NASA Tournament Lab


Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload

Give a tiny bot a new set of tools to explore the moon. Share your ideas for a mini payload to make lunar exploration more effective.

Challenge Overview

The moon has fascinated people from time immemorial. We have all spent nights staring up at the starry sky, looking at the moon in wonder.  For most of us, travel to the moon is out of reach. But now, you have the opportunity to send your tech to the moon!  

NASA’s new lunar exploration program is the Artemis Program.  As human space exploration evolves toward a permanent presence on the lunar surface, In situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) will become increasingly important. Resupply missions are very expensive.  We need to develop practical and affordable ways to identify and use lunar resources, so that our astronaut crews can become more independent of Earth. Future astronauts have to be able to locate and collect lunar resources and then transform them into the essentials for life: breathable air, water for drinking and food production, building materials for shelter, rocket propellants, and more.  Our mission capabilities will rapidly increase when useful products can be created from in-situ resources.

The ability to prospect, map, and characterize these in-situ resources not only increases NASA’s progress towards a sustained presence on the moon, but also could revolutionize mining, purification systems, the pharmaceutical industry, and other commercial industries - much as we realized enormous technological benefits and advances from the Apollo Program. NASA has issued this challenge to the global community to develop miniaturized payloads that can be sent to the moon in the next 1-4 years and bridge lunar strategic knowledge gaps.

Payloads that support prospecting for resources that help support a sustained human presence are highly desirable, in addition to payloads that enable lunar science, demonstrate new technologies and/or advance the use of resources found on the moon (in-situ resource utilization, ISRU). 

Imagine a rover the size of your Roomba® crawling the moon’s surface. These small rovers developed by NASA and commercial partners provide greater mission flexibility and allow NASA to collect key information about the lunar surface. However, existing science payloads are too big, too heavy, and require too much power for these rovers and new, miniaturized payload designs are needed. Payloads need to be similar in size to a new bar of soap to fit cleanly inside the rover (maximum external dimensions: 100mm x 100mm x 50mm).

This ideation challenge will award $160,000 total in prizes across two categories. This ideation challenge is expected to be followed by new challenges to prototype, test, and deliver these miniaturized payloads. This larger effort will generate a maturation pipeline of next-generation instruments, sensors, and experiments that can be used for lunar exploration over the next few years. 

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Meet the Winners

Meet the Winners

The Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload Challenge received 132 submissions! Innovators were asked to propose a miniaturized payload that could explore the moon and increase our knowledge of either the Lunar Environment or the Lunar Resource Potential. 

NASA is recognizing 14 teams for their excellent payload designs and awarding $160,000 in total prizes as well as recognizing three additional teams as Honorable Mentions.

Please join our webinar on August 6th to Meet the Winners of the Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload Challenge! Register Here.




1st Place Winner, $30,000 Prize


Sun Slicer - Miniaturized XRAY Spectrometer by Team Sun Slicer

Team Sun Slicer is a collection of agile veteran Scientists and Engineers that are passionate about developing flight ready hardware and then performing the enabled science. Phillip Jobson [BSEE UniSa, President Phil Jobson Consulting specializing in rapid hardware development] Competition Team Leader joins the proven Space Flight Hardware team of Dr Garrett Jernigan [PhD Physics MIT, Retired UC Berkeley Space Sciences Lab specializing in High Energy Astrophysics], Dr John Doty [PhD Physics MIT, President Noqsi Aerospace specializing in X and Gamma Ray Astronomy Missions and Space Hardware design] and Brian Silverman [BSCS MIT, Co-Founder Playful Invention Company specializing in all aspects of Software and Firmware development].

SunSlicer is an innovative flight ready XRAY Spectrometer and integrated camera adapted for the harsh lunar environment, compact form factor and low power requirements of miniature lunar rover payloads. Sunslicer will perform compelling Heliospheric science with an innovative experiment that can measure Sun Active regions with at least 20x finer angular resolution than similar direct XRAY imaging from satellites. Sun Slicer will also monitor the Lunar Radiation environment and serves as a prototype for a compact in situ XRAY Safety Monitor for Lunar Astronauts. An adapted Sun Slicer could be used for 2024 Artemis Astronaut needs as a portable instrument.


