Scintillators take second at StellarXplorers national finals

by Ken Robinson
Kaiserslautern High School StellarXplorers

Left to right: Bethany Salas, Henry Hill, Karina Sahli, Renee Sahli, Justin Kockx — Photo by Rich Sahli

Kaiserslautern High School sent two teams over spring break to the StellarXplorers national finals. The all-expense paid trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., featured the top 10 high school teams in the nation. KHS’ top team, the Scintillators, took second place while their counterpart, “Buckets of Coleslaw,” captured the fifth spot.

The StellarXplorers competition is the premier space design competition. The program is designed to inspire and motivate high school students to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through a challenging, space system design competition. The competition is designed to not only explore the mechanics of space travel, but to allow students to truly practice their 21st century skills as they collaboratively solve real-world technical problems.

Teams are provided with computer simulations for orbit determination and propagation, computer-aided system design, system performance assessment, and budgetary constraints. With nearly 20 pages of technical data, teams must be able to efficiently organize, analyze and evaluate mission data in order to make critical decisions concerning their mission. Teams have an eight-hour block of time to make all the final decisions. For these teams, this is the ultimate test where higher-order thinking skills are competing against both time and space.


The Scintillators, in addition to the title of National Runner-ups, received a $2,000 scholarship for each of the participants, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force and United Launch Alliance. The Scintillator team was co-captained by senior Henry Hill (Chief Engineer) and sophomore Karina Sahli (Mission Manager). Rounding out the team are seniors Renee Sahli (Systems Engineer) and Bethany Salas (Project Analyst), with Flight Dynamics Engineer Justin Kockx (sophomore) overseeing the orbital projection and spacecraft altitude.

The “Buckets of Coleslaw” team, who were just two points shy of 3rd place, was captained by senior Sam Donovan (Systems Engineer) and reinforced by seniors Vincent Povilaitis (Flight Dynamics Engineer) and Danielle Boyd (Mission Operations Manager). Round-ing out the team was newcomer sophomore Tyler Palam (Mission Assurance Officer).

These fortunate nine students from KHS received an education that most only dream of. These experiences shape, mold and more overly motivate students in ways that cannot be measured from a standardized test. Although the Raider teams did not walk away with the national title, their impressive second and fifth place finish and unique five-day education was well worth the price of their spring break.