The goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon in 2024. By the end of the decade, NASA wishes to create a sustainable base camp on the lunar surface which will serve as a hub for scientific research and can also be a base for future exploration of Mars. A critical component of this program's success is the delivery of supplies and systems to the lunar surface and eventually Mars.
Building a base camp on the moon is no small task! From small scientific instruments to large rovers and habitat modules, the Artemis program will need a robust and reliable cargo-handling system that can effectively operate in the lunar environment and is compatible with a broad array of lunar lander configurations. NASA welcomes ideas that address how to unload payloads from the lunar landers.
Payloads of varying mass and volume will be sent to the moon in one of several commercial landers and once they arrive at the lunar South Pole, they need to be unloaded. These landers will range in size depending on the program requirements, so ideally the solution should be flexible enough to handle a variety of payloads being off-loaded from a range of different vehicles. Current Earth-based logistics systems are too massive to easily be packaged and deployed on the lunar surface. This is why we are asking for your help! We are looking for practical and cost-effective solutions to unload payloads to the lunar surface.
Landing on the moon in 2024 and establishing a sustained human presence will be one of the most challenging logistical efforts ever attempted. NASA is excited to get your ideas on systems that will make lunar exploration a reality.
What You Can Do To Cause A Breakthrough
Click the orange button below to sign up for the challenge
We are going to the moon, to stay. As the future of a lunar outpost unfolds, NASA is teaming up with commercial partners who will supply the landers and capabilities for the delivery of payloads. Most recently, NASA has selected three providers for human landers (HLS) as well as commercial lunar payload service providers (CLPS) for robotically delivering payloads to the lunar surface (learn more about lunar deliveries on Houston we have a Podcast).Once the cargo has landed, they will need a system to unload the payloads from the landers onto the lunar surface. NASA is looking for autonomous or semi-autonomous, scalable systems that can be launched, landed, and deployed without crew set up that could support a wide range of payloads and landers. Ideally the solution would be fully autonomous so it can operate without human interaction for several years; however, ideas that are not fully autonomous are also acceptable if they have the potential to become autonomous. Manual operations in nominal and off-nominal conditions are also desired, but not required.
The images below show examples of the three human landers and are meant to offer further insights into potential height and volume conditions that landers may impose. Future cargo landers are subject to change.
As Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Before investing in and building a large-scale logistics infrastructure, NASA wants to engage the community for ideas that provide highreliability. Solutions can be part of the lander, located separately on the lunar surface, or be a combination of approaches.
The environment on the moon is distinctly different from Earth’s. Among other things, the lunar environment has no atmosphere, broad temperature swings, reduced gravity, abrasive dust, and uneven terrain with potential obstacles. Proposed ideas should consider how systems would work in such conditions.Also, note that landers must land well away from key infrastructure to reduce the risk of damaging it.
NASA has developed some concepts and prototype systems for handling cargo from lunar landers. While these systems are effective at some operations, they may not optimize cost, mass and simplicity. Before baselining a large scale system, NASA is seeking ideas from the public to inform the direction of future development. For this challenge, NASA is looking for concepts and innovative approaches that may have been proven in other fields, or are based on sound reasoning and proven methodologies. Such approaches typically have a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 3-4; however, solutions with lower TRLs are acceptable. See the Resources tab for complete definitions of TRLs.
The payloads will range in size and shape and can be categorized into three mass classes: <2 metric tons, 2-8 metric tons, and 8-12 metric tons. Ideally, NASA would like solutions that can handle multiple classes of payloads so that the system can be broadly used. Solutions that are able to successfully unload one class are also acceptable. For the purpose of this challenge, these payloads can be considered black boxes so that the focus is on how the design addresses either one or multiple payload classes. The figure below provides examples of possible payloads in the different classes. A detailed list of specific examples of payloads is available in the Resources Tab.
The individual components of the unloading system you propose are intended to be sent to the moon in a lunar lander and must fit inside the payload fairing of the launch vehicle. It is important to consider how the mass and volume of your system impacts what else can fit inside the payload fairing and how this impacts mission operations. For instance, you could propose an unloading system that takes up most of a lander’s payload mass but could be left on the moon and used for many deliveries. You could also propose an unloading system that takes up only a small portion of the lander’s payload fairing and may be brought on every trip, leaving room for other payloads.
