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.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program supports the Artemis Program through the development and deployment of small robotic landers and rovers. These new lunar micro-rovers will be launching over the next several years to gather information about and conduct scientific research on the lunar surface. To meet the size, weight, and power constraints of these micro-rovers, new scientific payloads have to be designed, built, and tested in time for the different launch opportunities.
Additionally, NASA would like these next generation payloads to do more than just deploy sensors and collect information about the lunar environment. Continued advancement of lunar and space exploration requires demonstrations of new technologies that can be employed outside of Earth. Miniaturized payload proposals that actively run relevant experiments, or demonstrate new instrumentation in a lunar environment are highly desirable.
Although there are already many good ideas for miniaturized payloads, the struggle is to find those good ideas which are readily reduced to practice. This challenge wants to recognize and reward payload proposals that can demonstrate near-term technical readiness, high impact, and the ability to integrate with micro-rovers.
The timeline for establishing a pipeline of suitable payloads is aggressive. NASA plans to launch the first of these micro-rovers in 2022. To be successful in this ideation competition, your proposed miniaturized payloads will:
Bridge one or more of the highlighted lunar strategic knowledge gaps
Have a technology readiness level (TRL) of 3 or greater
Be compatible with the new micro-rovers
The full specifications for micro-rover payloads can be found under the Resources tab (Small Lunar Payload User's Guide). Participants are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with the specifications. Payloads do not have to be located on the top of the micro-rover. Additionally, note that these specifications represent the maximum limits for size, weight, power consumption, etc. NASA JPL has a strong desire for proposed payloads that are smaller and lighter than the limits described in the payload user’s guide. Key payload guidance includes:
Ability to manage external temperatures ranging from -120° to +100°C
Maximum exterior enclosed dimensions of 100mm x 100mm x 50mm
Maximum mass of 0.4Kg
There is particular interest in payloads that will help identify and characterize lunar resources, as well as those that will enable ISRU. The loose, fragmental material on the Moon’s surface is called regolith and is a product of meteoritic bombardment - it is the debris thrown out of the impact craters. Minable concentrations of resources in the regolith need to be mapped so NASA can select the best locations to send our astronauts. Important resources in the regolith include volatile compounds such as water, CO2, and methane. They are of special interest because they are essential for life support and can be used for propellant production. Regolith containing minerals with high concentrations of oxygen, carbon, titanium, and iron are also of interest. Sulfur is important too because it can be used as a binding agent for lunar construction. Many prospecting technologies for these minerals and elements are successfully used on Earth, but they need to be miniaturized, repackaged, and tailored for use on the Moon. Payloads are needed that can address these broad strategic knowledge gaps:
The lunar resource potential
Regolith resources - identification of volatiles, minerals and elements, as well as measurements of their quality, quantity, and distribution
Polar Resources - understand the regolith densities with depth, cohesiveness, grain sizes, slopes, and blockiness.
ISRU production and/or testing
The lunar environment
Solar activity - solar event prediction and warning
Radiation environment at the lunar surface
As mentioned above, the first CLPS micro-rover is scheduled to launch in 2022, with annual launches thereafter. The goal of this and subsequent challenges on this topic is to develop a pipeline of ready-for-launch payloads. To help achieve this goal, proposed miniaturized payloads must be at TRL 3 or greater. For those unfamiliar with the definitions for the different TRLs, a table of definitions is available under the Resources tab (Technology Readiness Level Definitions). The figure below provides a graphical representation of TRLs.
Broadly speaking, TRL 3 is achieved when proof of concept is demonstrated. By TRL 6, the technology has been reduced to practice with a working prototype. To ensure that proposed payloads are sufficiently mature, a Payload Specifications and Capabilities form must be completed as part of the submission form. A view-only version of this form is available under the Resources tab. The ability to thoughtfully and responsively complete this Payload Specifications and Capabilities form is a good indicator that your proposed payload idea is sufficiently mature to fare well in this challenge.
This challenge has a total prize purse of $160,000 that will be divided among a number of winners across 2 different categories. First prize winners in each category will each be awarded $30,000, second prize winners $15,000, and third prize winners $5000.
These generous ideation prizes are intended to motivate and reward thoughtful, comprehensive submissions for miniaturized payload proposals that ideally:
Demonstrate new technology/instrumentation or run an experiment
Explore the lunar resource potential or lunar environment
Have a TRL greater than 3
Are smaller and/or lighter than the maximum limits described in the specifications guide
Please carefully review the evaluation criteria below to understand what is important to NASA.
Number Of Awards
Lunar resource potential
First Prize - $30,000
Second Prize - $15,000
Third Prize - $5000
First Prize - $30,000
Second Prize - $15,000
Third Prize - $5000
Total Prize Purse
In addition to the prizes discussed above, winners will also receive the following non-monetary incentives:
Opportunity to meet with NASA JPL engineers to more fully present the concept and answer any questions
A conference or onsite event that allows all prize winners to present their ideas to and interact with NASA JPL technical staff (some State Department restrictions may apply)
A press release or other publicity by HeroX and/or NASA announcing the winners
Wide promotion of the winner on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Open to submissions: April 9, 2020
Submission deadline: June 8, 2020 @ 5pm ET
Judging: June 8 to July 10, 2020
Winners Announced: July 14, 2020
How do I win?
