What is StellarXplorers?

The StellarXplorers Space STEM Program, created by the Air Force Association (AFA), inspires K-12 students toward careers in aerospace, aviation, and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.

Please see our different program offerings below.

The StellarXplorers National Space Design Competition

The StellarXplorers National Space Design Competition provides specific training in the use of system simulation software, Systems Tool Kit (STK), as well as an online textbook as a curriculum supplement and study resource for online “team” quizzes given during the competition. The actual competition is accomplished from the team’s home location. Teams are given a scenario describing the system’s mission and constraints and they provide a solution to a typical space design problem, such as orbit determination, satellite component selection, and launch vehicle planning.

Practice Rounds begin in October, and Qualification Rounds begin in November. Performances of teams during the Qualifying Rounds determine which teams advance to the Semi-Finals in February. The top 10 teams from the Semi-Finals receive an all-expense-paid trip to the National Finals.



StellarCamp is a fun space system design camp for 6th through 12th graders. Participants get to learn about aspects of space system design with no prior experience required.

How is StellarCamp different from the StellarXplorers National Space System Design competition?

StellarCamp is over the course of 5 days, and there is a practice competition on the 5th day. Participating in a StellarCamp is not required to participate as a StellarXplorers competitor, but it serves as a great introduction to STK and knowledge that would be useful to know if participants decide to compete when the school year begins. Additionally, those who participate in StellarCamps are not required to compete in StellarXplorers the following competition season.


Who We Are


Working in partnership with leaders in the U.S. space industry, space-focused academia, and government entities, the Air Force Association (AFA) developed the StellarXplorers Program to inspire students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers through an exciting space-focused competition.


Through StellarXplorers, we are cultivating the leaders in STEM with strong moral character, leading the way to space and beyond.


  • Integrity. The foundations of the competition are the honesty and ethics of all those involved in the program, especially in the absence of supervision.
  • Service. The spirit of the competition is dependent on the ethos of “service before self.” All adults must put competitor well-being and education ahead of their own in throughout all StellarXplorers-related activities.
  • Excellence. The competition pushes Competitors to achieve their best, both during and beyond their participation.


StellarXplorers welcomes those who are interested in space, no matter what level of experience, as a place to share thoughts, ideas, and experiences with others who share a similar passion for problem-solving, team collaboration, and space system design. StellarXplorers provides students with leadership opportunities and mentors other students in science, technology, engineering, math, and organization management. StellarXplorers gives members insight into the space industry and cultivates relationships between students and professionals.


Participation in StellarXplorers will not be restricted on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, experience, gender identity, gender expression, or sex.


In September 2014, the Secretary of the US Air Force office asked the Air Force Association (AFA) if they could develop a national space competition, similar to AFA’s first national cyber education competition, CyberPatriot. Bill Yucuis, an aerospace engineer with 12 years of experience coordinating an Aerospace Magnet Program, was tasked as the chair of a committee tasked with creating the program from scratch. Air Force retired space experts Tim Brock and Stephen Gourley, in addition to Buck Buckwalter, the primary AFA person responsible for developing CyberPatriot, came together to found StellarXplorers. For seven years, the program was entirely volunteer-run. As the program has expanded, the volunteers who got it started have left a tremendous legacy and one-of-a-kind space education and competition program to challenge students across the world.

Contact Us

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AFA’s Aerospace Education Program

AFA believes in the power that students hold in securing our nation’s future. Yet, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). To equip our students with the knowledge and skills required for future innovation, we must increase the number of students and teachers in STEM fields.