For the purposes of this challenge, you can broadly assume that the payload fairing can accommodate a total of 3-5 metric tonnes and has a diameter of 5-8 meters. There is potential to have your unloading system shipped on a larger lander if the cost of doing so is justified by the value your system brings. You can learn more about the different launch options and estimated capacities in the SLS (Mission Planner’s Guide) or the guides for commercially available launch vehicles. Optimizing mass and volume for the overall mission in this way will be an important factor of a successful submission. Since launch vehicles also have challenging volume constraints, packaging efficiency of your concept will be very important. As a reminder, mass and volume are related but not always correlated - consider the difference in volume between a kilogram of feathers and a kilogram of lead!
Standardizing interfaces is a priority for NASA when designing a logistics infrastructure on the moon. The Artemis program is an international one, and integration of different elements on the lunar surface requires a variety of compatible mechanical and electrical interfaces. Imagine seamless integration of systems on the Moon. Just like the iPhone or Android phones having the ability to be charged by USB or being made to a certain spec so that they can use a standard phone cover, your ideas should consider how they can efficiently interface with a variety of systems. The types of landers and payloads will vary. For cargo applications, features such as power standards, robotics interfaces, and external mounting interfaces will need to be defined and optimized. Ideas should include suggestions for how these parts of the system can be standardized. This includes not only the unloading system but also ideas on how the lunar payloads can be packaged and configured on a lander to simplify offloading.
Additional capabilities that are desired but not required as part of your submission include:
Solutions that have the capability to load payloads for return to Earth
Solutions that have the capability of transporting payloads from landers to point of use
The system provides an option for the crew to provide override capability
You can assume the following will be provided:
Power for unloading systems from the lander on which they are mounted and/or from a power source/charging station at the Artemis base camp
Commanding and telemetry systems to Earth-based ground control
Camera systems on the spacecraft and/or lunar surface to provide insight for cargo operations
Cargo operations are conducted during illuminated periods at the Artemis Base Camp for remote visibility
This challenge will award up to $25,000 in total prizes to up to 6 teams:
One First place winner will be awarded up to $10,000
Two Second place winners will each be awarded up to $4500 ($9,000 total for Second place prizes)
Three Third place winners will each be awarded up to $2,000 ($6,000 total for Third place prizes)
In addition to the prizes discussed above, winners may also receive the following non-monetary incentives:
An opportunity to meet with NASA engineers to more fully present the concept and answer any questions
If available, a conference or virtual event that allows all prize winners to present their ideas to and interact with NASA technical staff (some State Department restrictions may apply)
A press release or other publicity by HeroX and/or NASA announcing the winners
Wide promotion of the winner on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Participation in a webinar to showcase the winning solutions to the public.
Open to submissions: October 29, 2020
Submission deadline: January 19, 2021 @ 5pm ET
Judging: January 19 to March 9, 2021
Winners Announced: March 16, 2021
How do I win?
To be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at a minimum:
Satisfy the Judging Scorecard requirements
Thoughtfully address the Submission Form questions
Be scored higher than your competitors!
Level of robustness; high degree of confidence that device or technique will be able to offload payloads.
Case for Mass and Volume Optimization
Idea considers mass and volume: case is made for either leaving a solution on the moon or including it in the lander or a combination of approaches.
The degree to which the technique can work autonomously or has the potential to work autonomously
Quality of proposal: clear, concise writing; thoughtful and complete explanations of how the unloading design concept meets the specifications listed.
Flexibility of design
The design considers the ability to work with a variety of payloads and landers. Proposes recommendations for standardizing mechanical and electrical interfaces.
Applicability to the lunar surface
Ideas consider lunar environment factors such as: thermal, temperature, solar, dust, vacuum, etc.
While complete solutions are likely to score higher in the judging criteria, NASA is also interested in partial solutions. If you have a partial solution, we recommend forming a team to submit a complete approach.
Please complete your submission on the HeroX platform. We recommend opening the submission form early so you understand what formatting options are available to you. You can edit your submission up to the deadline, even if you have already submitted it. Character limits include spaces.
While not required, if you have CAD files, please include a PDF export and neutral 3D CAD files such as STEP (.stp and .step), Wavefront (.obj), or IGES (.iges and .igs).
