The StarShade Challenge

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The StarShade Challenge

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This Hubble Space Telescope image, called Cosmic Cliffs, reveals part of the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372). Bottom: This image from the JWST, Hubble’s successor, shows the same area.
What will the next generation of telescopes reveal? Top credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); ack. N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley). Bottom credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.

The images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are stunning. But even as we enjoy them, we—the science community—need to be planning for the future. What should its successors be like?

In collaboration with NASA, SPS and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) are challenging undergraduates to design a giant starshade that can be deployed in space to block starlight.
A 100-m shade could be part of a next-generation telescope, and it could help us examine extreme exoplanets from an Earth-stationed observatory.


This artist's concept shows the geometry of a space telescope aligned with a starshade. The shade blocks starlight to reveal the presence of planets orbiting a star. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Groups of up to 20 students are eligible for the challenge. Using physics, engineering, and structural analysis, they’ll need to ensure that their proposed shade meets critical technical requirements, determine the size of its shadow, and propose a method for deploying it from a rocket. Finally, groups will need to build a 1:100 scale model. 

As part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, members of the Hybrid Observatory for Earth-like Exoplanets (HOEE) team will meet with groups and help with their designs.

The challenge will take place during the fall 2023 semester. The first 20 groups to register and meet with HOEE staff will receive a $1,000 honorarium for materials, and teams that place in the top three will win up to $10,000 for student travel and research. If you’re an alumni member of Sigma Pi Sigma, please consider sharing this information with your SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma chapters! 

Learn more and sign up:

Take the StarShade Challenge!

  • Sign-up deadline: September 5, 2023
  • Sign-up link:
  • Submission deadline: December 15, 2023
  • First place: $10,000 fund for student travel and research


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