Specification Clarification Questions

MESA does its best to ensure our specifications are as clear as possible. However, there are times during the Engineering Design Process rules need to be clarified. In those instances student participants may submit Specification Clarification Questions. Specification Clarification questions must be emailed to azmesa@email.arizona.edu or submitted via our webform at MESA Day Question. Questions should be discussed with MESA teachers prior to submission. Submitted questions should include your name, your school, and the MESA teacher should be copied on the email.

Question: During the pitch are video clips allowed?

  • Answer: Yes, per Pitch Rule 4 “Teams are encouraged to bring additional audio and visual aids to enhance their presentation.” However, teams cannot use a video as their entire pitch.

Question: Can you switch out wheels in between races for a particular race?

  • Answer: Yes this is allowable.

Question; Can rubber bands be used in a pulley system to power the car as long as they are not being used to add extra power to the car?

  • Answer: Yes, rubber bands can be used as long as they do not add power. Teams will need to be prepared to explain to the judges how they are being used and show that they do not add power. The design notebook is a good place to keep data and information for this purpose.

Question: Are we allowed to get a bigger motor for the solar car?

  • Answer: No, per the specifications under mandatory materials you must use the motor that was provided.


Question: When the Minimum Spanning Tree questions come out will they be an image with numbers on it or is it going to be code related?

  • Answer: The questions will actually be referred to as graph questions and will have neither an image nor code to be deciphered. These questions will have a list of the edges and their distance and ask students to find the shortest distance from the first point to the last point. For example: Given the edges below, the shortest distance from A to D would be A to C and C to D which is a cost of a distance of 3+1=4
    A -> B: 4
    A -> C: 3
    A -> D: 8
    B -> C: 6
    B -> D: 2
    C -> B: 6
    C -> D: 1
    D -> B: 2

Question: Can students bring their own mouse to use with provided laptops for the Hack Attack?

  • Answer: Yes, that will be allowed

Question: Is a notebook part of the judging for that competition?

  • Answer: A notebook is part of this competition and will be used as a tiebreaker.

Question: If we are not allowed to use PVC glue to "create" members that are 2' X 6" X 6", what other types of material could be used to make these with?  In other words, if the members can be 2' X 6" X 6",  how can any member be rigid and shaped this way without some sort of bonding material used to create the 6-inch depth?

  • Answer: Glue can be used. Pieces of half-inch schedule 40 PVC, including half-inch fittings, can be glued together. Once they are glued they are considered a single member and must fit within the 2’ x 6” x 6” parameter. The 6” width and height of the parameter allow for a fitting to become part of a member. Remember that members can only be made from half-inch schedule 40 PVC.

Question: Are screws allowed in pre-assembled pieces or “members”?

  • Answer: No,  members can only be made from ½” schedule 40 PVC. Screws are considered connections and must be “loose” which means only attached during the construction process and not permanently affixed.

Question: Should the bridge have a platform built in for testing or will that be supplied by you?

  • Answer: No, The platform, called the “decking surface”, will be provided by MESA during testing. Rule 4e states that the bridge “shall provide exactly two decking support surfaces that are continuous along the full length of the bridge” So the bridge must have a place for the “decking surface” to be placed on AND once it’s in place Rule 4e further states that the bridge should have “a straight rectangular vehicle passageway…” so a place for cars to drive through. For our purpose a car will be a 2 foot wide by 1 foot tall box, called the “Vehicle Clearance Template” that should be able to travel through the bridge without obstruction.

Question: Can we use grip tape around the pipes?

  • Answer: Yes, tape can be used as a loose connection as long as it is added only after building has started.

Question: Can we add materials, like filament, inside the PVC to help stabilize the bridge?

  • Answer: No, these materials would become part of the member and members can only consist of half-inch schedule 40 PVC.

Question: Can there be supports under the bridge deck?

  • Answer: Yes, you can have support structures under the bridge deck as long as it meets all other parameters, including 4d which states “Vertical clearance of 1’6” shall be provided under the bridge at all points directly over the ground and river.”

