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 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, and (2) a Development phase for creating assets and scenarios. 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

Storyboarding for virtual reality is the process of creating two-dimensional representations of the various scenes in a virtual reality experience, much like traditional storyboarding for film or animation. It allows the creator to plan out the user's journey through the virtual world and visualize how different elements, such as characters, objects, and interactions, will be arranged. One of the exciting aspects of using storyboarding in Phase 1 is that almost anyone can participate! No prior experience in VR development is required.

That said, when creating storyboards for future virtual reality development, it's important to keep in mind the unique characteristics of the medium, such as the ability for the user to look around in 360 degrees and the potential for interactive assets and elements. This can involve creating storyboards for multiple perspectives and for different interactions that the user may have within the experience. This challenge is looking for storyboards that thoroughly explain the full process of a mission scenario and which interactions will take place with which assets.

The Storyboarding phase is new for this iteration of the Mars XR 2 challenge. Creating XR storyboards will help NASA organize and communicate ideas for future XR development. It will encourage early problem solving and risk mitigation in the development process by helping think through all that needs to be developed. 

We have prepared an online tool called Mural where you will be able to complete your storyboards. Solvers can submit a link to their Mural for review as part of their submission to this challenge. Your storyboards can be as expansive as needed to effectively communicate the proposed scenarios and assets and you can submit multiple storyboards in Phase 1. Alternatively, a PDF upload of your storyboard will also be accepted, if you choose to create it elsewhere. 

Please review this example list of Desired Scenarios and Assets from the Resources Tab. You do not need to restrict your submission to ideas on this list, but it may be helpful to spur your inspiration.

A sample of the Mural storyboarding template is shown here:

A tutorial on the use of this Mural template is available in the Resources Tab. Each storyboard consists of five frames (numbers 1 through 5) to depict various perspectives of what it is you wish to depict. These frames are meant to communicate the scenario, assets, and planned activities clearly to the judges. In the template, surrounding the storyboard frames are various note-taking boxes for explaining what is occuring in the frames. They include a storyboard title, sequence, and description; assets available in the storyboard; actions executable, and; descriptions of the frames. For example, if your scenario involved grabbing tools and fixing or working on another object, your storyboard should help the judges to imagine what this might look like for the user, what assets are needed, and what actions the user would take to complete the scenario.

In the Mural tool, you can duplicate the set of frames as often as needed, within the same file, to create an order of operation in your full storyboard. This will be useful if your scenario involves a complicated series of actions or uses multiple locations within the given field of work.

An example of the completed template is here (Please note that for the Storyboarding Phase, the quality of images does not need to be VR-ready or XR-level artwork as it is in this example):

Judging Criteria - Storyboard Phase 1

Storyboard submissions will be judged using the following criteria.

  • Does the storyboard effectively describe the entire scenario and sufficiently consider which asset(s) would be required?
  • Has the solver accurately addressed any additional questions related to the scenario/asset(s) that the challenge did not consider?
  • How well has the solver planned for unanticipated events within the scenario or physics and uses of the asset(s)?
  • How well does the storyboard align with the aim of the Mars Mission?
  • How well does the storyboard align with the desired goals of the scenario or use(s) of the asset(s)?
  • How innovative is the storyboard and its approach?
  • Has the solver introduced new assets or scenario elements in their storyboard?
  • Has the solver introduced novel failure points or mechanisms for issues to arise in the scenario?
  • How many metrics has the solver identified for measuring performance during execution of the task/scenario?
  • How clear is the definition of success for the scenario or use of the asset(s)?
  • How feasible is the implementation of the performance metrics proposed once the XR is developed?

Submission Requirements - Storyboard Phase 1

Eligible submissions to the Storyboard Phase will consist of:

  • A hyperlink provided to the Mural storyboard created - details available above and in the Resources tab (access the Mural Storyboard Template here)
    • Alternately, solvers can upload a document containing their storyboards (PDF)
    • A PDF/printable version of the storyboard template is available here
  • A text description of the storyboard and its frames 
  • A text description of the actions available/executable in the storyboard 
  • A text description of any assumptions made when developing the storyboard
  • Numerical metrics about your storyboard, including:
    • Expected duration to complete the story (minutes)
    • The number of assets included in the storyboard

See further below for more information on prizes and challenge resources.

Phase 2: Development for the MarsXR Engine

*IMPORTANT* Phase 2 will be open to the public. You do not need to compete in or win Phase 1 to enter Phase 2.

