UNLP students rewarded in Dubai for the project of a space vehicle to explore the Moon

Representing the National University of La Plata (UNLP), a group of students from the Faculty of Engineering won awards in an international competition held in the imposing city of Dubai. The team was among three finalists, securing second place in the #T-TeC Award 2021, a competition that aims to promote technological innovation in the space industry. They were honored for the project of a small space vehicle that seeks to achieve a light and economical landing on the moon.

The third edition of #T-TeC was open for the first time to young people from all over the world and more than 70 students and researchers from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines took part. The students came from 22 universities, belonging to nine countries: from the United Arab Emirates to Argentina, from Turkey to El Salvador, via Italy, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

The awards ceremony for #T-TeC 2021, promoted by Leonardo and Telespazio companies, was held in the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai. The objective of the two companies is to promote technological innovation in the space sector among younger generations, to empower their ideas and intuitions and to imagine the technologies that will mark the future.

Contest participants presented innovative solutions in four different macro-themes – space exploration, in-orbit service, geoinformation applications and platforms, space situational awareness and space traffic management – considered as utmost importance for the present and the future of the space sector.

The 20 projects presented were analyzed by a jury composed of representatives of Leonardo and Telespazio, members of the European (ESA), Italian (ASI) and Emirati (UAESA) Space Agency and experts in the sector from seven countries. The committee assessed not only the innovative quality of the technological solutions presented, but also their durability. Prizes were awarded to the three finalist teams and special mentions to the other participants.

The project presented by the UNLP was “PULQUI XXI” (Space Exploration). “It is a small vehicle – a 3-unit CubeSat – which aspires to achieve the lightest and most economical moon landing that has been achieved so far”, defined Franco Ruffini, recently received as an aeronautical engineer.

As detailed, “what we proposed was to develop each of the subsystems that are involved in the vehicle and, to achieve the moon landing, what we did was to use a new technology called tensegrity (tensegrity “These structures would facilitate the goals we are looking for. The project is quite developed.”

The PULQUI XXI mission encouraged the collaboration of participants from different countries. The team was composed of Franco Nicolás Ruffini, Facundo Julio Gavino, Sonia Alejandra Botta, Frida Angélica Alfaro Rodríguez (National University of La Plata) María del Pilar Oubiña (University of Palermo), Lucila Sol Hermida (University of Buenos Aires) Santiago Manuel Labayen (Argentine University of Commerce), for Argentina; Byron Thonatiu Escobar Benítez (Don Bosco University) for El Salvador (also an aeronautical engineer graduated from the UNLP, currently working in this country); and Tomás Boschetto (ETH Zürich), for Switzerland. The group received 6,000 euros as a prize.

Representing the team, Franco Ruffini and Tomás Boschetto traveled to Dubai, both graduates of the UNLP aeronautical engineering career. In the case of Tomás, he is currently doing a master’s degree in Switzerland.

“The experience in Dubai was very good from all points of view. One of the things that we appreciated the most with Tomás was the interest that our project generated in various references in the aerospace field, in particular those of Leonardo and those from the European Space Agency, who spoke to us when they presented us with the award. Those from Telespazio also expressed their interest in collaborating with us to carry out the project. This gave us much more motivation to continue. Franco said.

The event brought together the winning teams and prominent representatives of the European and Emirati space sector, with speakers Luigi Pasquali, Space Activities Coordinator at Leonardo and CEO of Telespazio; Pierpaolo Gambini, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Intellectual Property at Leonardo and Marco Brancati, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Technology Governance at Telespazio.

After a full day at Expo 2020, the students had a day to visit the modern city of the United Arab Emirates. “I never imagined I would be there. One of the things that caught my attention the most was how the city was built from scratch. ‘today it stands out for its technology. The development that it has: the luxurious skyscrapers, the artificial lakes, the Dubai Fountain, the palm trees -which are portions of land built on water-. Another example is that completely autonomous food delivery carts were seen passing through the Expo,” Franco described, which also highlighted the cultural diversity that can be seen on the streets of the city.

The team thanked the professionals who collaborated in the development of the mission, including various UNLP teachers, mentors from a previous competition called Open Space, members of the Aerospace Technology Center (CTA) and a special thank you to Julián Rímoli, a graduate of the University College of Engineering who is currently working with tensegrity technology at Georgia Tech, one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.

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