NASA Tournament Lab


Brilliant Minds for Pure Blue Skies

Help NASA keep skies pure blue with your brilliant idea for eliminating harmful emissions from air travel. Will you help protect our skies?

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed

Meet the Challenge Winners!



This challenge is open to anyone age 18 or older, participating as an individual or as a team. Team captains must be a United States citizen , legal permanent resident, or asylum grantee. Further team members may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation. See the Official Challenge Rules at the end of this page for more eligibility information. 

If you wish to participate in this challenge but are not a United States citizen or legal permanent resident, we suggest that you take advantage of our website’s team-building features in order to collaborate with a team captain who is from the USA.

Welcome, passionate innovators and bold visionaries, to an extraordinary quest to redefine the future of aviation, to bring forth a world where the skies are clear, and the flights are green. The challenge at hand is not just a call to reimagine aircraft but an invitation to unleash your creativity in scripting an environmentally-conscious success story for the ages.

Picture this – the year is 2050. A dark, smoky haze shrouds the flightline, casting a shadow of uncertainty on the future of our planet. The world watches as aircraft crisscross the skies, leaving trails of emissions in their wake, fueling a looming climate crisis. Yet, amid this grim reality, a new hope emerges: YOU! We are asking for your brilliant minds to come together and transform the aviation industry, wielding innovative technologies that save the planet from the grips of an environmental catastrophe. The skies are your canvas, and the spotlight is on you.

NASA beckons you to take center stage in this thrilling saga. We are seeking novel, revolutionary ideas that directly address the harmful emissions produced by narrow and wide-body aircraft during flights that last longer than two hours. Ideas that boldly break away from conventional thinking and take aviation to a future where aircraft are benign to the environment. These are the ideas the world needs! If someone has published a scientific paper, or there is chatter about a crazy idea on Quora, NASA probably knows something about it. We are looking for something substantially novel! NASA's charter is to seek extraordinary solutions to extraordinary problems; to look out into the impossible for something possible. Near-term net zero carbon dioxide solutions are in the works. But will these solutions succeed? Is net zero CO2 enough? Can we do better?

We are focused on eliminating or mitigating the harmful effects of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), nvPM (non-volatile particulate matter / soot), water, and other emissions. While Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) holds promise, we are looking for something beyond SAF – unique, sustainable solutions that minimize emissions at their source. Ideas that do not merely offset emissions but rather redefine the way aircraft operate, embracing green technology and out-of-the-box thinking, are of immense value. Nothing is too bold or crazy if it can help solve this wicked problem we’re facing. Remember though, your ideas cannot add some new harmful emission or be unsafe for widespread use.

They also need to be novel. If your idea involves concepts like lithium-Ion batteries, liquid hydrogen, cracked ammonia turbines, or fuel cells you may not win as there is active research on these fuels and sources in aviation.

We are looking for breakthrough ideas like these industry disruptors:

  • The turbofan engine revolutionized aviation, blending power with remarkable efficiency. By harnessing a mix of jet thrust and ducted fan propulsion, turbofans drastically slashed fuel consumption by up to 25% compared to their turbojet predecessors. This not only led to more cost-effective long-haul flights but also resulted in a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. In an industry where efficiency and sustainability are paramount, the turbofan's emergence was a game-changing leap toward a cleaner, more economical future in the skies.
  • Fast forward to today. In just eight months, Whisper Aero designed, built, and flew a custom demonstrator drone with its unique electric propulsor, validating the company’s ultra-quiet, efficient electric jet technologies. Or take Astron Aerospace’s engine, the Omega 1, which combines parts of both a regular combustion engine and a turbine design, with hints of rotary interspersed. The company claims that hydrogen can be used as an ideal fuel for the engine, with emissions “close to zero.” Is your breakthrough idea ready to join these?
  • Let’s not forget about process! The National Airspace System (NAS) is the unsung hero of modern aviation. By meticulously orchestrating the intricate dance of thousands of flights daily, the NAS ensures safety while optimizing routes for maximum efficiency. Its establishment streamlined operations, slashed flight times, and mitigated air traffic congestion, paving the way for a more fuel-efficient and environmentally conscious aviation era. In the vast skyways above, the NAS silently operates as the backbone of contemporary air travel, embodying a blend of precision, safety, and eco-friendly foresight. Do you have a machine learning solution that could further enhance the NAS process marvel? Perhaps this could form a part of your solution!

