Research Project

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Research Project

The FLL Research Project is an important part of the preparation for the tournament. Each team should work on its own research project. Corresponding the challenge topic INTO ORBITSM there are several steps to fulfill for each team.

Consider that the Research Project consists of the following parts: Research & Analysis of the topic, Finding a problem, Developing an innovative solution and Sharing your team´s findings with others. Explain in your presentation at the tournament how you have fulfilled all parts of the FLL Research Project. Keep in mind that the presentation should not be longer than 5 minutes!

Learn About the Topic

Tortillas in Space

Dr. Rodolfo Neri Vela’s incredible career as an engineer and scientist reached new heights when, in 1985, he became the first Mexican to travel into space. While onboard the space shuttle Atlantis, he helped to deploy communication satellites, went on spacewalks, and conducted many other experiments. But it was his choice of a space food menu that would forever change the way astronauts eat! Dr. Neri Vela’s simple request for NASA food scientists to include tortillas in the menu meant that, for the first time, this basic food of Latin American cuisine would fly in space. Why was this such a breakthrough? Space food is important for so many reasons: Obviously it gives astronauts nourishment, but it also provides a little piece of home in an environment that can be very confined. Many astronauts say they can’t taste things as well in space, so having food that is appetizing can mean that space explorers eat enough to stay fit. But taste isn’t the only issue. Having food that is safe for the crew and the spacecraft is also critical. How can food hurt a spacecraft? Well think about what would happen if floating crumbs worked their way into sensitive electronics. The tortilla was a real breakthrough: Astronauts now had a type of bread that made very few crumbs and could serve to hold a variety of other foods from eggs to peanut butter and jelly. It was an immediate hit! Having a little “slice” of home in space is important in so many ways. But every decision you make about your crew and your spacecraft can have enormous consequences.

The Microgravity Marathon

Sunita “Suni” Williams is a US astronaut used to extreme challenges. She is a graduate of the US Naval Academy, an experienced pilot who has flown more than 30 types of aircraft, an accomplished athlete, and she’s spent hundreds of days in space over several missions. So, she’s done it all, right? Well in 2007, there was one record just waiting to be broken. Who could run the first marathon in space? That’s right, on April 16, Suni ran the 42.2 km Boston Marathon on the International Space Station treadmill. It’s vital that astronauts use their bones and muscles daily in reduced gravity and microgravity. Otherwise, their muscles lose strength and their bones become fragile. Most astronauts on the space station exercise about two hours a day to prevent muscle and bone loss. Suni’s marathon took a little more than four hours, which was a pretty amazing feat considering she was strapped to the treadmill with giant rubber bands so she wouldn’t float away! While runners on Earth were making the race in windy 9° C weather, Suni was in the climate controlled space station orbiting the Earth at more than 27,000 kph. In fact, Suni went around the Earth more than twice while her sister Dina Pandya and fellow astronaut Karen Nyberg were running the earthbound Boston Marathon. Suni’s marathon wasn’t just a publicity stunt: Staying fit in space is not optional, and Suni’s message to all of us is that staying active is important on Earth and in space.

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live on a spacecraft, the international space station, or the surface of the Moon or another planet? What if you were there for a year or more? With your team, consider all the things you would need to stay alive, healthy and happy while living and working in outer space. Remember, outer space is a very unforgiving place: Much of space is almost a complete vacuum, meaning there is no air, and none of the moons or other planets in our solar system have an atmosphere that is suitable for humans to breathe.

Many of the terms used to describe space exploration are unique. The first time a glossary term appears, you can click on it to see the definition. In addition, other important terms related to space exploration are explained in the glossary. (use the PDF file for this function)

The Robot Game provides many examples of some of the physical and social challenges humans face when exploring space.

Oh, and don’t forget, many trips into outer space last a very long time: A round-trip journey to explore Mars may take humans up to three years. So, everything you design and build must work almost perfectly, or have a backup system. Your equipment must be tested and retested, and you will even need to think about what it would take to repair something if it breaks a million miles from Earth!

