NASA Competition Asks Teams To Identify Possible Net-Zero Energy Sources


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has always been at the forefront of technological development and human innovation. The US Supreme Court might be obstructing climate commitments, but NASA is leading the way in the quest for decarbonization. The focus of the 2023 Blue Skies competition is Clean Aviation Energy.

For next year’s edition of Gateway to Blue Skies, NASA is asking teams to identify potential clean aviation energy sources for the 2050s. Furthermore, they should analyze the entirety of the supply chain to determine truly net-zero air propulsion methods. Winners of the competition will be offered the opportunity to intern with NASA Aeronautics in the following academic year.

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The competition is sponsored by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s (ARMD’s) University Innovation Project (UI) and is managed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA). Steven Holz, UI Assistant Manager and Blue Skies Co-Chair, commented on the choice of theme,

“We are excited to continue this competition with a challenging and highly impactful theme in 2023. Aviation’s climate impacts start on the ground. The aviation industry sees that the entire lifecycle of the energy source matters. This competition theme asks university students to engage alongside NASA Aeronautics in identifying potential fuel alternatives that are truly environmentally friendly, from source to flight.”

Students will analyze clean fuel sources for aircraft. Photo: Embraer

Inspiring aeronautics change-makers

Participating teams must consist of two to six students plus one faculty advisor, and proposals are due February 28, 2023. Mina Cappuccio, UI Deputy Project Manager, shared the following statement on the project,

“Blue Skies is an excellent way for college-level students to start down a career path that could produce extensive impacts on Earth. UI’s role is to bring university students into the fold and inspire the next generation of aeronautics change-makers. This competition is proving to be an excellent mechanism of engagement.”

Inagural edition envisioned airports of the future

This year’s inaugural edition of Gateways to Blue Skies focused on the sustainable airports of the future. Eight finalist teams competed with their concepts for climate-friendly airport design. Areas addressed included aircraft boarding, fuel storage for hydrogen, charging stations, building materials, accommodating new designs such as blended wing aircraft, and vertiports for short-distance flying.


This year’s winning project was titled Sustainability and Connected Autonomy: A New Era for Aviation. Photo: NASA

The winners were the team from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with their contribution “Sustainability and Connected Autonomy: A New Era for Aviation.” The entry focused on three key areas – remote pier layout, urban air mobility (UAM), and connected autonomy. They were invited to present their concept to invited to present its concept to the Airports Council International – North America.

What would you focus on if you were part of a competition team? What do you think is the future of clean aviation? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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