NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge 2023

Venture to the Moon and Beyond with NASA: Launching Lunar Payloads and Unlocking Climate Science!
Technology Focus Areas
Past Winners
Call for Judges


At NASA, there is no ambiguity in our mission: we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind. Doing so however, doesn’t just require groundbreaking technologies, it requires visionary people - people who are unwilling to quit despite the most difficult of circumstances. Naturally, this environment lends itself well to the collaboration between diverse startup entrepreneurs, NASA scientists, and the Space Tech community. 

The 2023 NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge recognizes and supports entrepreneurs and visionaries working on technology that advances the agency’s science goals, particularly in lunar exploration and climate science.

To increase participation of entrepreneurs in its technology portfolio, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) will award up to $1,000,000 in total prizes to participants who can successfully contribute ideas that advance the state-of-the-art in two, broadly-defined areas for 2023: Lunar Payloads and Climate Science. 

Finalists will be invited to a live pitch event hosted at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo in Washington, D.C. Participants will further benefit from the opportunity to network with top agency, military, and industry leaders representing billions in federal contracting authority and innovation prizes.

NASA is committed to a culture of diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility. Aligning with NASA’s core value of inclusion and the Science Mission Directorate’s Science Plan (see Strategy 4.1 in SMD Science Plan), SMD seeks to increase the diversity of thought and backgrounds represented across the entire SMD portfolio through a more inclusive and accessible environment.  We strongly encourage applicants from historically excluded communities, especially women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities, to partake in this challenge and future NASA explorations.


In Round 1, applicants will submit a Pitch Deck of up to 8 Slides alongside a Technical Submission of up to 5-pages outlining a technology concept that addresses one of the Technology Focus Areas detailed below. A panel of judges composed of NASA personnel and external venture experts will then select up to twenty (20) companies to receive $16,000 each and an invitation to participate in Round 2 of the NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge.

In Round 2, participants will submit a Pitch Deck of up to 12 Slides with a more extensive 10- page Technical Submission further detailing their technological solutions and will also participate in a live pitch event at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo to present their ideas to a panel of judges. The panel of judges will score the Submission Materials alongside a live 5 minute pitch presentation. The judging panel will be composed of NASA personnel and venture experts. Industry representatives, venture capitalists, government funders, foundations, and NASA program managers will also be invited to the pitch event. Up to eight (8) winning participants will be awarded an additional $85,000 each in prize funding to further mature their concepts.


Technology Focus Areas

The 2023 NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge aims to address two critical areas of need for NASA: Lunar Payloads and Climate Science. NASA will be seeking solutions provide:

  • Lunar payloads that may attract non-governmental funding for delivery to the surface of the Moon by a commercial provider.
  • A means to obtain high quality climate science data from small hosted instruments and/or new business models for using existing climate data to address climate and environmental problems.

Learn more about the focus areas here, including topic specific judging criteria.



In Round 1, up to 20 organizations will receive $16,000 and advance to Round 2. 

In Round 2, up to 8 organizations will receive an additional $85,000.

In addition to the monetary awards, winners will also receive:

  • Assistance from NASA researchers on understanding and implementing NASA priorities 
  • Access to a live NASA session explaining relevant NASA Funding Opportunities for Round 2 participants
  • Promotion and recognition at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo in Washington, D.C.
    • Feedback from a live judging panel consisting of NASA researchers and venture experts
    • Networking opportunity with top agency, military, and industry leaders in addition to venture capitalists, philanthropists, and other private funders
  • Winners will be asked to participate in a follow up survey approximately one year after the announcement. Any follow-on successes may be promoted in future iterations of the Entrepreneurs Challenge.

Judging Criteria

Submissions will be scored out of 100 points by a panel of internal and external judges. NASA personnel will score the technical viability (60%) of the solution while external venture experts will evaluate the venture viability (40%) of the solution. Note that venture viability can address either for-profit or non-profit ventures.

  1. Technical Viability (60%)
    1. Relevance to Challenge Topic and Impact (30%)
    2. Innovation of Approach (10%)
    3. Technical Credibility of Approach (20%)
  2. Venture Viability (40%)
    1. Problem/Solution Fit (5%)
    2. Market Potential (10%)
    3. Business Model (10%)
    4. Team (10%)
    5. Traction (5%)

Submission Format

Be sure to address all Venture Viability Criteria in the Pitch Deck Submission provided for each Round and use the Technical Submission Template for each Round to address all the Technical Viability Criteria. Templates for each submission are available below. Please follow the template guidance as closely as possible and stay within the page limits. Judging Criteria are the same for Round 1 and 2 in regards to the Technical Submission, however Round 2 Slide Deck Criteria have several additional sub-questions. 