This sounds like a lot of work … and it is! It takes thousands of people on Earth, including engineers, mathematicians, scientists and technicians, to send just a few humans into space. It also takes teamwork and international cooperation, because living and working in space is complex and expensive.

But the rewards are tremendous! When humans take on challenges like space travel, we learn all kinds of new things that help us live better lives here on Earth, and we can discover extraordinary scientific knowledge about our solar system.

Your team’s project challenge this season is: have your team identify a human physical or social problem faced during long duration space exploration within our Sun’s solar system and propose a solution.

Definition: For the FIRST® LEGO® League INTO ORBITSM Challenge: The solar system of our Sun will be defined as the area of outer space, including all the bodies contained in it, extending fifty astronomical units (AUs), or about 7,4 billion kilometers, from the Sun.
Definition: For the INTO ORBITSM Challenge, a human physical problem is one that impacts the health or safety of a space explorer, such as the need for air, water, food or exercise. A human social problem is one that could affect the long-term ability of a human to be productive in space. This could include issues like isolation and boredom. “Long duration” space exploration means spending a year or more in outer space.

Just getting humans safely into space for a short time is enormously hard. Creating rockets, spacecraft, and basic life support systems is one of the most complex tasks that humans can do. But just imagine that your mission to explore the solar system will last for a year or more. How will you cope with the physical problems your crew will face?

Keeping people healthy enough to do their job in outer space can be very complicated. It can be either very cold or very hot, depending upon where you are. The human body is exposed to microgravity or reduced gravity, and solar radiation – which can harm people over time. You must take all the supplies needed to stay alive, including air, water and food, or you will need a way to make these supplies once you leave Earth. Space travelers must also be able to exercise to keep their bones and muscles strong. This means you need to have special workout equipment that can function with little or no gravity. You will also need a system to make power for your spacecraft or habitat so you will have energy to work, explore and provide life support for you and your crew. You will even need a way to dispose of or recycle trash and human waste!

Physical problems aren’t the only troubles humans confront when they go to space for long periods of time. People have been traveling to space since 1961, and scientists have learned a lot about how humans react when they are in a spacecraft for weeks, months and even years. We know that people are happier and more productive in space when they feel connected to friends and family back on Earth. This may mean that they may need to bring along a favorite game or hobby, have a way to interact with people on Earth who are millions of miles away, or, in the future, they may even have a pet in space! Space explorers also need food that is tasty enough so that they will want to eat and maintain their strength.

The things we learn when solving these complicated issues for space travel can also sometimes help solve problems on Earth. For example, did you know that inventions as different as cordless tools, medical CAT scans and satellite television all trace their roots back to space exploration? These “spinoff” technologies come about when someone sees an earthly use for a device developed for space exploration. Who knows, maybe your team’s innovative solution can benefit the space explorers of the future and help people here on Earth!

Try to learn as much as possible about the topic of “Living and Traveling in Space” before you commit to a specific topic in this area. Use different sources for this, like news articles, documentaries or movies, interviews with professionals working in the field, ask your local librarian, books, online videos, websites or make an excursion to learn more about your topic.

Do not forget to study the inventions that already exist. Sometimes it can make a big difference when engineers develop an idea that has been around for decades!

Identify a Problem

Not sure where to start? Try this process to help your team choose and explore a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration:

Ask your team to draw or create a chart that shows all the things you will need to stay healthy and productive in space. You might want to use some of the Project Resources to explore just what it takes to keep humans alive and well on your solar system journey.

Your team may be able to use the scientific method or the engineering design process to tackle your problem. You can find out about the engineering design process at sites like this, or conduct your own research to learn more about how these approaches to problem solving can help your team.