Technical Abstract: The Technical Abstract should be contained in a single paragraph. Focus on delivering a compelling overview so that the Judging Panel members assigned to score your application will want to read more. This is your opportunity to make a strong first impression, so make every word count! (max 1000 characters)
Technical Approach: Provide a description of your concept and how it will unload payloads from lunar landers. Describe if the solution is standalone, part of the landers or a combination of both. Include any inputs that you think your solution will require, such as power consumption. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your approach, including any technical risks. (max 5000 characters, embedded images okay)
Concept of Operations depicting how the proposed solution would be employed. (max 1500 characters, embedded images okay)
Lunar Environment: Describe how the concept will work in the lunar environment with conditions such as vacuum, dust, solar, thermal, etc. (max 2000 characters, embedded images okay)
Case for Mass and Volume Optimization: How does your solution optimize for mass and volume? As a reminder, your solution will need to be sent to the moon in the payload fairing. You can make a case for leaving a larger/heavier system on the moon, including a lighter/smaller solution in the lander on every trip, or a combination of approaches. If possible, please provide an estimate of mass and volume in your response. (max 2000 characters, embedded images okay)
Reliability: Please discuss the reliability of your solution and offer any justifications for why you believe that your solution can successfully unload payloads. (max 1500 characters, embedded images okay)
Autonomy: Please describe how your solution works autonomously. If not yet autonomous, please describe how your solution could be made to work autonomously. (max 1500 characters, embedded images okay)
Capabilities: Can your design work with a variety of payloads and landers? What mass and volume of payloads do you think your system can handle? From what range of heights can your system unload payloads from? Do you have any recommendations for how to standardize mechanical and electrical interfaces to increase the flexibility of your solution? (max 1500 characters, embedded images okay)
Additional Information: Upload any additional information you’d like to share including; product brochures, datasheets, ppts, links to videos, design documents etc.
If you have multiple files, please upload them in a ZIP file.
The content included in your submission form should stand alone. The information you share here may not be reviewed in the preliminary judging round.
Please discuss the technical maturity of your proposed solution. What TRL would you assign it? Please provide a supporting rationale and/or evidence for this rating. View the TRL definitions here: https://www.herox.com/LunarDelivery/resource/573)
Sketches/Diagram or Designs of Concept. Upload multiple files in a ZIP folder. If you have CAD files, please include a PDF export and neutral 3D CAD file such as:
STEP (.stp and .step)
IGES (.iges and .igs
The Prize is open to anyone age 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx). If you are a NASA employee, a Government contractor, or employed by a Government Contractor, your participation in this challenge may be restricted.
Submissions must originate from either the U.S. or a designated country (see definition of designated country at https://www.acquisition.gov/far/part-25#FAR_25_003), OR have been substantially transformed in the US or designated country prior to prototype delivery pursuant to FAR 25.403(c).
Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.
You are required to ensure that all releases or transfers of technical data to non-US persons comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 C.F.R. §§ 120.1 to 130.17.
No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of mechanical sensors is required. NASA encourages outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions.
To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.
Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant NASA a royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete details.
You may be required to complete an additional form to document this license if you are selected as a winner.
Registration and Submissions:
Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before 5:00 pm ET on January 19, 2021. No late submissions will be accepted.
Selection of Winners:
Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.
The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by relevant NASA specialists.
By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
HeroX caught up with Tracy Gil at NASA, to find out why they have turned to crowdsourcing and why the Lunar Delivery Challenge is so important.
NASA and Crowdsourcing
NASA has clearly embraced crowdsourcing. There are currently three live NASA competitions on HeroX with the most recent challenge beingNASA’s Lunar Delivery Challenge. HeroX caught up with Tracy Gil, Engineering Project Manager at NASA, to find out why an organization with thousands of research scientists and an annual budget worth over $20 billion dollars has turned to crowdsourcing for solutions and why the Lunar Delivery Challenge is so important to NASA.
HeroX – “Why are you looking to crowdsourcing to solve this challenge?”
Tracy Gil, NASA - “Crowdsourcing has become a valuable tool in the NASA toolkit, providing valuable perspectives that can be very different from those that are in the aerospace industry. Engaging the public allows NASA to tap into the experience of academia, private individuals, small business, and more. This enables NASA to capture lessons and recommendations from those engaged in relevant industries on Earth such as construction, transportation and, in this case, logistics. Those inputs may further directions of interest for NASA or point in completely new directions.”
HeroX – “Why is this Lunar Delivery Challenge important to NASA?”