Additional guidance regarding the Pitch Event will be provided to Round 1 winners, including  slide deck requirements for their 5-minute pitch.



  1. Pitch Deck: please ensure you use the provided pitch deck template and carefully address all sections and questions contained within it.
    1. Maximum 8 slides, not including the Title Slide.
    2. Must use the section headers provided in the template and address the questions under each header.
    3. You may design and create the Slide Deck using any software or application, but the final submission must be a .PDF file.
  2. Technical Submission: please ensure you use the provided whitepaper template and carefully address all sections and questions contained within it.
    1. Maximum 5 pages
    2. Formatting requirements provided in the template
    3. Must use the section headers provided in the template and address the questions under each header
    4. Submitted as a PDF upload
  3. Eligibility Confirmation: In order to be eligible for an award, individuals must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States and be 18 years of age or older, and organizations must be an entity incorporated in and maintaining a primary place of business in the United States.
    1. If you are selected as a potential Winner and you are an individual, you will be asked to provide proof of citizenship or permanent residency. 
    2. If you are selected as a potential Winner and you are an organization, you will be asked to provide proof of the location of your primary place of business. 
  4. Additional Information: This information will not be considered in the evaluation process:
    1. Have you received government funding for this project in the past? If so, please detail existing funding. Note that whether or not you have received funding will not influence the judging process.



  1. Pitch Deck: please ensure you use the provided pitch deck template.
    1. Maximum 12 slides, not including the Title Slide.
    2. Must use the section headers provided in the template and address the questions under each header
    3. You may design and create the Slide Deck using any software or application, but the final submission must be a .PDF file. 
  2. Technical Submission: please ensure you use the provided whitepaper template 
    1. Same requirements as in Round 1, except with a 10 page maximum.
    2. Submitted as a PDF upload.


In order to be eligible for an award, individuals must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States and be 18 years of age or older, and organizations must be an entity incorporated in and maintaining a primary place of business in the United States. Please see the Challenge Terms and Conditions for complete rules and eligibility information.

NASA encourages submissions from both for-profit and non-profit ventures.


Challenge Updates

From Idea to Impact: The Journey of a Space Technology Startup

June 7, 2023, 9:37 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Television declared space the final frontier nearly 60 years ago. In that time, we have embraced many other frontiers of human knowledge – the deep sea, the quantum, the neurological – but none exerts quite the same hold on the human imagination as the starry skies beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

This fascination is more than merely anecdotal, with the world as a whole putting its money where its mouth is. According to recent figures from Benchmark International, “In 2021, the global space market was valued at $388.50 billion and is expected to reach $540.75 billion by 2026. The sector has expanded by an impressive 70 percent between 2010 and 2020.”

Knowing that enthusiasm exists and money is available is not, however, the same as building and launching a successful startup. But while space technology companies must rely on the same combination of brainy ideas and good old-fashioned luck as most, getting to space the startup way does have some unique characteristics.

Step-By-Step: Getting to Space the Startup Way

A successful startup has a few basic ingredients: a good idea, the means to see it to fruition, and people who believe in its value. And money, of course. Happily, the barrier to entry in space is steadily diminishing for entrepreneurs.

“The space economy is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.84% between 2022 and 2026,” Benchmark adds. “Analysts also predict that the space industry will reach $1 trillion in annual revenue by the year 2040, with launch costs lowered by 95 percent.”

Such trends provide amazing opportunities for space startups to air ideas for which previous decades might not have made room. The anxieties that made NASA pull back from Mars missions in the 70s and 80s have officially dried up, replaced with an open-armed embrace of new technologies and applications.

For those who want to make hay while the sun shines, what will the journey look like?

1. Create a Business Model

“Our view of the world is that there are two ways to make money in space,” said Simon Halpern, CEO of plasma propulsion innovator Phase Four, in an interview with Fast Company.

Halpern explains that you can either generate income with technology (e.g. a sensor) that solves a problem, or by putting that technology in the right place at the right time (e.g. positioning the sensor to observe an event).

We can apply this same general principle to most space innovations. Successful startups will either create a piece of technology that fills a niche, or they will design a way to get technology to space more efficiently. Both angles have value in today’s modern race to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

2. Leverage the Right Resources

In rare cases, the person with the ideas also has the money to see it through … think Elon Musk. However, even Elon buddies up with government agencies all over the world in his attempts to make a human presence in space real.

