Winning Idea Answers the Question: What Would You Do with Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser® Spacecraft?

L to R: Lucia Cape, of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Steve Lee, of Astrosat, announce the winner. (Oct. 30, 2018)

BILBAO, SPAIN (October 30, 2018) – Two students from Italy have presented a game-changing idea that could help the commercial space industry take a giant leap forward.  The Meteoroid Descent Module concept, submitted by Mattia Barbarossa and Linda Raimondo, would enable Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser to return valuable material, such as asteroids or regolith, from space to Earth. The challenge of loading and transporting such material in space for a safe reentry and landing has yet to be addressed, but could be key to tapping into space mining with a potential market in the millions of dollars.

Barbarossa and Raimondo have been declared the Year 2 winners for the European Space Agency’s Space Exploration Masters challenge sponsored by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber in Huntsville, Alabama, and Astrosat, a Scottish aerospace services company. There were five challenges in this year’s cycle. Other sponsors include the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the space agencies of France, Italy and Luxembourg, Airbus, Air Liquide, and Merck. The winners were announced today at the Space for Inspiration Conference in Bilbao, Spain. This year’s competition attracted 132 new business ideas from 42 nations worldwide.

Barbarossa is a high school student at Liceo Villari in Naples, and Raimondo is studying physics at the University of Turin.

“Starting a company in aerospace is not easy, but thanks to the great boost given by ESA Space Exploration Masters and its prizes, our work is becoming more than an ambition, just in time for the beginning of this new golden era for space,” said Barbarossa.

Participation in the Space Exploration Masters is part of Huntsville, Madison & Madison County’s initiative to promote Huntsville International Airport as a landing site for the Dream Chaser. By seeking ideas for using Dream Chaser beyond cargo transport to the International Space Station, the Chamber is able to share Huntsville’s expertise in payload integration, operations and processing.

“The Dream Chaser is a multi-purpose vehicle that is extremely versatile, so SNC is always excited to hear ideas about new ways the spacecraft can be used,” said John Roth, vice president of business development and strategy for SNC’s Space Systems business area. “We were impressed and excited with the ideas from this contest.”

This year’s prize package once again features a trip to Huntsville, Alabama and mentoring by Astrosat in its “space as a service” business model, but new this year is a partnership with the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) School of Business and the I2C incubator which will provide physical space and support to the winner.  The winners will also meet with aerospace and biotech companies, including the leadership team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is expanding its support to include access to additional resources, and Huntsville International Airport will again provide travel vouchers for the winners.

“By sponsoring this international competition, we have the opportunity to share the expertise and assets of the Huntsville region with new audiences in academia and the commercial space industry,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “We are also generating ideas for marketing the Dream Chaser as a scientific and commercial vehicle that can land delicate payloads for quick access at Huntsville International Airport, making the competition a win-win for our commercial space initiative.”

Mattias Barbarossa and Linda Raimondo, in the center, were named the winners of the prize presented by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Astrosat.

The Chamber was invited to co-sponsor the competition by Astrosat, a 10-time winner of the ESA Copernicus Masters competition focused on Earth observation applications. Astrosat’s experience and perspective have been invaluable, and their contribution to the prize package greatly enhances the value to the winner.

“Astrosat and Huntsville selected Mattia Barbarossa’s “Meteoroid Complementary Descent Module” concept as our winner based upon the vision of a future where samples that return from the Moon, Mars and asteroids will require new capture and return technologies,” said Steve Lee, founder and CEO of Astrosat. “His idea encapsulated excellent innovation towards how this will work where the Dream Chaser can be the “work-horse” of future space exploration. We wanted ideas for the Dream Chaser that looked far. We wanted ideas where the submission could stand up to some technical scrutiny but still leave room for development. Where a potential lay in commercialization and where the judges could provide value with our prize package. Mattia provided that. We look forward to working with him and his team into the future – a future where Dream Chaser, Astrosat and Huntsville’s vision and capabilities are getting ever closer to space reality.”

The evaluators for this year’s competition are:

Lucia Cape, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, Huntsville, Alabama
Marco Caporicci, European Space Agency (ESA)
Paul Galloway, Teledyne Brown Engineering
Jason Greene, UAH School of Business
Fraser Hamilton, Astrosat
John Horack, Ohio State University
Jennifer Jensen, Draper Labs
Rigved Joshi, UAH I2C
John Koroshetz, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)
Veronica La Regina, RHEA System B.V. for European Space Agency (ESA)
Steve Lee, Astrosat
Peter Young, Astrosat

The winner for Year 1 of the competition was SustainSpace, a company exploring orbital genomics. Their proposal was to use the Dream Chaser to accelerate plant growth cycles to increase yield and nutritional density of produce for deep space travel. As part of their prize package, HudsonAlpha for Biotechnology in Huntsville is providing incubation space and service.

“HudsonAlpha is pleased to provide commercialization support, workspace and networking with leading plant genome experts to SustainSpace as part of their prize,” said Carter Wells, HudsonAlpha’s Vice President for Economic Development. “Huntsville is a great fit for where space and genomics intersect.”

For more information about the Space Exploration Masters, visit