2nd Place Winner, $15,000 Prize


LEA (Lunar surface Energetic neutrals Analyzer) by Bhardwaj Shastri

I recently graduated with a Masters in Space Science & Technology, specialization in space instrumentation, from LTU, Kiruna, Sweden. Like a water droplet in the vast ocean, I always wanted to contribute my knowledge and skills for human’s space exploration, so that we can achieve more giant leaps in the future like the one we did on July 20, 1969. Reading, watching and following all developments of NASA’s Artemis program is always an exciting stuff for me to do. I am honored that my proposed design will somehow help NASA to bridge lunar strategic knowledge gaps, in order to make human presence permanent beyond Earth.




3rd Place Winners, $5,000 Prize


Lunar Radiation Characterization by Christian Haughwout

Space radiation is one of the greatest challenges to an extended human presence beyond low Earth orbit. Further more, not all radiation affects the human body in the same way, a fact that is ignored by most compact radiation detectors currently available. Christian Haughwout, a graduate student at MIT, intends to address this through the development of a compact, low-cost radiation detector capable of distinguishing between different types of radiation. The new design leverages several recent technological developments including PSD-capable polymeric scintillators and silicon photomultipliers to deliver a smaller, cheaper, and more robust instrument than was previously possible.


Laser Based Dust Detector for the Lunar Surface by Ryan Smith

Ryan is an electronic engineer with an eye for electronic systems design. Currently working for RAL Space, just finishing the Graduate scheme, he is working on graduate lead system studies for rovers, all the way through to major scientific mission development for lunar and Earth observation missions. Ryan is pioneering the development of the mind-set of small science instruments based around CubeSat technology, and small low cost rover systems to make human habitation and large science possible on the Moon and eventually Mars. The instrument Ryan has designed is to characterise and understand the situation with lunar dust on the Moon. Lunar dust will be one of the major factors affecting future lunar missions, and understanding how rovers and rockets interact with that dust is a key roadblock for large missions.


Novel Fibber Bragg Grating seismometer by Relative Dynamics

Our proposed innovation (payload) is a Fiber Bragg Grating Optical Seismometer (FBG Seismometer). It will enable measurements of low frequency vibrations and seismic events in a compact lander instrument. A photonic integrated circuit (PIC) is the enabling technology for our FBG seismometer. Our PIC FBG seismometer provides high sensitivity to low frequency vibrations and self-noise levels. Present data shows deficiencies in the understanding of the deep lunar interior. Our FBG seismometer will investigate the internal lunar mantle-core boundaries. Our measurements will improve insight into “moonquakes”, tidal stresses, and layer phase changes, shedding light on lunar dynamic processes.






1st Place Winner, $30,000 Prize

Puli Lunar Water Snooper by Puli Space Technologies

Puli Space Technologies is a Budapest (Hungary) based space technology company, with an experienced team of engineers and scientists passionate about the Moon. The team develops a lightweight lunar rover and payload instruments for the harsh lunar environment to explore resources, based on the team's Google Lunar XPRIZE experience.

Hydrogen is one of the most valuable lunar resources, essential for future missions, permanent human presence and habitats on the Moon. Therefore it is crucial to find, characterize and map lunar hydrogen. The Puli Lunar Water Snooper is designed by Puli Space exactly for these tasks: it identifies hydrogen and therefore all hydrogen-bearing volatiles like water ice, it measures quantity and distribution of these resources in the lunar surface regolith, mapping even a large area when mounted on a rover. The payload performs its measurements by detecting cosmic ray and low-energy neutron particles coming from the regolith, using 3 CMOS image sensors with a special, neutron sensitive coating on top, monitoring the lunar radiation environment at the same time. This design is a low-cost, simple and extremely lightweight solution, which are all key features for short-term robotic exploration missions to find and utilize resources on the Moon.



2nd Place Winners, $15,000 Prize


KSat Stuttgart e.V. MICU 3D mineral seeker by KSat Stuttgart e.V. MICU 3D mineral seeker Team 

The Mineral Investigation Camera using Ultra-violet (MICU) sensor from KSat Stuttgart (Germany) is a 3D optical fluorescence mineral seeker operating in multiple ultra-violet (UV) wavelengths with a stereovision camera setup. It detects the instantaneously emitted photons after UV illumination to discover minerals. Afterwards MICU observes the fluorescent object with its cameras. Due to the instantons response of fluorescence, the MICU seeker can operate at high frame rates and allows to cover larger surfaces in short time. The onboard image processor analyzes the images, detects minerals and then provides compressed reports for downstream to earth for advanced mineral classification. Additional position information from the rover is attached to the reports for large-scale localization.

