NASA Tournament Lab


NASA MarsXR 2 Challenge

Help NASA by building Virtual Reality (XR) assets and scenarios for them to use in extravehicular activity research for the surface of Mars.

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed

Meet the Phase 1 Winners
Archive: Phase 1 Guidelines Info
Meet the Phase 2 Winners


This is a new iteration of the previous Mars XR Challenge (2022). This new challenge version occurs in 2023.

We are calling on YOU, the crowd, to create and expand Virtual Reality (XR) research, development, and testing environments to help NASA prepare for the situations that will be encountered on Mars. If this sounds intriguing and exciting to you, then join the NASA MarsXR 2 Challenge today!

On behalf of NASA, Buendea, and Epic Games, this challenge is seeking the design and creation of new assets and scenarios for the new Mars XR Operations Support System (XOSS) environment, using Epic Games' Unreal Engine 5. 

This new iteration of the challenge will have two phases - (1) a Storyboarding phase for outlining concepts (this phase is already completed), and (2) a Development phase for creating assets and scenarios (this is the current phase). Solvers can submit to either phase alone, or to both phases. Phase 2, Development, will be informed by the winning solutions from Phase 1.

In Phase 2, you can also support our endeavor by creating additional assets and scenarios focused on particular extravehicular activities (EVA) that will be used to test mission procedures and plan for conditions while on Mars. The goal is to create an immersive, engaging, and realistic experience. 

The MarsXR Engine currently includes:

  • Full Martian days, with the orange hues of day transitioning to blue at night.
  • Realistic weather conditions and Martian gravity.
  • 400 km2 (approximately 154 miles2) of realistic, researched Mars terrain.
  • Some existing assets, such as suits and rovers.

The total prize purse for this challenge is $70,000, shared between two phases. Additionally, Phase 2 winners will be invited to meet virtually with the NASA team developing the XOSS MarsXR system and may also be awarded some NASA swag.

Solvers may submit multiple entries to both Phase 1 and Phase 2.

Challenge Partners:

About Buendea

Buendea is a group dedicated to technical innovation and breakthroughs in real-time graphics for XR scenario, training, and education. Buendea is passionate about storytelling and creating new forms of shared experiences that bridge the physical and digital. 

About Unreal Engine

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D tool. Creators across games, film and television, architecture, automotive, manufacturing, live events, simulation and other industries choose Unreal to deliver cutting-edge content, interactive experiences, and immersive virtual worlds. Follow @UnrealEngine and download Unreal for free at



NASA is always seeking novel ways to prepare astronauts for life and work in various settings, gravity levels, and environments. Massive water tanks and human centrifuge training simulators have previously been employed in testing and training programs. But these methods are costly to develop and maintain, and may not always adequately prepare astronauts for every experience they will encounter on a mission.

Virtual reality was first used experimentally in the early 1990s, and it has now become an integral part of how NASA conducts research and developmental testing to support astronauts for space missions. The Human Physiology, Performance, Protection & Operations Laboratory (H-3PO) at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) is developing an XR exploration surface analog known as, “Assessments of Physiology And Cognition in Hybrid-reality Environments” (APACHE). The goal of APACHE is to create a planetary exploration EVA scenario environment that provides a representative physical and cognitive workload approximation using a combination of virtual reality (XR), physical reality, and hybrid reality (HR) techniques. XR Operations Support System (XOSS) is one of the primary XR environments that is employed within the APACHE testbed. APACHE can support multiple EV crew members in the HR environment, working in tandem.

Future iterations and testing within APACHE will include biosensor-driven informatics, such as real-time heart rate monitoring and/or derived values from crew state physiologic models, objective quantifications of the cognitive workload of subjects, and comparative performance measures using validated methods such as psychophysiometrics. This physiologically-derived data may be visualized and used to help plan and execute EVAs while preserving astronauts’ health and performance. 

