‘Rocket City’ JROTC now 1st Space Force unit ever going to national-level Space-focused competition

  • Published
  • By Christian P. Hodge, HQ Air Force JROTC Public Affairs

A Space Force Junior ROTC unit in ‘Rocket City USA’ is the first unit of its kind to qualify for a national-level competition – Huntsville High School SFJROTC Unit AL-941 will be vying for the StellarXplorers National Space Design Competition championship April 21-23, 2023, in Houston.

Huntsville High SFJROTC will be one of four Air Force and Space Force JROTC StellarXplorers IX National Finalist teams. They and six other teams will compete in their final space design challenge at Space Center Houston. 

“StellarXplorer's is a nation-wide program that also includes regular high school students. The Air and Space Forces Association’s StellarXplorer’s office only selects the top 10 schools in the nation to participate in their finals at NASA in Houston, Texas,” said Mr. R. Wayne Barron, Program Manager, Leadership Development, Headquarters Air Force JROTC. “For AL-941 to be one of those top 10 in the nation is phenomenal!” 

Created by the Air & Space Forces Association, the StellarXplorers Space STEM Program inspires K-12 students toward careers in aerospace, aviation, and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to the nation’s future, according to their website.

“There are only 10 Space Force JROTC units, worldwide, so it's great to have Space Force JROTC cadets already making an impact on the LDR (leadership development requirements) world and competing on the national stage,” said Barron. “I hope to see more Space Force JROTC units compete for national honors.”

Though Huntsville High School SFJROTC will be attending this year representing Space Force, the unit and its lead instructor have been there before, as Air Force.

“We transitioned (from Air Force to Space Force) at the start of the 21-22 school year and held our ceremony in January of 2022,” said retired Lt. Col. David W. Murphy, Senior Aerospace Science Instructor, Huntsville High School SFJROTC AL-941. “The transition to Space Force JROTC has been pretty seamless. Everyone was excited about the transition, especially living in a town nicknamed Rocket City and has the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. It just made sense.”

Before becoming a JROTC instructor Murphy spent 22 years on active duty as an Intelligence officer. This is his 10th year as a JROTC instructor and fourth as a member of the Alabama JROTC State Advisory Board. He has led cadets to earning six straight annual Distinguished Unit Awards, and said he plans on making it seven.

“The cadets are proud to carry the banner for Space Force and one of the cadets plans on joining the USSF (U.S. Space Force),” said Murphy. “We were all ecstatic when we received the news (about making the Nationals). After being so close the past three years, with two teams in the top twenty last year, it’s great to make it.”

According to StellarXplorers, the National Space Design Competition is a fun, team building, space system design competition that starts in October and ends in April, where students are challenged to solve orbit planning, satellite component, and launch vehicle selection scenarios presented each round.

“This year’s semifinal round was also the toughest ever. For all of the cadets it was their first time to Colorado and the experiences at the Air Force Academy and formal dinners was a great learning experience,” said Murphy. “It’s all about the cadets. Trying to prepare the team for all the different variations there may be in a scenario. In the end there is no step-by-step checklist for each round. The team must analyze and think critically to develop a solution. As a team director you hope to have done your best to prepare them.”

For more information on StellarXplorers go to, and for more information on Air Force and Space Force JROTC go to