OK amazing solvers, channel your inner Lawrence Sperry! In 1927 he invented the artificial horizon, enabling none other than the great Jimmy Doolittle to take the first “blind flight!”

Submit your white papers outlining your groundbreaking ideas and detailed demonstration plans. Note that you will not be asked to develop your ideas alone! Challenge winners may have the chance to partner with NASA and a US-based academic institution to develop their ideas further.

Join us in crafting this unforgettable story, where you play the hero in keeping our skies pure and blue forever. Together, let's turn this film noir into a tale of hope, innovation, and a cleaner, greener future for aviation. Your role awaits. Seize the moment, and change the world.



Modern planes predominantly rely on gas turbines, with Jet A as their go-to fuel. When burned, it releases water, CO2—a long-lived greenhouse gas, and other pollutants like nitrous oxides and soot. These contrail-producing emissions not only exacerbate global warming but also present an atmospheric dilemma as air travel is poised to grow by 2.9% annually over the next decade. Thus, as the world pivots to greener transport modes, aviation's carbon footprint will loom even larger. Tackling this airborne challenge head-on, the U.S. is aiming to achieve net-zero aviation carbon emissions by 2050, with Sustainable Aviation Fuel fronting the charge.

In this challenge, however, we are setting our sights higher than merely offsetting aviation emissions with Sustainable Aviation Fuels. The mission? Forge direct pathways to eradicate harmful airborne culprits. While CO2 steals the limelight as a global warming antagonist, we're equally wary of other emissions like water, NOx, and the sooty nvPM. NASA's University Innovation Project has championed groundbreaking ideas from academic corridors, but it's time to expand their horizons. We're on the hunt for untapped, avant-garde concepts that not only champion the environment but also hold promise for a holistic, eco-friendly aviation future. You better bring your double digit improvement game! So, let's rethink, reimagine, and revamp our skies. Join the ascent!

The Challenge

This is a very straightforward crowdsourcing challenge. Express your innovative idea through the questions provided in the submission form and then hit submit! The difficult part is coming up with the breakthrough that leads to gloriously clean and healthy skies wherever planes fly. After the submission deadline, experts from NASA and our celebrity judges panel will review the submissions and determine the winners. The world needs your ideas. Please think hard and submit today!

How do I Win?

Submit your breakthrough idea via the submission form at the top of this page. Each question in the submission form has a maximum character limit to help guide the length of your replies to each item, though in total your submission should be no longer than about 10 pages of single-spaced text. The submission form allows for text formatting, so you will also be able to embed images, videos, and links in your responses. At minimum, your submission must contain the following information to be considered eligible:

  • A plausible technical method for significantly reducing or completely eliminating harmful emissions from flights of 2 or more hours (737 class or larger vehicles),
  • Quantified estimates of the benefits that can be achieved, and
  • A credible demonstration plan for researching and testing how the proposed solution could be viable.

Since a key feature of this challenge is to enable future development of the winning solutions through collaboration with American academic institutions, your demonstration plans should take this next step into account. You may propose potential university partners that you already have a working relationship with, groups who you do not yet know but who would be knowledgeable around your solution, or you may request NASA's support in finding an academic partner. Please include references where appropriate.

If you are a U.S. Citizen, Green Card holder, or have been granted asylum within the U.S., then you can submit your idea outright without any additional partners at this stage. If you are a foreign national, you will have to partner with a U.S entity or institution who will then serve as the Team Captain for your submission.

Furthermore, to be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at a minimum:

  • Satisfy the Judging Criteria requirements to a reasonable level.
  • Thoughtfully address the Submission Form questions.
  • Be scored higher than your competitors!

Prize Purse - $30,000 total


You may now be asking, "What unique and historic poster?" 

Well, all award winners will receive a framed 16" x 20" copy of this Space Shuttle poster seen below. This poster was created by Matt Melis, a highly accomplished NASA engineer who led the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation's testing of the shuttle's leading edge failure. Matt recently retired from the NASA Glenn Research Center and is a Shuttle enthusiast who has given talks around the world on the shuttle program's history and vehicle system technical details. This poster was never for sale and can be viewed as a collector's item with very little distribution.



