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Dizzyingly complex orbits charted across space as part of ESA’s winning entry in the last Global Trajectory Optimisation Competition. This international contest challenges the world’s best aerospace engineers and mathematicians to set the course of a space mission to solve a nearly impossible problem.

Popularly known as the ‘America’s Cup of rocket science’, GTOC-8 was won by past and present members of ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team thinktank. This victory gave them the right to devise and oversee this year’s challenge.

“The precise details of the new GTOC-9 competition will be kept under wraps until we formally launch it in the first week of April,” comments Dario Izzo, ACT scientific coordinator. “But we can already announce that this year’s competition will have one big difference: any interested group, company or individual will be free to enter.

“This is because it is being run through the ACT’s Kelvins website, a portal dedicated to hosting public aerospace challenges, which will enable automatic scoring of every entry we receive.”

Space may be infinite, but certain trajectories are much more efficient in terms of energy and time expended to perform particular tasks.

To give an idea of the type of challenge involved, GTOC-8 – as seen in the image above – asked participants to line up different spacecraft as efficiently as possible to perform ‘very-long baseline interferometry’: by precisely combining their individual observations through long-distance formation flying, to acquire an equivalent imaging resolution to a single, giant radio telescope.

This year’s GTOC will be based on a similarly complex yet practical space problem. For more information, click here.


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Robert Williams

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