Consider questions like:

  • Where do astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts get the oxygen and water they need when they are onboard a spacecraft or space station?
  • How do humans eat in space? What kinds of food can we take to space?
  • How is trash and human waste disposed of in space?
  • What are some of the challenges humans will face as we make plans to travel to and explore Mars?
  • What kinds of things do astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts do to stay healthy and happy in space when they are there for long periods of time?
  • How do humans in space communicate with mission controllers, friends and family back on Earth?
  • What does microgravity, reduced gravity and radiation do to the human body? How do humans lessen the effect of microgravity, reduced gravity and radiation on the body?
  • What systems have been used in the past, are what methods are currently used, to provide power and life support on spacecraft and space stations?
  • What power and life support systems are being planned for future spacecraft and human habitats on other planets?
  • Humans have been going into space since 1961. How has our knowledge about living and working in space grown since then?
  • What types of people study and work on human spaceflight here on Earth?
  • What does it take to become an astronaut, cosmonaut or taikonaut?
  • How do astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts, and their mission controllers, train for spaceflight?
  • Why are spacewalks necessary, and is there a way to make them safer for humans?
  • What are some of the unique challenges encountered when making spacecraft repairs in microgravity and reduced gravity environments?

This might be a great time for the team to interview a professional. At first this may seem like a challenge unless you live near a place that launches rockets, or trains astronauts, cosmonauts or taikonauts; but as you will see, there are many experts around the world who can help you find information about space exploration. We’ll give you a head start with some of the “Ask a Professional” resources in this Challenge Guide, but you can talk to people at science museums, colleges and universities, or even speak with medical doctors and psychologists.

Ask your team to select the problem they would like to investigate and solve. You might select a problem in one of these areas (or add your own):

  • Exercising in space
  • Growing food in space
  • Recreation in space
  • Generating oxygen or recycling water in space
  • Protecting humans and spacecraft from radiation or micrometeoroids
  • Recycling waste in space
  • Finding the best place for humans to live on a moon or another planet
  • Creating energy for your spacecraft or habitat
  • Performing maintenance on a spacecraft or a habitat

Ask your team questions like: Why does this problem still exist? Why aren’t the current solutions good enough? What could be improved?

Field trips are a great way to learn about a new topic. Planetariums, or science museums that specialize in astronomy, are a great place to start. There are dozens of aerospace museums around the world that might be able to help you. You could also talk to your local science center, or reach out to an at a college or university or even online.


Create an Innovative Solution

Next, your team will design a solution to the problem. Any solution is a good start. The ultimate goal is to design an innovative solution that adds value to society by improving something that already exists, using something that exists in a new way, or inventing something totally new.

Ask your team to think about:

  • What could be done better? What could be done in a new way?
  • What is one problem we can recognize and solve that will make life better for humans in space?
  • What are some ways our solution might also help people on Earth?

Ask your team to think of your problem like a puzzle. Brainstorm! Then turn the problem upside down and think about it in a completely different way. Imagine! Get silly! Even a “silly idea” might inspire the perfect solution. Encourage team members to try one idea (or more), but be prepared that each idea may need some improvements.

Make sure your team thinks about how they could make their solution a reality. Try asking them questions like:

  • Why would your solution succeed when others have failed?
  • What information would you need to estimate the cost?
  • Do you need any special technology to make your solution?
  • Who would be able to use it?

Remember, your team’s solution does not need to be completely new. Inventors often improve an idea that already exists or use something that exists in a new way.

Share with Others

Once the team has designed a solution, the next step is to share it!

Ask your team to think about who your solution might help. Is it possible your solution could help space explorers and people here on Earth? What type of people in your community might be able to give you feedback? Be creative! Although space may seem like a giant topic, many of the problems humans will encounter in space may be similar to problems already faced on Earth. How can you share your solution with people who might have suggestions on how to make your ideas even better?

  • Can you present your research and solution to scientists and engineers in person?
  • Can you submit your ideas via e-mail or Skype?
  • Can you share with someone who helped you learn about your problem in the first place?
  • Can you brainstorm about talking to people you might not normally ask about space, like other students, teachers or members of your community?

It might help to present your solution to someone who can give profound feedback. Accept good proposals and implement improvements is part of a process that every inventor passes. It is also okay to discard an idea because of the feedback of an expert.

Present your Solution at a Tournament

Any inventor must present their idea to people who can help them make it a reality, such as engineers, investors, or manufacturers. Like adult inventors, the Project presentation is your team’s chance to share their great Project work with the Judges.