About us: KSat Stuttgart e.V. is a non-profit student society with a history of successfully developed space missions which includes sounding rocket and balloon experiments and our own small satellite. For more information, please visit:


M-ELVIS, Locating and Mapping Lunar Volatiles by Curtis Purrington 

Micro Expedient Lunar Volatile Identification Surveyor (m-ELVIS), is the little brother of ELVIS. The core components of both sensors are the same. Using a modified penetrometer, force curves are generated while pushing a probe beneath the lunar regolith. Force curves correlate to the ice structure of volatiles and to the mass percentage of volatiles present. Both parameters are important to future resource utilization plans. Below the surface, micro applications of heat provide further evidence of ice structure and to the mass percentage of volatiles in a given area and depth. Once, a pocket of volatiles has been discovered, larger applications of heat (< 4W) incrementally heat a small volume below the surface. Then, sublimated vapor flows through a mass flow sensor. Different volatiles sublimate at different temperatures, thus volatiles are identified. Finally, combining this data with navigational inputs highly detailed volatile maps are generated for future ISRU missions.


Permittivity Analysis of Regolith using SansEC  by Nova Rover Payload Team 

The Permittivity Analysis of Regolith using SansEC (PARSEC) payload was proposed by the Monash Nova Rover Team, a multidisciplinary undergraduate robotics group from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. The team’s main focus is designing and building Mars rover analogues for the annual University Rover Challenge, held at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, USA.

PARSEC is a novel approach to map the distribution of Iron and Titanium Oxides contained within regolith and rock at the Lunar surface. Utilizing a series of conductive SansEC coils to measure and record changes in dielectric permittivity, PARSEC reveals information on the physical and compositional characteristics of Lunar regolith. PARSEC has been developed to support the goal of a sustainable, permanent human presence on the Moon by providing information on the distribution and quantity of prospective Lunar resources, in preparation for future In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) missions.


3d Place Winners, $5,000 Prize


LAMPER by Amin Aminaei, PhD

A LunAr Microwave PEnetrating Radar (LAMPER) is proposed as a scientific instrument onboard micro-rovers. LAMPER is specifically designed to study the lunar resource potential including regolith and polar resources. LAMPER is an active radar  with two separate transmitter and receiver antennas.  By sending short pulses and receiving the echoes from the regolith, LAMPER generates a microwave image of the regolith along the rover’s path. The transmitted pulse propagates through the lunar regolith layers and is partially scattered and reflected back. By processing the received signal one could get significant information about the thickness, structure and compositions of the lunar regolith as well as its electrical and magnetic properties. The previous lunar penetrating radars such as Apollo 17 and recent Chang'e-3 studied the lunar regolith and crust in depth in MHz bands. LAMPER would use a GHz ultra-wideband spectrum to study the surface regolith in more details and at higher resolution.


M.E.G.A.M.A.N.  by Big Brain, Little Payload Team 

Designed by members and friends of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Design Team at the University of Texas at Austin, the Moon Element Gas Absorption to Mark Abundant Nodes (M.E.G.A.M.A.N.) is a payload designed to test atmospheric and regolith compositions. By ablating regolith with a laser, MEGAMAN is able to collect a gas sample and use optical spectroscopy to find elements/compounds that are life-sustaining such as helium, iron, sulfur, nitrogen, and water. The location data and detected samples will be paired to compose a map where eventual moon missions can mine these essential samples to sustain human life. With the large temperature range and durability that MEGAMAN offers, similar payloads could also be used on Mars and other exploratory sites. Ultimately, in situ resource utilization tools such as MEGAMAN on the Artemis program will only be one of many programs that will help establish a human presence on the moon.


