Article by Tom Haxton
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 being NASA’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.”
The Challenge of Lunar Missions
The HeroX Blog has already looked at some of the weird stuff already taken into space and investigated what resources could be found on the moon and it is clear that lunar logistics will be a key factor in the success of future missions.
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
The Artemis 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.”
Fourteen teams were previously awarded prizes by NASA for miniaturized payload designs as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme. The NASA Lunar Delivery Challenge is now seeking innovative solutions for unloading payloads from these CLPS lunar landers as well as the crewed Human Landing System (HLS).