Mission Information

Mission Aim: As humans, we are explorers at heart, and the search for life elsewhere has driven our desire to explore another planet. The success of the first human missions to Mars will require a sustained effort of stunning technical and operational complexity. With Mars being over 140 million miles from Earth, all the challenges of exploring are compounded by the distance and dealing with situations without real-time support from Earth.

Ongoing research has identified over one thousand tasks that are likely needed to be performed during early human expeditions to Mars. It is unrealistic to build all the necessary training elements for these tasks, but using virtual reality we can evaluate some aspects of future missions, such as the optimal size of the crews, what procedures will enable crew health and performance, and what equipment the crew will need to take on each mission.

Phase 1 of this challenge is seeking storyboard ideas for new scenarios and assets in the Mars XR mission. Phase 2 is looking for developers to create new assets and scenarios to create realistic research, development, and testing environments for NASA test subjects to give them an immersive experience that can be updated and modified with new hardware and software solutions and physical equipment as they are created.


Please note that throughout the challenge guidelines you will see the following terms used:

  • Scenarios refer to the goal an XR user is attempting to achieve, inside the XR experience, and the environment in which the user is operating it. For example, a scenario for this challenge is, “Using excavation equipment, dig a trench from the habitat to a nearby greenhouse.”
  • Assets refer to objects used in an XR experience. In the example provided above, the assets would be considered the excavation equipment (something interactive and manipulable) and the habitat/greenhouse (which may be more static). A complete scenario will likely require the use or creation of multiple assets.
  • Elements are a general way of speaking about both Assets and Scenarios. In the judging criteria a question exists on the number of Elements captured in the storyboard and this is a collective way of referring to assets, scenarios, and the descriptors used for both.
  • Metrics refer to the measurability of human and task performance when a user is in the XR experience. Examples of things that can be measured typically in an XR experience include
    • Human Performance Metrics
      • Time to complete a task
      • Number of errors while performing the task
    • Task Performance Metrics (Primary goals and subtasks achieved - hypothetical examples)
      • Solar panels successfully deployed
      • Percentage of dust removed
      • Number of items repaired (in a maintenance scenario)
      • Length, width, depth of a trench dug


Challenge Structure

Phase 1: Storyboarding [Winners Announced]

[The Phase 1 content has been archived at another Tab. You can access this information HERE. Be sure to take a look at the top 10 winning entries from this phase in order to participate in Phase 2.]


Phase 2: Development for the MarsXR Engine

*IMPORTANT* Phase 2 is open to all eligible competitors. You do not need to compete in or win Phase 1 to enter Phase 2. Be sure to check out the resources below and download the NASA XOSS Editor to begin creating your submissions.

In the Development phase, XR developers will take from the top 10 winning solutions from Phase 1 and develop mission-relevant XR experiences, using the winning storyboards as a guide. Development phase submissions are not limited however, to exactly match the assets and scenarios that won in Phase 1. You are encouraged to innovate upon these ideas and to fill in any gaps. However, the winning scenarios are of particular importance to the Challenge Sponsors and they are also largely mission-relevant, so using them as your core inspiration will be key here. 

You may choose to develop either an entire scenario for your Phase 2 submission or you may also submit a particular asset that you have developed to a significant degree. Note that scenario and single asset submissions will be scored against each other for all of the Phase 2 prizes, not separately like in the prior MarsXR challenge.

Successful submissions will include a video walk through, an executable file, and a full library of supporting documentation. Submissions with higher levels of realism, novelty, and usability will be more favorably received. Furthermore, the documentation submitted should provide clear guidance and explanation of what has been developed.

In collaboration with NASA, Buendea has developed the NASA XOSS MarsXR Engine, using Epic Games' Unreal Engine 5. Submissions must be based on the Unreal Engine 5 development tool. 

The NASA XOSS MarsXR Engine already includes:

  • Motion capture for full-body tracking using VIVE Trackers
  • Multiplayer environment that allows users to connect and explore Mars
  • Full Martian Day and Night Cycles, with the orange hues of daytime transitioning to blue at night
  • Realistic weather conditions, and Martian gravity
  • Over 400 km2 (approximately 154 miles2) of Mars terrain covering the Jezero Crater (based on photogrammetry and satellite imagery)
  • Numerous assets such as suits and rovers.

