moon mission.

The competition gave students an idea of what it might be like to work in the aerospace industry. To prepare, teams met with coaches and mentors to build their drone kit, which included high-tech sensors and data acquisition capabilities. They used this technology to practice performing a simulated landing on the South Pole of the moon.

In April, teams brought their knowledge and experience to a day-long competition held at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.

The event was a collaborative effort between Carroll University and a number of sponsoring organizations, including the NASA Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, UW-Whitewater, the Milwaukee Bucks, MINDS-i, and LAB Midwest.

The Drone Competition Challenge

This challenge was incredibly complex, testing teams not only on their skills operating and maneuvering the UAVs, but on all the engineering and data analytics that plays such a crucial role in aerospace exploration.

The goal of the UAV challenge was to have teams demonstrate the use of aerial drones equipped with sensors to measure specific properties and objects within a flight area. In this case, the competition zone was an indoor drone cage simulating the surface of the moon.

On the day of the competition, teams were scored on a series of challenges they had to complete on the course. Each had varying levels of difficulty and had to be performed within a specific timeframe.

Specific team challenges included:

John Connolly, a member of the Human Landing Systems Program at NASA, was part of the judging panel. He commented on how well the competition simulated real-world experiences:

“The Aerospace Jam lunar ‘drone’ competition was a remarkably complex challenge for the high school teams that produced some remarkable team building, systems engineering, flight operations and outreach – all with microcomputers, drone hardware and sensor packages that had to be quickly mastered. In many ways, the program and competition mimicked a real-life skunkworks program in its pace, and a real-life NASA planetary probe program to generate multi-sensor data of lunar landing sites.”

Drone Competition Participants and Award Winners

The competition hosted teams of sophomores through seniors from 10 schools across the state. Each team had a coach and a mentor, totaling over 90 participants.

Participating schools included: Anthony Acres High School, Golda Meir High School, Hilbert High School, Kohler High School, Laconia High School, Menomonee Falls High School, New London High School, North Crawford High School, SPASH (Stevens Point Area Senior High), and Whitewater High School.

All teams had to compete in high-pressure, time-constrained environments where any number of unforeseen challenges required on-the-fly plan adjustments. It was no easy challenge, but the students got a feel for what it’s like to work in high-performing, complex aerospace operations. And in the end, it brought out the best in all participants – both on the technical skill side and through teamwork, communication, and tenacity.

Special recognition goes to the teams who earned top places:

Matik Sullivan, a student on Laconia High School’s team, said of the drone competition: “It’s a very challenging, but fun process. We ran into a lot of problems, but our persistence paid off.”

Congratulations to all participants and sponsors on an excellent event!

The Future of Drones in Education

Drones are becoming widely popular with hobbyists and researchers alike, and as their industrial applications continue to grow, schools must start teaching drone technology in a way that’s backed by solid STEM curriculum.

Aerospace is a great example of aerial drones in the workforce, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Drones are being used in agriculture, search and rescue, photography/videography, land surveying, delivery, inspection and more.

Our prediction? Drones will become a regular part of STEM curriculum at all levels of education, and competitions like the Aerospace Jam will grow in popularity across the nation. And as they do, the focus will be more and more on real-world STEM, engineering, mission planning, sensing and data analytics skills.

For this competition, the drones and indoor cage system were provided by MINDS-i in partnership with LAB Midwest. MINDS-i designs and manufactures complex drones (ground and aerial) for schools. STEM students from K-8 through post-secondary use these products to learn about drone technology and engineering. But there’s more to it than just the hardware. There’s also a whole array of learning outcomes in MINDS-i curriculum, all focused on relevant STEM concepts and technologies students will encounter in the modern workforce.

LAB Midwest is the exclusive distributor of MINDS-i products in the Midwest. To learn more about MINDS-i drones and curriculum, visit our website.

Interested in working with us? Hear what Mike Mortensen, Director of Aviation Sciences at Carroll University had to say:

“The Aerospace Jam Drone and Sensor competition was a huge success this year! We could not have pulled this off without the help and expertise from Minds-i and LAB Midwest. They  contributed significantly to the event in several ways and performed beyond our expectations.  They partnered with us and were by our side from the beginning and through final competition day. Minds-i and LAB Midwest ensured everything was on point so that the drone performances were steady and strong. Their drones and drone cage system withstood every flight challenge during the competition, and the teams’ commitment to our event was unwavering.”

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