Tracy Gil, NASA – “To make the operations on the moon sustainable, those operations have to become simple and repeatable. For most people on Earth, not much thought is normally put into the process for goods to be transported from manufacturing sites to retailers all over the world. To establish a permanent presence on the moon, the end-to-end process for getting supplies and equipment from Earth to the Moon should be nearly as simple for those on the receiving end on the surface of the Moon.”
HeroX – “Why is this the right time for the challenge?”
Tracy Gil, NASA – “There is no better time to design in flexibility and evolution into a system than at the beginning of that process. For lunar exploration, that time is now. A low Earth orbit economic sphere from human spaceflight has been established with the International Space Station and with budding commercial orbital and suborbital spaceflight opportunities. Now that sphere of influence can be extended to the moon via an effective logistics and transportation pipeline.”
The Connection to Artemis
TheArtemis program aims to put the first woman and the next man on the moon by the end of 2024 as a first step to a sustainable lunar presence.
HeroX – “How does this challenge contribute to the Artemis program?”
Tracy Gil, NASA – “One of the goals of the Artemis program is to collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration on the Moon by the end of the decade. Standardizing the approach to offloading cargo on the moon allows the infrastructure to support a variety of vehicles that may come from domestic and international partners both governmental and commercial.”
HeroX – “What do you feel is the crux of the problem?”
Tracy Gil, NASA – “The challenge of this problem is finding ways to effectively handle a variety of payload masses and sizes of cargo whether small and compact, large and unwieldy or anything in between. That may require analyzing possibilities for optimizing solutions for all items or breaking them down into groups, each handled in according to a set of relevant characteristics.”
Advice from NASA for HeroX Solvers
Tracy had this final piece of advice for our citizen science space innovators:
“I would encourage participation from anyone who has a suggestion that provides a solution, or even partial solution, to create an effective method to offload cargo on the moon. That includes everything from packaging and preparing it on Earth to getting it offloaded once it arrives on the Moon.”
Have you thought about forming a team to compete in the NASA's Lunar Delivery Challenge?
Teams can be formed directly on the challenge page by connecting in the forum.
Some of the advantages of forming a team include:
Those deadlines are less likely to get away from you when you’re working with a group.
2. Shared workload
You know the old “divide and conquer?” It works well for challenges! By finding a solid collaborative stride, a group of just three people can churn out a lot more than one person working alone.
It might be hard for other people to relate to your lone wolf journey toward incentive competition conquest, but your team will be right there with you! A source of inspiration, motivation, and perhaps even fire-under-your-butt lighting, teammates can provide a huge emotional advantage. Just think - new internet friends!
Maybe you’re a real visionary with an incredible concept, but are stuck on how the “nuts and bolts” fit together? Yeah, YOU need a team. Teammates who have the skills and special working knowledge can be a huge resource. And the benefits go both ways!
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your team will take some time to come together, so be sure to get ahead of it and start recruiting, reaching out, and networking about the challenge now. The forum is a great place to start. Also, feel free to browse the entire HeroX Community by specialization by checking out https://herox.com/crowdsourcing-community.
Maybe you've had some questions, thoughts, or ideas about the challenge so far -- but you're still wondering where to take them? In fact, there's a quick, easy-to-use way to ask questions and start conversations about the NASA's Lunar Delivery Challenge: the challenge forum.
Interested? Simply go to the forum to see what people are already saying. If you'd like to start a new conversation, click "New topic" (pictured below) and begin crafting your message.
This is a great way to start connecting with other community members around different aspects of the challenge, gain insights, and even collaborate! Keep in mind that HeroX regularly checks in on the forum, so it's also a great way to get in touch with us about any questions (or suggestions) you might have.
The Different Categories and Types of Lander Design
NASA is working with its commercial partners on two categories of lunar landers - crew rated landers for the Human Landing System (HLS) Program and uncrewed landers for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS, pronounced as "clips") initiative. Within each of these groups are a wide range of different lander concepts of varying size, shape and design for different cargo/payload deliveries and mission scenarios. In order to support NASA’s mission to deliver cargo to the moon, the cargo-handling system has to be versatile. The key point for competitors is that NASA and their industry partners have yet to define exactly what the final lander or landers will look like as they are still in the development stage and consequently unloading and cargo handling solutions must account for variability in lander design. Entries toNASA’s Lunar Delivery Challenge will therefore need to consider a number of factors and make some assumptions. Competitors may reference three different height ranges for unloading. Those ranges are 0-4 meters (0-12 ft.), 4-10 meters (12-30 ft.), and 10 meter (30 ft.) or greater. The cargo-handling system should be able to support the three different ranges, or assumptions could be made to optimize a system for one or two of those ranges. Let’s look at the HLS and CLPS concepts and draw some conclusions that may help competitors with their unloading solutions.