There are already a number of existing assets available for you and your team to integrate into the scenarios you build. You are also encouraged to enhance these existing assets as needed by improving visual fidelity, adding Animation, and extending interactive functionality using Blueprint scripting/programming language.

Note: To participate in the Development phase of this challenge (Phase 2), you will also need to complete the following additional steps, outside of signing up for this challenge:

  1. Sign up for an Epic Games account
  2. Download the NASA XOSS MarsXR Engine on the Epic Games Marketplace
  3. Read the How-to documentation for using the game engine

XR Equipment Supported by NASA XOSS MarsXR Engine

The NASA XOSS MarsXR Engine is compatible with the following motion trackers and headsets:

  • Motion capture via VIVE trackers
  • SteamVR supported headsets
    • HTC VIVE
    • VIVE Pro
    • VIVE Pro eye
    • VIVE Pro 2
    • Valve Index
    • Oculus*

*The current engine is not optimized for Oculus and the documentation is not as robust as it is for VIVE products.

Note: Oculus compatibility is still undergoing development and may not be ready before the submission deadline.

Judging Criteria and Submission Requirements - Development Phase 2

The judges will be looking at how realistic, complex, and detailed the assets or scenarios are. 

To be eligible for an award, you must complete the submission form and it must include all of the following items:

1. Walkthrough Video Submission

  • Provide a link to your walkthrough video
  • Must be 3 minutes or less in length
  • Give a narrative description of the project (in English), explaining what has been developed and why
  • Show gameplay highlights for the scenario or the asset(s) in use
  • Provide a 360’ view of assets, for asset-only submissions

2. Executable Submission

  • Submit an EXE file of the “cooked” submission
  • For the executable you will need to cook and package the project for submission.
  • After you have cooked and packaged the project, rename the build folder from “WindowsNoEditor” to a relevant name for your submission.
  • Verify the build works, and then Zip up the build folder for uploading into your submission.

3. Mars Editor Project File Folder

  • All project files should be placed under a single parent folder in the content browser in Mars Editor. The parent folder should be labeled with the prefix “AA” and then "Your Team Name 2023". Any sub-folders in the parent folder can be labeled as needed.

For example:

  • Project File Naming Conventions: For any project, consistent naming conventions are always important for good organization. You can refer to the UE5 Style Guide for naming conventions.
  • Readme Text Document (Supporting Documentation): You will need to create a readme text file that contains the following information along with any unique requirements (if any):
    • Team Members Names
    • Name of any Unreal Plugins used (if any)
    • Any supporting documentation or unique requirements for the project or the executable
  • Mars Editor Project Files Submission Requirements: Once your project is finished and ready for submission you will need to zip up the project files for submission.

4. You will also need to submit the following information through the submission form:

  • Team information
  • A written description of your scenario or asset

Judging Criteria

Section DescriptionOverall Weight

Scenario submission


  • Models - Are detailed and scale and proportions are accurate
  • Materials - Surfaces are accurate and detailed
  • Animation - Objects and component movements are clean and move accurately to their real-world counterparts

Process and Procedures 

  • The task that the user performs User tasks are accurate
  • Object Interactions - Object behaves as expected or the same as real counterparts

Asset submission


  • Models - Are detailed and scale and proportions are accurate
  • Materials - Surfaces are accurate and detailed
  • Animation - Objects and component movements are clean and move accurately to there real-world counterparts

Scenario submission

What is the value to the development of the VR environment?

  • Mission and scenario designs are relevant and beneficial
  • Assets have the potential to be reused in other mission scenarios
  • Interactive elements have extended the functionality of the Mars editor
  • If possible, methods are included for tracking various performance metrics in the scenario. Look to the original Phase 1 winners for some creative examples of relevant metrics.

Asset submission

What is the value to the development of the VR environment?

  • Asset designs are relevant and beneficial
  • Assets have the potential to be reused in other mission scenarios

Scenario submission

How unique is the submission?