As long as your team covers the basic Project information, they may choose any presentation style they like. Think of the talents your team members have. Could you perform a skit? Create a website? Make a comic book? Rap? Write a poem, song, or story? Your presentation can include posters, slideshows, models, multimedia clips, your research materials, and more. Be creative, but also make sure you cover all the essential information.

To be eligible for Project Awards and advancement, your team must include the following basic Project information:

  • Identify a problem that meets this year’s criteria.
  • Explain their innovative solution.
  • Describe how they shared with others prior to the tournament.
  • Show different types of research resources (offline, online, experts, etc.)
  • Meet the presentation requirements:
    • All teams must present live. The team may use media equipment (if available) only to enhance the live presentation.
    • Include all team members. Each team member must participate in the project judging session.
    • Set up and complete the presentation in 5 minutes or less with no adult help.

There is a download version of the Research Project available – go to Downloads. Do you have questions about the Research Presentation? Send an e-mail to Important answers to your questions will be published in the Q&A section under

You can find interesting links, possible experts and background information about the research topic for INTO ORBITSM online – go to Background.

You can learn more about how your team’s presentation will be judged by reviewing the Evaluations.


Term or Phrase
INTO ORBIT Operational Definitions

outer space

The area that exists between the Earth and other bodies in the universe; with respect to Earth, outer space starts at an altitude of approximately 63 miles (100 km) above sea level.

solar system

For the INTO ORBITSM Challenge: The area of outer space, including all the bodies contained in it, extending fifty (50) astronomical units (AUs), or about 4.6 billion miles (7.5 billion km), from the Sun. The solar system of our Sun generally describes all the objects that are under the gravitational influence of the Sun, or objects that may be influenced by the radiation of the Sun. However, there is no exact agreement as to where the solar system ends due to the lack of data about the boundaries of the heliosphere.



A rocky object in space that is at least one meter in diameter, and up to one thousand kilometers in diameter. Most asteroids in the solar system orbit in a belt between Mars and Jupiter.

astronomical unit (AU)

A measurement of distance used in astronomy and space travel. One AU is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, or about 93 million miles (150 million km).


The study of the sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, galaxies, and other non-Earthly bodies in space.


The layer of gases surrounding the Earth or other planets. The Earth’s atmosphere can be described as a series of shells or layers of different characteristics.


A ball of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the Sun. Jets of gas and dust from comets form long tails that can be seen from Earth.

core sample

A cylindrical section of rock or soil that is obtained to examine the geologic history of an area, or to see the composition of the materials below the surface. In planetary exploration, core samples are desirable so that scientists can explore for possible signs of life, discover how various planets were formed, and search for resources that might be useful for life support or energy.

electromagnetic radiation

Electromagnetic (EM) energy that travels in the form of waves or particles. The term “radiation” includes everything from x-rays, to visible light, to radio waves. Some forms of electromagnetic radiation, such as x-rays and gamma rays, can be very harmful to humans.


A galaxy is a huge collection of gas, dust, and trillions of stars and their solar systems. Scientists believe there could be as many as one hundred billion galaxies in the universe.


The region around the Sun that marks the end of the heliosphere and the boundary of our solar system.


The area around the Sun that is influenced by the solar wind.


A rocky object in space that is less than one meter in diameter. When a meteoroid heats up in Earth’s atmosphere, it makes a bright trail, and is called a meteor. If the meteor makes it to the Earth’s surface intact as a rock, it is called a meteorite.


Micrometeoroids are very small meteoroids that can seriously damage spacecraft. They are often moving at speeds of 10 km/s (22,000 mph) or more.


A natural satellite is an astronomical body that orbits a planet or minor planet.

the Moon

The Moon is the name given to Earth's only permanent natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the Solar System.


The path of a celestial object – such as a planet or moon – around another celestial body. In our solar system, for example, the planets are in orbit around the Sun, and there are many moons that are in orbit around the planets. Man-made satellites and spacecraft are also placed INTO ORBITSM around the Earth and other planets.