Human Landing Systems
Three US companies have beenshortlisted for the HLS. These are Blue Origin-led team, Dynetics and SpaceX. As you can see from the images, the three designs are very different and any solution for unloading humans and cargo from these crewed landers will need to be able to support the range of landers or make the case to optimize for just one or two of them. For example, consider the height of the payload from the lunar surface. The Dynetics design places the payload quite close to the surface whereas the SpaceX design has it much higher with the Blue Origin Team concept somewhere in between. In these concept images, the primary payload is the pressurized volume for the crew, but that may not always be the case. The room for humans or robots to maneuver cargo loads is also very different on each of the designs so any unloading system will need to take this into account.
Commercial Lunar Payload Services
CLPS landers are even more diverse with fourteen companies requested by NASA to develop solutions. Details on the companies and their designs can be found on theNASA CLPS webpage and we encourage you to look into each of the commercial partners’ own websites for more details. The variation in designs is more apparent here as the landers are not crewed and therefore there is no requirement for life support systems or to design hatches and payload areas for humans or position access points for astronaut ease of entry/exit.
TheChallenge Guidelines give some detail on the weight, volume and class of payloads that will need to be offloaded (the so-called ‘black boxes’) so there is no need to make assumptions on these although volume will be a key factor that competitors will need to address based on NASA’s description of the payload types for each weight category. Competitors can also assume that the lander will be on a reasonably level surface within a few degrees of tolerance although clearly robust designs able to deal with sub-optimal conditions would be preferred. The firmness of the lunar surface may also be a factor for some designs and competitors should state whether their solution requires a firm surface or whether it can operate in a range of regolith conditions and uneven terrain.
The fourteen CLPS lander concepts selected by NASA vary greatly in the height of the cargo location, the mass and volume of payloads the lander can accommodate, and the operating concept. Pictures of some designs have been used to illustrate this blog. There are low slung lander designs, elevated flat decks to single-stage descent and ascent modules. These landers are great representations of what types and sizes may be expected to offload cargo onto the lunar surface but NASA is not limited to these specific models. Whatever baseline lander and payload are selected for the design, it is recommended that assumptions and limitations are documented in your submission in order to remain competitive.
Advice for Competitors
First and foremost, competitors should consider the three height ranges of lunar landers within this challenge. These are:
0-4 meters (0-12 ft.),
4-10 meters (12-30 ft.), and
10 meter (30 ft.) or greater
Competitors will need to decide whether their solution is matched to a single height range or whether it is versatile enough for other heights as well.
Secondly, competitors will need to clearly state the assumptions and limitations of their design. For example, stating that their solution will only work for payload mounting locations less than 2m from the lunar surface. Or perhaps, that it is designed for 4-10 meter high top-loading elevated deck systems only. NASA is not necessarily looking for a solution that will work with all of the HLS and CLPS designs, although the flexibility of the design to work with a diversity of landers is worth 10% of your final score. Partial solutions or even solutions that work with just one lander type will also be considered.
A Diversity of Designs allows a Diversity of Solutions
As Tracy Gil, NASA’s Engineering Project Manager for this challenge said in a recent interview with HeroX:
“There is no better time to design in flexibility and evolution into a system than at the beginning of that process.”
This means the many potential systems are still diverse and varied and this provides a huge opportunity to HeroX solvers. With NASA yet to select the final design, it could be your innovative payload handling concept that proves to be the deciding factor on which system or systems are heading to the moon. Do not be daunted by the diversity of different landers. This diversity is deliberate and aimed at allowing dynamic feedback to NASA and the greatest possible range of options to be considered early in the process. The solutions presented by HeroX solvers will help shape the final designs. So, in summary:
Make sensible assumptions based on the preliminary designs presented.
Full solutions for all lander types through to partial solutions for a single design will all be acceptable entries.
We were able to work with HeroX to draft challenge guidelines, promote the challenge to a targeted audience of interested parties, and ultimately draw a crowd of innovators from across the globe to submit proposals to address our challenge. We were quite satisfied with the number and diversity of both individuals and proposals that the challenge drew.