To advance beyond preliminary evaluation rounds, your proposal must, at a minimum:
Present the capabilities, technical maturity, and impact of your proposed payload
Complete the Payload Specifications and Capabilities form
Note that in the submission form, you will have to select to which category/knowledge gaps your proposed payload applies. All submissions within a given category will be evaluated and ranked against one another to determine first, second, and third prize winners. If you believe your proposed payload is applicable to more than one category, select the category where you feel it will be most impactful. NASA JPL reserves the right to move a submission to a different category if they believe it has been miscategorized.
Quality of proposal: clear, concise writing; thoughtful and complete responses; realistic projections of time needed, effort expended, and outcomes attained. High-level project plan that demonstrates a potential path for future development of proposed payload.
Technical soundness of proposed payload.
Likelihood that it can be successfully integrated into a micro-rover and used on the lunar surface.
Clear description of new technology/instrumentation to be demonstrated, or specific experiment to be run, or other payload capability. Likelihood that proposer/proposing team will be able to successfully develop proposed payload.
The likelihood that proposed payload can be developed and deployed in 1-4 years
The potential impact of proposed payload if it is successfully developed and deployed.
Novelty or creativity of proposed approach.
Elegance of design.
Clever use of existing technologies or work-around of existing limitations/constraints.
Your submission should include:
Entrant/Team information: Please enter your full name and email address. If submitting as a team, please list the full name and email address of each team member. Provide the role/expertise for each team member
Submission Category: Please select the category your proposed payload best addresses:
The lunar resource potential
The lunar environment
Proposed payload overview: Please provide an overview of your proposed payload, its capabilities, and its technical maturity. (3000 character limit, including spaces)
Payload capabilities: Please discuss in detail what your payload consists of, what it does, and why this is important. Be sure to make clear the connection between the payload capabilities and their impact on bridging your selected knowledge gaps. What will be the impact of this payload if it is successfully developed and deployed? (3000 character limit, including spaces)
Technical maturity: Please discuss the technical maturity of your proposed payload. What TRL would you assign it? Please provide a supporting rationale and/or evidence for this rating. Why do you believe this could be developed and deployed in 1-4 years? (3000 character limit, including spaces)
Project plan: If you were to move forward and develop this proposed payload, what would your preliminary project plan look like? Please provide a timeline, a budget, and a list of any additional resources you would need. (3000 character limit, including spaces)
Compliance with Small Lunar Payload User’s Guide requirements: Please discuss how your proposed payload addresses the requirements listed in the Small Lunar Payload User’s Guide. Be sure to note any exceptions or possible issues, describe why they are important/unavoidable, and offer possible mitigation strategies. (3000 character limit, including spaces)
Supporting files and figures: Please upload any supporting documentation here. Examples of supporting documentation include schematics, tables, figures, diagrams, or video. Note that supporting literature should be referenced in the relevant sections, with links provided if appropriate. (3000 character limit, including spaces)
Note: submissions should be made by clicking the orange "Accept Challenge" button and then the "Begin Entry" button. Multiple entries are permitted, but we encourage you to focus on preparing one quality entry versus multiple entries.
The Prize is open to anyone age 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx). If you are a NASA employee, a Government contractor, or employed by a Government Contractor, your participation in this challenge may be restricted.
Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.
No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of in situ or remote sensors is required. NASA encourages 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.
Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant NASA a royalty free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, world-wide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete details.
Registration and Submissions:
Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before June 8, 2020, at 5:00 pm ET. No late submissions will be accepted.
Selection of Winners:
Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.
The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by relevant NASA specialists.
By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees 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.
We are proud to announce the winners in the $160,000 Challenge, Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload!
This challenge tasked innovators from around the world to propose miniaturized payloads, similar in size to a bar of soap, to make lunar exploration using micro-rovers more effective.
By the submission deadline, we received 132 entries from 29 countries. In total, NASA is awarding $160,000 USD across 14 different entries and recognizing an additional 3 entries with an honorable mention award. You can view more details on the winning entries here. We will also be hosting a panel discussion with NASA and the two first-place winners - register here.
Prizes are awarded in two categories, based on the two strategic knowledge gaps presented in the challenge.
The award recipients in the Lunar Resource Potential category are as follows:
Laser Based Dust Detector for the Lunar Surface by Ryan Smith
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who entered the challenge. While we were only able to recognize a small fraction of those who entered, there were so many other insightful solutions, we are confident that many of the participants will do great things in the future. Thank you all for helping make this challenge a huge success.
We would also like to thank all of our supporters, partners, judges, and anyone else who in any way contributed to our competition community. Without you, we would not have had the challenge that we did.
It's not too late! There is still one more day to submit your innovative ideas to the Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload challenge. As a final reminder, you must finalize your submission prior to the deadline, which is tomorrow at 5pm ET.
Did you miss the "Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload" Q&A webinar yesterday? JPL provided an excellent introduction to the challenge and then spent over 45 minutes answering questions from the audience. You can check out the recording here:
We've successfully collaborated winning and fulfilling on NASA contracts through their Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation. HeroX is positioned as the social network for innovation and therefore has a broader and more uncredentialed crowd, which pairs well with our Topcoder crowd of experts in development and design. Their team is great to work with, we've had the pleasure of hosting webinars and other joint initiatives.