  • Does this submission do something new or in a different way that has not been demonstrated in other submissions or already in the engine?
  • Is there a mission narrative or some device that leads the player through the task at hand? Or does it simply expect the user to understand what the scenario is and expect them to know what to do?

Asset submission

How unique is the submission?

  • Does this submission do something new or in a different way that has not been demonstrated in other submissions or already in the engine?

Scenario submission

Efficiency/ Functionality / Error management

  • Users clearly understand what they are supposed to do or what they are trying to accomplish within the scenario
  • Scripting - Performance is stable and efficient and reliable - No Bugs or show stoppers
  • The project runs efficiently
  • Project runs at an appropriate frame rate.
  • Models, materials, and textures are efficiently made for an XR environment.

Asset submission

Efficiency/ Functionality / Error management  

  • Users clearly understand what they are supposed to create
  • Scripting - Performance is stable and efficient and reliable - No Bugs or show stoppers
  • The project runs efficiently
  • Project runs at an appropriate frame rate.
  • Models, materials, and textures are efficiently made for an XR environment.
  • Thorough help files and/or documentation is provided

-- -- --

Challenge Resources

Be sure to check out the Resources Tab.  This is where you can find different, useful resources to support your work on this challenge, including:



HeroX will recognize up to 10 winning storyboard ideas in Phase 1, sharing a total prize purse of $20,000. Eligible Phase 1 submissions will also be posted on the HeroX website for public voting on a “People’s Choice” award, of up to $1,000.

In Phase 2, anyone may participate, even if they did not participate in Phase 1. The submissions for Phase 2 will be judged, with the following prizes available:

  • Up to five Top Prize winners will win $6,000 each
  • Up to five Runner Up prizes will be awarded at $3,000 each, and
  • Up to two Creative/Novel prizes will be awarded at $2,000 each

Solvers and teams may submit multiple submissions in each phase and submit multiple types of scenarios and assets. Solvers and teams are eligible to win more than one award. 

In addition to the cash awards, Phase 2 winners will be invited to attend a video call with the NASA team that is developing and using the NASA XOSS MarsXR Engine.  This will be a virtual opportunity for winners to talk about what they have developed and how they might plan to use XR in the future. Additionally, winners may receive official NASA “swag.” Note that selected winners may be contacted by the phone or email provided for additional insight into their submissions.





Amount per Award

1 - Storyboarding





People's Choice (Chosen by Public Voting)


2 - Development


Top Prize



Runner Up



Most Creative/Novel


  Total Prize Purse




Open to Submissions (Launch)Feb 16, 2023
Phase 1 Submission Deadline (Storyboard)March 30, 2023 @ 5pm ET
Phase 1 Winners Announcement and Phase 2 LaunchApril 27, 2023

Phase 2 Submission form is opened

(You may begin working on your Phase 2 submission at any time, but the submission form won't be available until around this date)

July 3, 2023
Phase 2 Submission deadlineAug 3, 2023 @ 5pm ET
JudgingAug 3 - Sep 28, 2023
Winners AnnouncedOctober 10, 2023


-- -- --


Participation Eligibility:

The challenge is open to all adult individuals, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams. Teams may originate from any country. Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English. 

Team captains must originate from either the U.S. or a designated country (see definition of designated country at, OR have been substantially transformed in the US or designated country prior to prototype delivery pursuant to FAR 25.403(c). 

No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of Virtual Reality is required. Prize organizers encourage 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.

Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before 5pm ET on March 30, 2023 for Phase 1 and before 5pm ET on August 3, 2023 for Phase 2. All uploads must include the minimum required files in the requested formats. No late submissions will be accepted.

This challenge allows multiple submissions per individual/team. Should you have multiple entries to submit to this challenge, they will be considered separately. Whether or not multiple entries from the same individual or team may be chosen for a prize is up to the discretion of the Challenge Sponsor. You do not have to submit multiple entries to this challenge to be eligible for a prize.