Understanding where the resources lie is key for any space technology company. A startup needs all kinds of different tools that most cannot provide themselves, from cargo space to launch sites.

In recent decades, organizations like NASA and ESA have made concerted efforts to partner with private enterprises to support space technology startups. Other organizations, such as The Mars Society, offer information and support to help startups on their way.

3. Find the Funding and Talent

Of course, sometimes a startup simply needs funding for materials and talent acquisition. After all, any nascent company needs money and smarts to get off the ground – figuratively and literally.

Many organizations exist to help with this. For instance, America’s Seed Fund is provided by the National Science Foundation, offers up to $2 million, and never takes a cut of the equity. Accelerators such as Starburst similarly provide backing to startups around the globe.

4. Combine Old Tech with New

Much of what we’ll create this century is modeled off last century’s innovations. EVA suits and rocket launches are both based on the same technologies we used to get to the moon, for example. Yet they need constant updating, which is why NASA recently selected Collins Aerospace, which provided EVA suits for Artemis and ISS missions, to design the next generation.

Even while we trust old technologies, we integrate them with new ones. That’s why, according to statistics, “Today’s launch costs of $1,500 per kilogram ($1,500/kg) are about 30x less than the launch cost of NASA’s Space Shuttle in 1981.”

It’s not necessary to have a completely new idea to be successful in space. Knowing when to innovate and when to leverage existing technologies is critical. The best startups seek a problem quickly and elegantly, and only reinvent the wheel when necessary.

Common Challenges for Space Startup Companies

Despite the above pathway to success, space startups do inevitably face a number of challenges. These include:

  • The side gig mindset: Many startups can’t afford to go full-time. The people and companies who are successful have a side gig mindset, willing to work on their idea in between jobs and family.
  • High failure rates: According to the most recently available data from NASA, “41.3% of all small satellites launched failed or partially failed.” This is the nature of entrepreneurship in space.
  • Limited guard rails: Space organization often lacks the structure that we take for granted with entrepreneurship on the ground. Transportation, storage, maintenance … inventors must factor these into their designs and planning rather than count on them from external sources.

That said, these challenges often prove even more exciting for those who truly have the final frontier mentality.

Explore Opportunities and Break the Mold

If you’re an entrepreneur or investor who wants to explore opportunities in the space technology industry, don’t sit on that idea. Instead, we invite you to register and submit a solution to the 2023 NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge. If your new technology can assist in the areas of moon exploration or climate science, we want to hear it today!

The Intersection of Entrepreneurship, Space Technology & Climate

May 31, 2023, 2:34 p.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

According to one recent study, the 10 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred since 2010. If you needed a single statistic to help underline what an omnipresent challenge climate change represents to all of us, let it be that one.

But when a problem this severe threatens all of us, it can sometimes be difficult to understand why people would focus on anything else. You hear many people wonder about the validity of space technology, for example, offering some variation of the question "why should we worry about what is going on in space when he have problems here on Earth?"

In reality, these two ideas aren't just related, they're connected in a number of important ways. Space and climate technologies, along with the spirit of entrepreneurship in general, are hugely important and should absolutely be explored further.

Space Technology and Climate Change: A Symbiotic Relationship

To get a better idea of how all these ideas gel together, consider the fact that space technology is about more than just sending men and women to the moon (and beyond). Thanks to the work that NASA has done over the years, it is now possible to live in a world where satellites circle the planet at all times and gather accurate, actionable, real-time information about weather. They help provide advance warnings on potentially devastating storms, they help collect insight about the climate, and more.

They also help to raise our understanding of not just the short-term impact of climate change, but also the long-term effects of things like moisture levels, the increased rate of wildfires, and even changes to our atmosphere.


As we face the challenges of a changing climate, it's important to recognize the technologies that support us in creating a sustainable future. There are passionate people right now working on new renewable energy solutions like wind and solar. They're developing drought-resistant crops and are helping to shepherd in a new era of early warning systems to help prevent catastrophe from some of those aforementioned devastating storms.

All of this requires a combination of efforts - not just from agencies like NASA, but also entrepreneurs and technology professionals who can come together to help focus on these and other missions.

One example of this idea in action takes the form of the 2023 NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge. It was designed to both recognize and support entrepreneurs and visionaries of all types who are actively working on technology that helps to advance the agency's goals when it comes to both lunar explanation and climate science. Finalists of the challenge will not only get to attend a live pitch event at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo in Washington, D.C., but they will also get to network with some of the best and brightest minds at NASA, in the military, and with other industry leaders.