A planet is an astronomical body orbiting a star that is massive enough that its own gravity has shaped it into a sphere, and has cleared its orbit of other large solar system objects. Planets are not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion and become a star.


In a planetarium you can watch educational and entertaining shows about astronomy and the night sky, or for training in celestial navigation.

planetary rover

A semi-autonomous robot that explores the surface of another planet in our solar system.


On all the terrestrial, or “Earth-like” planets in the solar system, regolith describes the layer of relatively loose soil and small rocks that covers a harder layer of solid rock called bedrock. The inner planets of the solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – have a layer of regolith, as well as some moons.

remote sensing

Gathering information about a place or thing without being in direct contact with it. Satellites and space probes are used to gather remote sensing data about planets throughout the solar system, and planetary rovers have been use a variety of tools and sensors to obtain information about planets like Mars.


The term “satellite” usually refers to a human-made or natural object in orbit around the Earth, the Moon or another planet. Human made satellites are used to collect information or for communication. The term can also refer to an astronomical body orbiting the earth or another planet.

science center

A science center emphasizes a hands-on approach, featuring interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to experiment and explore.

solar wind

A type of high-energy EM radiation that is released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. This radiation can create hazards for humans in space, damage orbiting satellites, and even knock out power grids on Earth.

space probe

An un-crewed spacecraft that travels through space to collect information about our solar system.


A celestial body composed of gas that produces light and energy through nuclear reaction. Stars are probably the most recognizable object in the night sky. Astronomers and physicists estimate there may be as many as two trillion stars in a typical galaxy.

the Sun 

The closest star to Earth, and the most massive body in our solar system. The Sun is also the most important source of energy for life on Earth.


A device that allows humans to conduct a type of remote sensing by collecting electromagnetic radiation, such as visible light or radio waves, and creating images or descriptions of celestial bodies. Visible light, or optical, telescopes use mirrors or lenses to see far away planets, stars and galaxies. Radio, x-ray or gamma-ray telescopes look for the invisible electromagnetic waves given off by stars, galaxies and even black holes.

Physics, Forces and Motion


The rate of change of the velocity of an object. In the SI system, acceleration is usually measured in meters per second squared (m/s2), and in the imperial system, in feet per second squared (ft./s2). Acceleration can be linear, if an object simply speeds up or slows down, or non-linear, if an object changes the direction of its motion.


A force is a push or pull on something that is caused when one object interacts with another object. The SI measure unit of force is the newton (N), and the imperial unit is the pound (lb.)


Gravity is a force of attraction that exists between any two masses, any two bodies, any two particles. Gravity is not just the attraction between objects and the Earth. It is an attraction that exists between all objects, everywhere in the universe. The surface gravity observed on a planet depends on the planet’s size, mass and density.


A measure of how much matter is in an object. The mass of an object does not change relative to the object’s place in the solar system or universe. The official SI (“metric”) unit of mass is the kilogram (kg), and the imperial unit of mass is the slug.


Microgravity is a condition of apparent weightlessness experienced on spacecraft in orbit around the Earth or other planets. The effect of microgravity is caused by a spacecraft being in freefall while in orbit around a planet, even though the spacecraft is still under the influence of the planet’s gravitational pull.


The mass of an object multiplied by it velocity.

Sir Isaac Newton

An English mathematician, astronomer, and physicist who’s “Laws of Motion” explain the physical principles that describe the motion of a rocket as it leaves the Earth and travels to other parts of the solar system. Newton also developed theories about gravity when he was only 23 years old.

Newton’s First Law

Everything in the universe – including people, a rocket, a soccer ball or even a rock – will stay at rest or in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. This idea is also known as “inertia.”

Newton’s Second Law

This scientific law describes how the force of an object, its mass and its acceleration are related. It can be written as a formula: force is equal to mass times acceleration (F = m a).

Newton’s Third Law

Often referred to as the “rocketry law,” Newton’s Third Law states that for every action in the universe, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

reduced gravity

The gravity observed on the surface of the Moon or Mars is less than that on Earth. When humans are on the surface of the Moon or other planets, they are in a state of reduced gravity.