Question: Can you make a homemade parachute for the water rockets?

  • Answer: Yes, homemade parachutes are allowed but commercially available parachutes are prohibited.

Question: If we use an epoxy to secure fins and the bottle still is holding the air pressure, would this be allowed?

  • Answer: No, Per the specifications under Materials, “materials that could compromise the integrity of the … bottle will not be allowed…” Although the bottle may be holding pressure now there is no way to determine if that will remain the case after repeated testing. Unless students, through research, can provide specific information in their design notebooks that can definitively prove that the epoxy has in no way compromised the integrity of the bottle. This information would have to be presented to the lead judge who would make a final determination.

Question: My team wants to cut the 2 liter bottles and glue them together. would this still meet the #4 (has one 2liter bottle) and #5 (integrity of bottle is intact)? 

  • Answer: This would fail both during spec check. All rockets should have 1 Two-liter bottle that has not been altered to serve as the booster rocket. This is done to ensure the safety of students and volunteers and prevent a bottle from exploding. This bottle can have attachments but judges will make the final call as to whether they feel the integrity of the bottle has been compromised.

Question: Can we use flex tape to hold the fins on the bottle?

  • Answer: As long as the adhesive does not compromise the integrity of the 2-liter bottle it is allowed. If during specification check judges feel that it does compromise the integrity they have the authority to disqualify a rocket for safety purposes.

Question: Can a team attach their egg capsule to the side of the bottle as long as it is smaller in diameter than the bottle, or does it have to be attached so that it's at the top of the bottle when launched?

  • Answer: The capsule must be contained within an imaginary cylinder that is no wider than the diameter of the 2-liter bottle and extends above and beneath the bottle. This is what design parameter 2, which states that “The egg capsule shall fit within the diameter of the of the 2-liter bottle(s).”, is meant to describe. So in essence the capsule cannot be attached to the side of the bottle because that would reside outside this imaginary cylinder.

Question: Are we able to use a hand pump at state competition for our bottle rocket?

  • Answer: Yes, if you may choose to use a hand pump but the 5-minute time limit for the launch remains the same.

Question: Can we use hot melt glue to make part of the egg capsule?

  • Answer: Yes as long as the hot melt glue doesn’t glue part of the egg capsule to the pressurized 2-liter bottle.

Question: Can we make our egg capsule out of an aluminum soda can or metal soup can?

  • Answer: No, this would violate parameter #3 (Substantial Metal parts are not allowed).

Question: Can we cut the top off of the 1-liter bottle and put a disk in it to push the egg capsule out?

  • Answer: As long as the rocket could be pressurized enough to launch properly and the piston deploys the egg capsule while in flight (parameter #11) then this would be acceptable.  If the rocket engine (1-liter bottle), remained on the launcher and only the egg capsule flew out, this would violate parameter #11 and result in a 50% score penalty.

Question: Can we use a small electronic device to trigger the egg capsule to release from the rocket?

  • Answer:  A small electronic device and power supply (battery) is allowed as long as it is self-contained and not triggered mechanically or electrically by someone or something external to the rocket.  It must be small, lightweight and packed inside something soft so as not to pose a safety hazard should it land on someone.  Small metal items such as springs, and escapement mechanisms are already allowed per parameter 3 and a small solenoid to trigger the release could be allowed.  Complete details, schematics, and weights should be included in your EDN to aid the judges in verifying the operation and safety of the device.

Question: Can you use poster board as the paper for the paper boat challenge?

  • Answer: Yes, poster board can be used. The range of items considered paper is very broad and was chosen for this specific reason. Students should experiment with different papers and can mix papers in their designs. Any information collected on paper types and data from experimentation on and with paper types should be included in the Engineering Design Notebooks.

Question: Can a water boat have more than one deck as long as the paper is physically connected to the structure?  Can we instruct the judge to maneuver this deck to place more golf balls?