In past years, the challenge has helped entrepreneurs raise essential venture capital funding. It has also assisted in winners obtaining Small Business Innovation Research grants, has helpedthem participate in accelerator programs, and has even assisted with the formation of partnerships with both academia and industry alike. Past winners were selected from focus areas that included quantum sensors, mass spectrometry technology, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and more.

The Benefits of Entrepreneurship and the Impact on Driving Innovation

The biggest benefit that the intersection between entrepreneurship and space technologies involves the unparalleled level of innovation it brings with it.

Take the Paris Agreement, for example. It was then that more than 60 countries dedicated themselves to the idea of net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. But what a lot of people don't realize is that a lot of non-state actors did the same. Over 4,500 companies, city governments, and other institutions all committed to that same net-zero goal. A lot of the technology that is now being used to help achieve that goal was developed in part by the innovative entrepreneurs and organizations that are participating.

The same is true of concepts like privatized spaceflight. There are multiple companies that are developing (and paying for) technology independent of any government agency to launch the types of rockets that will carry astronauts into space, that will help build space stations, launch satellites, etc.

That innovation will not exist in a vacuum. Once it is developed, it can then be used by agencies like NASA to further their own mission in these areas, thus benefiting all of us even though the core technologies may have originated in part or in whole in the private sector.

The Challenges of Entrepreneurship in This Field

One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face when developing technologies for both lunar exploration and climate sciencehas to do with skepticism from those around them. Just as there are those who doubt the validity of claims regarding climate change (or who think it is already "too late" to make any big difference), there are those that inherently question why we should bother with space travel and further exploration.

Overcoming this challenge will require not only sufficient encouragement to help inspire people to action, but also an ongoing education about why these issues are so urgent to begin with. They play a direct role on all of our lives whether we realize it or not. This is true not 50 years from now, not five years from now, but today.

In the end, accomplishing goals related to space exploration and tackling issues pertaining to climate change will require people with more than just a can-do attitude. Success in these areas will depend on people who are unwilling to give up, regardless of how difficult the circumstances get. Those individuals need to be able to leverage groundbreaking technologies and collaborate with a diverse community of others who are all focused on the same mission.

Those ideas describe not only entrepreneurs, but also those in the space and climate IT fields, which is why they are and will always be intrinsically linked.

To find out more information about the crucial intersection between entrepreneurship and the technologies needed for lunar science and climate science, visit the 2023 NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge today!

1 Month Remains!

May 28, 2023, 5 p.m. PDT by Kyla Jeffrey

We are just 1 month away from our submission deadline for the NASA Entrepreneur Challenge!

This message is to remind you to complete and finalize your submission before the deadline on June 28, 2023, 5 p.m.  Eastern Time (New York/USA). The HeroX platform is automated so your submission must be finalized before that date and time for it to be considered for the judging stage.

View a how-to video on completing your submission here.

If you have any questions regarding the competition, please don’t hesitate to ask us directly or leave a comment on the forum.

If you encounter any technical issues, please contact 

Teamwork makes the Dream Work

May 26, 2023, 9:47 a.m. PDT by Kyla Jeffrey

Have you thought about forming a team to compete in the NASA Entrepreneur Challenge?

At this point in the challenge, it’s normal to start feeling a bit overwhelmed. Perhaps you’ve hit a roadblock, or you’re noticing the gaps in your own skillset. Forming a team is a great way to overcome these hurdles.

It will take time to form a team, so start reaching out to people now. You can connect with people in the forum and brows folks looking for a team here.

Why form a team? 

  1. Keep each other accountable
    We all know that deadlines are tough, and it’s especially difficult to commit to a schedule by yourself. Creating checkpoints and milestones with your team members will help you keep each other on track.
  2. Share skills
    Everyone’s got a different set of skills. Have a great idea for a project, but need someone to help make it a reality? Got an innovative technical idea, but need help pulling it into an overall project? You need a team!

    You can share expertise and specialized knowledge with your teammates. You’ll learn a ton, and your project will be all the better for it.
  3. Reduce the workload
    Why do all the work yourself? Divide and conquer the workload to save time and ease burnout. If you have an off week, your team can pick up the slack — and vice versa.
  4. Make it fun
    Your team will be by your side through all the highs and lows of the process, and they will make it all the more fun. This is also a great way to meet people with a shared set of interests. Just think, these may be your new best buds.

REMINDER: NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge Q&A Webinar starts in two hours!

May 23, 2023, 10 a.m. PDT by Lulu

The NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge 2023 Webinar starts in two hours!

When: Today, May 23rd at 3:00 pm Eastern Time.

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

Technology Focus Areas
Past Winners
Call for Judges