Adaptable science box: Magnetometer+Rad detector  by Space Initiatives Inc

Space Initiatives Inc propose an Adaptable Science Box, this initial version is mounted on the upper surface of the rover and will contain Dust Detector, Magnetometer, electron detector and Gamma Ray Detector (GRD).   Most of the equipment selected has prior space flight heritage.  We intend to correlate variations of magnetic field with the electron flux, to help understand the interactions.     Magnetic interference is a challenge, on Earth we will attempt to use spectral filtering to clean up the data.   Pulses of light from a flashlamp illuminates dust particles whose reflection are detected by a high-gain photomultiplier. Such dust might be electrostatically levitated and might be affected by the magnetic field. The GRD is to find 232-Thorium emissions (2.61-MeV) which indicate the presence of the KREEP mineral which is scientifically interesting and could become a valuable resource.  The GRD consumes 3.9 W so the other instruments must be turned off while it is operating.


Moon soil resources from seismic waves  by Drive Me Through The Moon Team 

DASS (Distributed Autonomous Seismic Sensor) is a cluster of deployable seismic sensors and a mobile unit designed for Lunar soil resources exploration and discovery that operates through detection and measurement of seismic waves.

Roberto Chinelli is an electronic engineer based in Italy and has more than 20 years in IT consulting firms. He currently leads the Data and Artificial Intelligence business unit for a multinational company. He is passionate about technology and likes to challenge himself to apply his technology knowledge to concrete complex real cases.

Angelo Costantino is an aerospace engineer based in Belgium and has more than 10 years experience in aerospace structural analysis as a consultant for aircrafts and space companies all over Europe. He is a technology enthusiast with a strong background in problem solving and computational optimization. He is always seeking new and better solutions for everyday life.


Raman-based Mineral Classification Payload (RMCP)  by Top Raman NASA Payload Team

The Raman-based Mineral Classification Payload (RMCP) combines several technological advances in micro-electronics, photonics and machine learning to deliver outsized performance in an undersized package. Our payload is designed to detect and classify chemical compounds within the lunar regolith by shining a laser at the surface and measuring the Raman Shift for analysis. Utilizing deep learning, our payload identifies the constituent elements by way of a convolutional neural network (CNN). The CNN outputs the detected elements in each sample and allows for the calculation of concentrations of each element in the regolith. To survive the harsh environment of the lunar surface, our hardware consists of a field-programmable gate array and a novel thermal regulation design. Our team is confident that RMCP can provide reliable detection capabilities to further NASA's situational awareness of lunar resources


Honorable Mentions


Lunar Vision. Coloring the moon! by Team Stardust

Team Stardust is a father-daughter team with a passion for science, technology and innovation. Dennis Stilwell is an avid maker, robot enthusiast with a background in electronics design, software programming and automation. Holly Stilwell is a student at Virginia Tech. She is currently pursuing a double major in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. In her free time, she loves to explore her creativity through visual arts, music, and writing.

The moon may appear to be a grey, colorless world, but there are subtle colors that expose the locations of valuable minerals. Lunar Vision’s camera views the lunar horizon for these colors, and a single board computer brings these colors out with color enhancing software. Once these colors are detected, Lunar Vision maps the location of these mineral exposing colors and guides the rover to the most promising locations. When the rover reaches these locations, Lunar Vision tests the minerals with a camera-based optical spectrometer to detect the richest deposits.


Miniaturized Payload for Regolith Characterization by Padua Team

We are three friends who studied at the University of Padua, where we took our Master’s Degrees. We share a strong passion for space exploration, innovation and technology, so we decided to propose LUNARITH, a payload for the NASA micro-rover. LUNARITH is composed of a highly miniaturized time-of-flight laser mass spectrometer for the in-situ study of lunar regolith, and the associated sampling system. The sampling system is compact, self-locking and simple, based on an aluminum robotic arm consisting in two stepper motors that control a lead screw. The laser mass spectrometer is an extremely compact, lightweight, and miniaturized instrument that allows the study of elemental and isotopic composition of the lunar surface. Moreover, an ultra-violet laser might be used for the relatively “soft” ionization to detect either elements or molecules. In this way the identification of relevant resources in the regolith is possible.



The RICO team is composed of two engineers that share a passion for space. With our combined experience in aerospace the RICO team hopes to further the advancement of spaceflight technology, leading to humanity’s sustainable and self-sufficient off-world presence.

The RICO payload’s primary function is to map a specific region of interest with respect to ilmenite concentration. RICO samples the surface regolith and provides a relative concentration analysis of ilmenite as well as other iron-containing agglutinates. These resources could prove vital in the establishment of a sustainable lunar presence. By extracting these highly versatile materials from the lunar surface, lunar colonies can create tools and structures without the need to import base material from Earth.