Intellectual Property Rights:

As detailed in the Challenge-Specific Agreement – To receive a Prize, Winner must agree to license all content and assets developed by Winner and contributed to the project to be licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY (4.0) license and all code developed by Winner and contributed to the project to be licensed under the Apache License 2.0, or similar Open Source Initiative (“OSI”) license as determined by Challenge Sponsor. 

Awarding of the Prize:

The Individual Submitter or Team Captain is automatically designated as the Recipient of the prize monies. The Individual’s or Captain’s name must also match the Authorized Person on the receiving Bank Account. No changes are permitted to the prize Recipient after the Submission Deadline date. If you wish to change who would receive the prize monies, those changes must be completed prior to the Submission Deadline. View our Knowledge Base article here for how to change Team Captains.

 Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to adhere to the HeroX Intellectual Integrity Policy and promises 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.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law. 

Challenge Updates

Winners Featured in NextGov Article!

Nov. 7, 2023, 10 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

Hey there, MarsXR heroes! Did you know that attended the winners webinar and wrote an article about all of your hard work? Take a look at the link below and share the news with your friends if you'd like to brag! (Don't forget that winners and honorable mentions can also view their challenge certificates on your HeroX user profile page!)

Here's a suggested post if you want to share the article with your own networks:


Check out the work we have been contributing to NASA's MarsXR competition in this new article! You can still download the engine and join the developer community if you want in on the future action. Join us in Discord!

Checkout the MarsXR 2 Winners Webinar Recording

Nov. 6, 2023, 9:01 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

WOW! 🤩 

The MarsXR 2 Winners Webinar was an absolute blast. Hearing from three of our community's top competitors  made the true impact of this challenge and the community's efforts come to life! 

For those who were unable to join us live, you can now re-watch the webinar at this link.

We have a few followup resources that we hope to share through this page, but (as was mentioned in the webinar) the future of all MarsXR and XOSS activity will be communicated and coordinated through the Official MarsXR Discord! You can join that community by following this link!

Once again, congratulations to the teams who joined us on the webinar, to the other MarsXR challenge winners who contributed their time to this mission (especially those who cheered us on from the webinar's audience), and to all of the other people who supported this challenge directly and indirectly.

With each step we are coming closer to using XOSS for potential mission training!

Last reminder! The Webinar is starting soon!

Oct. 26, 2023, 12:45 p.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

Hey there one last time, MarsXR 2 Heroes. The NASA sponsors and some of our Phase 2 winners will be hosting a live discussion in just 15 minutes to show you a little about their winning submissions and to discuss the impact this challenge has had upon the future of space exploration. 

We'd love to have you there to ask great questions and to see what our winners have accomplished. There's still time to join us if you register at the link below! Your email will the be sent a unique URL that you can use to join the webinar from your computer or most mobile devices.

The webinar will begin at 4:00pm ET TODAY (October 26th)! So we hope to see you there soon, to hear your burning questions, and to celebrate our amazing winners!

Registration link:

Don't forget to mark your calendars for tonight's live webinar with the MarsXR 2 winners!

Oct. 26, 2023, 9 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

We just wanted to remind you to sign-up in advance so you can join us for tonight's brand-new meet the winners webinar for the MarsXR 2 - Phase 2 winners!

The webinar will begin at 4:00pm ET on Thursday October 26th! We hope to see you there soon, to answer your burning questions, and to celebrate our amazing winners! Please let us know if you have any issues with registering for the event. You can comment on this update below.

Registration link:

1 Day Left to Register for Our Live chat with NASA and the Challenge Winners!

Oct. 25, 2023, 9 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

Don't forget that it's free to join our webinar and participate, but that you will need to register at the link below in order to receive the meeting link. 

The webinar will begin at 4:00pm ET this Thursday October 26th! We hope to see you there soon, to answer your burning questions, and to celebrate our amazing winners!

Registration link:


Phase 1 Submission


Meet the Phase 1 Winners
Archive: Phase 1 Guidelines Info
Meet the Phase 2 Winners