The U.S. Space Force accelerator Hyperspace Challenge announced Tuesday the launch of a statewide STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) competition for high school students designed to demonstrate how art can be used to communicate complex scientific concepts.

The competition, created in partnership with the U.S. Space Force’s Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO), is open to high school students throughout New Mexico with submissions due in digital format by March 23. Winners will be selected in categories including “most creative” and “most informative” and honored in an event later this year. More information can be found at a dedicated art competition page on the Hyperspace Challenge website.

The program, “Project S.O.S. — Safeguard Our Satellites!” has been developed in consultation with two New Mexico public schools, the New Mexico School for the Arts, and the Digital Arts and Technology Academy, which have helped design the competition’s structure and art prompts. The schools are also hosting industry experts in a dialogue with students about the value of applying creative and artistic concepts to space. Experts in these discussions, which will be recorded and made available on the competition website page, will include: Matthew Fetrow, Space RCO communications manager; Kelly Stafford, Hyperspace Challenge senior program manager; Demetria Gutiérrez, Hyperspace Challenge UX/UI manager; Dr. Aparna Venkatesan, professor of physics and astronomy and co-director of the Tracy Seeley Center for Teaching Excellence; and Michael Poterfield, senior graphic designer for NASA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.

“Hyperspace Challenge sits at the intersection of commercial industry and government customers. As we move towards a sustainable future in space for all, understanding the real problems facing the industry requires diverse and creative thinking,” said Kelly Stafford, Hyperspace Challenge senior program manager. “We are eager to see what students develop over the course of the competition because we believe art is one of the most exciting ways to engage new communities and to make concepts around these problems more accessible to the public.”

The program title, Project S.O.S., arose out of a desire to draw particular attention to increasingly congested orbits around Earth. As a greater number of satellites are launched over time, collisions between space debris and operational satellites becomes more of a reality and finding ways to help satellites navigate this moving minefield becomes more critical. Project S.O.S. helps raise awareness of this issue by inspiring students and their communities to think of what will be needed to make satellites stronger, safer and more resilient.

“Space offers new opportunities, some of which we haven’t yet imagined. Finding ways to protect space assets, develop better technology, and to inspire the public about why this is necessary for our shared future is something that creative thinking and artistic approaches can help catalyze,” said Matthew Fetrow, Space RCO communications manager.

The Hyperspace Challenge, founded by the Air Force Research Lab and supported by CNM Ingenuity, was created to break down barriers to space and help accelerate innovation for the space domain. This year, the program’s partnership with Space RCO and the resulting Project S.O.S. competition offers a way to inspire a new generation to explore space through an artistic lens and for our communities to better understand the complexities of space exploration.

“We are thrilled to be involved with Project S.O.S. and to have the opportunity to collaborate further with the Digital Arts and Technology Academy as it gives our students — and students across the state — an opportunity to explore real-world applications of artistic practices and to grapple with pressing issues that impact all of humanity,” said Nicholas Chiarella, digital and electronic arts instructor at New Mexico School for the Arts.