Speed is the rate at which an object covers distance, like “10 meters per second (m/s).”


Velocity is the speed of an object plus the direction in which it is travelling, like “10 meters per second (m/s) north.”


A measure of the force exerted by gravity on an object. The SI unit of weight is the newton (N), and the imperial unit of weight is the pound (lb.).

Rocketry and Spacecraft


A material used by a rocket engine that produces a chemical reaction that results in thrust being created by a rocket engine. Kerosene and hydrogen are common liquid fuels for rocket engines.


The phase of a rocket’s flight where it is leaving the surface of the Earth or another planetary body.

liquid fueled rocket engine

A rocket that has separate tanks for its liquid fuel and oxidizer, which are combined at the point of combustion to produce the rocket exhaust and thrust.


An oxidizer is a type of chemical which a rocket fuel requires to burn. Most types of combustion on Earth use oxygen, which is prevalent in the atmosphere. However, in space there is no atmosphere to provide oxygen so rockets need to carry their own oxidizers.


The phase of a rocket or spacecraft’s flight where it is returning to Earth or attempting to land on the surface of another planetary body. If a spacecraft is passing through the atmosphere of a planet, it may encounter extreme heating when it re-enters, and must have a protective heat shield if it is to survive.


Usually, a tall, thin, round vehicle that is launched into space using a rocket engine.

rocket engine

A device that ejects mass – usually hot gasses from a burning fuel – to create thrust that propels an object through the sky or into outer space. The work of rocket engines can be explained by Newton’s Third Law of Motion: The engine pushes out exhaust gases, and the exhaust pushes back on the engine and its spacecraft. A rocket engine does not need to “push” on the ground or the atmosphere to work, so it’s perfect for the vacuum of space.  

solar panel

A device that absorbs sunlight and converts into electrical energy. Solar panels are often used to generate power on spacecraft that will stay near the Sun because they provide an efficient source of renewable energy.

solid fueled rocket engine

A rocket engine that uses a fuel and oxidizer mixed together in a relatively stable solid state of matter.

space capsule

A crewed spacecraft that often has a plain shape and is attached to the top of a rocket for launch into outer space. Space capsules must contain basic life support systems for their crews, and are often intended as re-entry vehicles to return crews safely to Earth.

space station

A type of spacecraft that is assembly of habitation and science modules that orbits the Earth, or potentially other planets, and is intended for long-term space exploration and experimentation.


Any vehicle that travels in outer space.


When a human uses a spacesuit to leave a spacecraft for a short period to work or experiment in the vacuum of space.


Thrust is the force which moves an airplane or rocket through the air, or moves a rocket through space.

Life Support and Communication


An airtight room that has two doors that allows a person to leave a spacecraft without letting all the air out.


In-Situ Resource Utilization, or ISRU, is the concept of using the raw materials from a planet or asteroid to create supplies needed for life support or further space exploration. An example might be using water found on the Moon or Mars to create rocket fuel (hydrogen) and an oxidizer (oxygen) so that further exploration could take place.

life support system

In space exploration, a life support system is a collection of tools and machines that allow humans to stay alive away from Earth’s resources such as air, water and food.

mission control

A mission control center is a facility on Earth that manages the flight of crewed or un-crewed spacecraft while they are in outer space. Mission control centers monitor all aspects of spaceflight, including life support, navigation and communication.

space food 

Food that has been prepared specially prepared for human spaceflight to make sure that it will not cause illness, that it is relatively easy to prepare, and that it will not damage the hardware of the spacecraft. Food scientists also try to ensure that the food is appetizing, because it is very important that astronauts eat while in space so that they have enough energy to carry out their work.


A pressurized suit that allows humans to conduct a spacewalk. Spacesuits must contain robust life support systems that provide air to breath, protection from radiation and micrometers, and a way to regulate body temperature.


A commercial product developed through space research that benefits life on Earth. These products result from the creation of innovative technologies that were needed for a unique aspect of space exploration. 

FLL 2018/19 Research Project as Video