Challenge Launch (Open to submissions)September 28, 2023
Submission deadlineDecember 14, 2023 @ 5pm ET
JudgingJan 4 to Feb 8, 2024
Winners AnnouncedFeb 15, 2024


Judging Criteria

Section DescriptionOverall Weight
ImpactYour idea should help solve the climate problem for 2050, but its impact could also quite possibly extend for hundreds of years. The greater your solution reduces or eliminates emissions in a sustainable fashion, the higher your score. The hierarchy of importance for eliminating existing harmful emissions is CO2, Contrails, NOx, nvPM, then other emissions (but no new harmful ones!!).30
NoveltyThis is the bread and butter of your winning idea. It has to chart new ground. If we can find someone already researching something similar today, you probably will not win. Your mission is to make the judges say, “WOW!”25
FeasibilityIf your idea includes words like Expelliarmus or “Use the Force,” you will not win. Yes, we are looking for ideas on the bleeding edge of the bleeding edge, but they have to be technically plausible, relatively sustainable, safe, and lead to results. Stay in this universe, please.25
Work Towards DemonstrationHave you already gone beyond just an idea? The further your idea is into the proof or demonstration phase the closer we are to solving this critical problem and the more points you will get! You will also earn more points here if you present a powerful Demonstration Plan!15
Quality and ClarityYou can write your idea on a napkin (though you will still need to copy and paste into the submission form), but the words need to illustrate the power of your idea, justify your reasoning, and show that you satisfy the challenge requirements.




Submission Form

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 the United States?


(yes/ no)

If your institution is not from the United States, you must have a Team Captain who originates from the United States as a US citizen, legal permanent resident, or asylum grantee.
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)
5. Please confirm everyone on your team is over 18 years of age at the time of submission.(yes/no) 


QuestionTypeDetails (Help text)Character Limit
TitleText (One Line)Give your submission a title.


AbstractText (Multiple Lines)A brief abstract of your idea. Please ensure that it contains enough information for a relevant technical expert to understand the premise.


Your SubmissionSection Header  
ImpactText (Multiple Lines with images and formatting)Provide sufficient information for a relevant technical expert to determine the impact of your idea on reducing or eliminating aircraft emissions.


Novelty and DescriptionText (Multiple Lines with images and formatting)Provide an in-depth description and explanation concerning your idea and why it is a novel solution.


FeasibilityText (Multiple Lines with images and formatting)Provide sufficient information for a relevant technical expert to determine if implementation of your idea is feasible within the next 30 years.


Practical Work to Date and Demonstration PlanText (Multiple Lines with images and formatting)Provide sufficient information for a relevant technical expert to determine where your idea has undergone practical feasibility work and research to date.
Please also include a Demonstration Plan where you propose the next steps required to investigate this solution further.


Future PartnershipText (Multiple Lines)Since the overall goal of this challenge is to fast track development of the best solutions through our academic partners, tell us your thoughts about what you envision for future partnership. 
You may propose potential university partners that you already have a working relationship with, groups who you do not yet know but who would be knowledgeable around your solution, or you may request the Challenge Sponsor’s support in finding an academic partner (even if you aren’t able to take this idea forward yourself). 


References Please include references where appropriate.



Challenge Rules

Participation Eligibility:

The Prize is open to anyone age 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Team captains and individual (solo) competitors must originate from the U.S. as a citizen, legal permanent resident, or asylum grantee. 

Further team members may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: 

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.

You are required to ensure that all releases or transfers of technical data to non-US persons comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 C.F.R. §§ 120.1 to 130.17.

No specific qualifications or expertise in the fields of Aviation or Energy 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.

Intellectual Property Rights:

Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant the United States Government a royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete details.

You may be required to complete an additional form to document this license if you are selected as a winner.

Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before 5pm ET on December 14, 2023. All uploads must adhere to 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.

Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.

Judging Panel:

The determination of the winners will be made by a panel of relevant NASA specialists and 3rd party subject matter experts.

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.
  • Challenge Sponsor has the right to make updates and/or make any changes to, or to modify the scope of the Challenge Guidelines, Challenge Schedule, and Winning Criteria at any time during the Challenge. Innovators are responsible for regularly reviewing the Challenge site to ensure they are meeting all rules and requirements of the Challenge. 
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law. 

Challenge Updates

Meet the Winners from the Pure Blue Skies Challenge Webinar!

March 14, 2024, 9 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

If you were unable to join our Meet the Winners webinar, you can watch the recording below!

Please join us in congratulating the winners one final time!

Webinar is starting soon! You can still join!

March 7, 2024, 7 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

Hello again, Pure Blue Skies challenge supporters!

There's still time to sign up and join today's 'meet the winners' webinar today (Thursday March 7th) at 9:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada).