  • Answer: Yes, however judges must keep to the timing of placing the golf balls so the judge’s will use their discretion to determine if the deck can be moved within the timing of the event. If they determine they cannot then they have the right to refuse. Also, judges are not responsible for any issues that may arise from moving the deck that may cause the boat to prematurely capsize. If this occurs boats will not be retested and a score will determined based on how many golf balls were held prior to the issue. Any requests must be handled during spec check and not during testing.

Question: is there a specific kind of tape that needs to be used.

  • Answer: No, the type of paper and tape is not specified for this project. Students should experiment with various tapes and papers to determine what will work best for their design and help them maximize the efficiency of their boat. However, remember that tapes designed to be water proof are not allowed.

Question: Can cardboard be considered a paper with the paper boat challenge?

  • Answer: No, cardboard is not an allowable material for this year’s challenge.

Question: Can we use wax paper or Puffin paper to make the tape and paper canoe?

  • Answer: No, papers designed to be waterproof are not allowed. 

Question: Can the boat have a flat bottom?

  • Answer: No, per Design Parameter 1b “Boats must have a keel (i.e. no flat bottom)”

Question: Can compressed air and/or helium be used in pontoons for the paper and tape boat?

  • Answer: No, the compressed air or helium would be considered a material for the purpose of this competition and the only materials allowed are paper and tape.

Question: How much of a keel needs to exist for the boat to be legal?  In other words, is there a particular length the judges are looking for. 

  • Answer: The keel needs to exist (i.e. no flat bottom). That structural piece is not a set dimension as it varies depending on the design decisions of the team.

Question: Can the keel portion of the boat have other parts made out of paper or tape connected directly to it, say halfway down the keel?

  • Answer: The design of the keel is a decision to be made by the team. That decision should be documented in the Engineering Design Notebook based on the team’s research, design, and testing.  There is no required design for the keel.

Question: Is carbon paper ok to use?

  • Answer: Carbon paper is paper that has been coated with a waxy film. This waxy coating is not an allowable material so carbon paper is not allowed.

Question: Is Gorilla Tape ok to use?

  • Answer: Regular Gorilla Tape is similar to Duct tape and can be used. Waterproof Gorilla Tape is not allowed.

Question: Can we melt the tape to connect the parts of the boat?

  • Answer: Yes, that is allowed but students should be prepared to discuss and show judges how they did this to ensure that their design is within specifications. This will include notes from the notebook, and samples of the tape that is melted and discussion about the melting process.

Question: What container will be used for testing boats at MESA Day?

  • Answer: We will be using a tote similar to the common 20 gallon totes that were used at MESA Day 2019. We will not be using the 5 gallon bucket.

Question: If an item is printed with filament can you add other materials like magnets to the 3D printed piece?

  • Answer: Yes other elements can be included, however, the printed piece must be the primary element of the design and be the focal point for demonstrating the ability to meet the client's need

Question: Can we paint on our 3D printed design? 

  •  Answer: Yes, that is allowed.

Question: Does it violate the parameters of 150mm x 150mm x 150mm if the pieces print larger but when the pieces are separated the meet the design restrictions?

  • Answer: This would not violate the parameters. Only the finished product must fit within the 150 mm x 150 mm x 150 mm parameter.

Question: If the design fits the size parameters while disassembled but exceed them assembled, is the design violating the specifications for size?

  • Answer: Yes this would violate Design Parameter 3 which states that “The maximum size of the design is 150 x 150 x 150 mm total.”

Question: Can we have a ‘pre-made’ floor and roof?

  • Answer: Yes, the specifications only state that the shelter must be able to be packed for easy transport and assembled in 5 minutes or less. So parts of the shelter can be ‘pre-made’ and then put together during the set-up process as long as all other design parameters are met.

Question: Will students be asked to do a presentation and create a design notebook?

  • Answer: Students will be asked to present their design to the judges and answer a few questions about their process. They will also be asked to share any written documentation they created during building. Both may be scored items.

Question: Will teams be asked to do the same challenge that was done during the regional event?

  • Answer: No, the challenge will be different.


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