In the Development phase, XR developers will take the winning solutions from Phase 1 and develop them into XR experiences, using the winning storyboards as a guide. Development phase submissions are not limited however, to only the assets and scenarios that win the Storyboarding phase.

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. However, if your development is completed on an Oculus, it should still be compatible with the challenge testing.

Judging Criteria and Submission Requirements - Development Phase 2

This information will be shared with the public before the launch of Phase 2. 

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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 Judging PeriodMar 30 - April 27, 2023
Phase 1 Winners Announcement and Phase 2 LaunchApril 27, 2023
Phase 2 Submission deadlineAug 3, 2023 @ 5pm ET
JudgingAug 3 - Sep 28, 2023
Winners AnnouncedOctober 10, 2023



Submission Form

Phase 1 - Storyboarding

Default Questions   
TitleText (One Line)Give your submission a title.


Short DescriptionText (Multiple Lines) 


Eligibility ReviewSection HeaderPlease review the full legal agreement that you accepted upon registration: The below questions are to remind you of important eligibility requirements and are not inclusive of all requirements. 
1. Does your submission originate from either the U.S. or a designated country, OR has it been substantially transformed in the US or designated country prior to submission pursuant to FAR 25.403(c)?


(yes/ no)

See definition of designated country at


If you are from a non-designated country (this includes India), you must have a Team Captain from a designated country.

2. What country is your Team Captain based in?Geographical Location  
3. Are you or anyone on your team a NASA employee, employee of another federal agency, a Government contractor or employed by one or receiving government funding for similar projects?(yes/ no)If yes, there may be certain restrictions on your participation and you should review the legal agreement. 
4. Do you have all the rights, licenses, permissions and consents necessary to submit the Submission and to grant the United States Government a royalty-free license to use it should you win (as described in the legal agreement)?(yes/ no)  
Your SubmissionSection Header  
Your Mural Board (link)LinkPaste the Visitors' URL copied from Mural where you have designed your Storyboard. Tip: it is a good idea to test your link in a private browser window to ensure it’s accessible to the judges 
Your Storyboard (file)UploadAs an alternative to providing a Mural link (above), upload a PDF of your Storyboard submission 
Storyboard DescriptionText (Multiple Lines - Formatted)Provide a brief description of your Storyboard(s). Please note that your Storyboard file should be based on the provided template and include detailed descriptions, as described in the challenge guidelines1500


Phase 2 - Development

This information will be shared before the launch of Phase 2.

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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

One Week Warning

March 22, 2023, 9 a.m. PDT by Lulu

It’s that time — you’ve got a week left to submit!

The final submission deadline is March 30 at 5pm Eastern Time (New York/USA). No late submissions will be accepted, so make sure to give yourself plenty of buffer time.

We all know the panic of having our computers crash right before a submission deadline. Don’t let this happen to you! Start the submission process a few days before it’s due, and aim to submit your project at least three hours before the final deadline just in case your tech decides to turn on you.

We can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with. Best of luck!

Missed last week's Q&A webinar?

March 16, 2023, 9 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Dear innovators,

If you were unable to join our webinar last week, you can watch the recording below!

Have a question that we didn't answer? Comment in the ​Challenge Forum and we'll get back to you with a response. 

Two Week Warning

March 15, 2023, 9 a.m. PDT by Lulu

Can you believe it? It’s that time already! You now have two weeks left before your solution to the MarsXR 2 Challenge is due. 

If you’re feeling behind on your project, don’t panic. You still have time to hunker down and get it done. You got this!

No late submissions will be accepted (yes, even if your computer crashes an hour before the submission deadline). 

Give yourself wiggle room by aiming to get 75% of your project done a week before it’s due. This way, you’ll have time to deal with unforeseen problems as they come up.

If you have any questions, head over to the project forum or comment directly on this post. 

Good luck!

REMINDER: MarsXR 2 Challenge Q&A Webinar starts in two hours!

March 10, 2023, 10 a.m. PST by Lulu

The MarsXR 2 Challenge Webinar starts in two hours!

When: Today, Mar 10th 12pm PT 

What: Join HeroX and NASA for an introduction to the MarsXR 2 Challenge and a live Q&A!​


Webinar in 2 Days!

March 8, 2023, 9 a.m. PST by Lulu

On Friday, join HeroX and NASA for a live webinar where you have an opportunity to ask your questions! You won't want to miss this opportunity to get the inside scoop on the MarsXR 2 Challenge!

Time: Mar 10th 12:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada) 

Click the button below to register.