This should be an exciting call with great stories shared from our innovative winners. Hope to see you in a couple of hours!

Click HERE to register.

Reminder: Webinar is 1 Day Away

March 6, 2024, 9 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

Don't forget that you need to register at the link below in order to attend the Brilliant Minds for Pure Blue Skies winners webinar this Thursday March 7th at 9:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada).

Attendance is completely free, but you have to register to get the Zoom link!

Hope to see you all there!

Click HERE to register.

Don't forget to save your seat.

March 4, 2024, 9 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

Only a few days now until the Brilliant Minds for Pure Blue Skies challenge hosts the 'meet the winners' webinar this Thursday March 7th at 9:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada).

The top three winning teams will be sharing the stories behind their innovative challenge solutions, so don't miss out on the exciting opportunity to ask both the NASA team and the challenge winners your most burning questions. See you there!

Click HERE to register.

Meet the Pure Blue Skies Winners on a Live Call!

March 1, 2024, 10 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

You won't want to miss this! Join the Brilliant Minds for Pure Blue Skies team on a live webinar this Thursday March 7th at 9:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada).

Joining us are the top three winning teams who will be sharing the stories behind their innovative challenge solutions. Don't miss out on the exciting opportunity to ask both the NASA team and the challenge winners your most burning questions. See you there!

Click HERE to register.

Meet the Challenge Winners!

Meet the Challenge Winners!

We are pleased to present the winners of the Brilliant Minds for Pure Blue Skies Challenge. 


Although these solutions may not be ready for application into the skies today, these winning concepts are of immense value as they help to guide NASA’s ongoing investigations into safe, sustainable, and emissions-free revolutions to passenger air travel.

You can learn about all of the winning teams below.

1st Place

Space Laser-Enabled Propulsion (SLEP) by Team Widget Blender

  • SLEP is an integrated aviation solution employing space-based lasers as the main source to power aircraft flights with the aid of hydrogen for takeoff, landing and emergencies (1-hr energy buffer). Long-distance wireless power transmission is an idea with a long history, which can be traced back to Tesla’s era. Today, the US military has been conducting experiments with the goal to power mobile vehicles. However, though limited but meaningful successes had been demonstrated by using drones over shorter ranges, powering a 737-800 class or larger aircraft for a long flight remains very challenging. In this proposal, a space laser-enabled propulsion solution, i.e., SLEP, is described for implementing the vision of pure blue skies.

2nd Place

MimusDmitri Garin

  • This paper seeks to reimagine traditional airliner systems and flight profiles to develop innovative technology for achieving zero-carbon emission flights using available energy sources. The focal point of our proposal involves adopting a multistage design inspired by spacecraft, addressing challenges related to onboard storage, distribution systems, and the need for powerful engines during takeoff and climb. This approach provides a unique solution by splitting a large aircraft into stages, each with its own evolution path, allowing for the implementation of future technologies without the need for significant redesign of the entire aircraft.

3rd Place

A vision of the 2050 Quick-Turn Hybrid Airliner by Craig Payne

  • Our team believes that technology has progressed to where an idea from the 1960’s can now be implemented. Small Megawatt Reactor power plants for aircraft are now feasible due to new light-weight materials, and lighter weight Liquid Fluoride-Thorium Reactors (LFTR).

Judges’ Choice (x2)

Jet Tube Combustor with direct catalyst reduction by Baha Abulnaga

  • The optimum energy output is achieved by burning fuel at the stoichiometric ratio. For an aircraft engine this is usually achieved at a ratio of 15:1. This results in a very hot flame that is usually cooled down to protect the turbine by dilution air. The emissions are better controlled when combustion occurs at reduced pressures and in the range of 1550 to 1800 K. We therefore argue that it would be better to decouple combustion air from dilution air needed to cool down to the limits of the turbine stage metallurgy. 

Thunder Underground-PTP & ETO Hypersonic Aircraft by Douglas Thorpe

  • Today’s aircraft travel at nearly the same speed as the very first passenger jets and leave the skies covered in contrails full of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), nvPM (non-volatile particulate matter / soot), water, and other emissions. We propose a 400 passenger Point-To-Point LOX/Methanol Rocket/Glider that is towed from the airport to Mach 0.78 and cruising altitude via an Airbus A380 fueled by Methanol. The PTP Glider is then released and propels itself to higher speeds and altitudes, where it glides for up to 6,100 km in 90 minutes before coasting down to a horizontal landing.