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Waste to Base Materials Challenge: Sustainable Reprocessing in Space

Help NASA improve future space missions by proposing approaches to permit efficient reprocessing/recycling/repurposing of onboard resources.

This challenge is closed

stage:
Won
prize:
$24,000

This challenge is closed

Overview

Challenge Overview

Imagine you are on a mission to Mars. 

The journey to Mars and back is going to take two to three years, and there may not be any supply ships. To be as efficient and self-sufficient as possible, you will need to be able to recycle, repurpose, or reprocess things and make what you need from base materials. A completely efficient cycle is almost impossible, and some waste will have to be jettisoned to reduce mass and free up space inside the spacecraft. But ideally, you will have little to almost no waste since everything gets broken down and remade into new things.  There are a lot of different kinds of waste on a spacecraft. What are the different ways that those useless waste streams can be repurposed?

This challenge is all about finding ways to convert waste into base materials and other useful things, like propellant or feedstock for 3D printing.  We are looking for your ideas for how to convert different waste streams into useful materials that can then be made into needed things and cycled through multiple times - and we are looking for ideas to convert waste into propellant.  Eventually, we would like to integrate all the different processes into a robust ecosystem that allows a spacecraft to launch from Earth with the lowest possible mass.  For now, we are asking you to share your ideas for waste management/conversion in several specific categories:

  1. Trash
  2. Fecal waste
  3. Foam packaging material
  4. Carbon dioxide (CO2) processing

Winning ideas in each category will each receive a prize of $1,000. Additionally, judges will recognize “best in class” ideas, awarding each a prize of $1,000. A total prize purse of $24,000 will be awarded.

NASA’s Logistics Reduction Project is developing the future of materials management in next generation spacecraft and also for surface settlements. Winning ideas from this challenge will be included in a white paper that will be part of the roadmap for future technology development work. Go to the Guidelines Tab to learn more details about this challenge.

Guidelines

Challenge Guidelines

Background

NASA has already developed a number of systems that process different types of waste, see image below. These are currently in use in spacecraft and at the International Space Station (ISS). For example, scrubbers remove exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and, with the addition of hydrogen, convert it into oxygen and other hydrocarbons. But there is always room for improvement, and longer missions will require more efficient, more integrated solutions to waste management.  

 

For long-term missions, efficient use of space and resources means that very little material is sitting in storage, waiting to be useful. As something becomes waste, systems are needed to process and convert those things into new items or into base materials that can be readily converted into needed items, such as propellant or feedstock for in-space manufacturing. Ideally, a spacecraft will become a perfect, closed, circular economy. For this to occur, the different processes for different types of waste must all be integrated into a single system. But the journey to that complete integration starts with the collection of different ideas for handling different waste streams.  

NASA has identified the waste streams that most urgently need addressing, see category descriptions below. Ideas can be as straightforward as identifying a process to allow a necessary conversion to occur safely on a spacecraft. Or they can be as speculative as proposing a new base material for clothes or foam packaging that can be readily recycled onboard to serve other purposes.   

Although we are interested in ideas at any level of technical maturity, we expect most submissions to contain early stage ideas, or modifications of existing technologies.   There is a preference for approaches that can be implemented within five years, and every attempt should be made to minimize mass and volume.  Additionally, proposed approaches have to be compatible with a number of spacecraft constraints:  

  • Solutions should occupy a total volume equivalent to the size of a standard refrigerator or smaller.  The volume can be occupied in any form factor that is appropriate.  (For reference, a standard payload rack on the ISS occupies a volume that is 2 meters high, by 1.05 meters wide, by 0.86 meters deep - with a total usable volume of 1.571 m3, or 55.5 ft3.)
  • The mass of a solution should be less than 300kg.  Bear in mind that one criterion of success is the reduction in launch mass achieved.
  • Power consumption should be less than 500W continuous, with peak draw of less than 700W.
  • Proposed processes have to address concerns around production of or exposure to dangerous by-products. For example, eliminating or providing mitigation measures for situations such as:
    • Outgassing.
    • Production of flammable by-products.
    • Production of toxic or hazardous by-products.
  • Proposed processes should consider how to manage waste heat.
  • Solutions must be robust to spaceflight and launch loads.
  • Ability to work in environments with variable gravity.

Participants can submit ideas to more than one category and can submit multiple ideas to the same category, as long as those ideas are substantially different from one another. NASA will recognize up to 24 winning ideas, and participants are eligible to win multiple awards. These ideas will become part of the roadmap for NASA’s future technology development efforts.

 

Waste Stream Categories

Trash 

Trash consists of food, drink pouches, wet wipes, cotton clothes and towels, hygiene products, plastics and ziplock bags, velcro, and nitrile gloves. These items are primarily composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and small amounts of nitrogen. Water is also often present and its recovery is valuable. In fact water is already recovered from humidity condensate and urine on the International Space Station.

We are interested in processes that can recover water. We are also interested in ways to convert dry trash into materials that can become the base material for making new things, like feedstock for 3D printing of broken or needed components, such as

gears, elastomers, gaskets, storage containers, tools, etc. Keep in mind that a spacecraft has limited volume and no gravity, so any process that converts dry trash into reusable base materials must meet constraints around volume, mass, power consumption, waste heat, and the avoidance of highly reactive or hazardous reagents.  Outgassing is a particular concern. Common recycling approaches that shred mixed waste and then separate different components for material-specific reprocessing are not currently practical onboard, but process modifications might change that. Novel approaches to recycling are of interest, as are approaches that might start with a new base material for clothing and packaging. In the case of proposing new base materials, remember that the required performance properties of a polymer used to make gears or tools are likely very different from those used to make clothes or storage containers.

 

Fecal Waste 

Fecal waste needs to be made biologically safe, is composed generally of the same elements as trash, and has significant amounts of water. 

In addition to water, fecal waste is rich in microbes. We want to recover the water, and we are also interested in processes that can harness the microbial activity inherent in this waste stream. Urine falls in this waste category too. What are the possible uses for the brine and salts left after water removal?

 

Foam Packing 

Foam packing is used to protect items from the force of high acceleration during launch. After launch the foam is not needed, and it takes up valuable open volume in the spacecraft. Most foam used for this purpose is ZOTEK, Plastazote, or a similar highly-crosslinked material, which can be difficult to reprocess.  These are lightweight, high performance materials that are easily fabricated into complex shapes. They are made without chemical blowing agents and are top-rated for both flame and outgassing performance.

Although space missions currently use ZOTEK or Plastazote, other new foams can be proposed if they meet the needed performance specifications (launch, landing, and fire resistance requirements), and if a compelling case can be made for how they contribute to the spacecraft’s integrated materials lifecycle. For example, if a foam can be processed into feedstock for 3D printers, that would be a tremendous advantage since the feedstock would occupy significantly less volume than the foam, and feedstock for 3D printers wouldn’t need to be carried onboard separately. Another approach would be to consider the lifecycle of foam usage in a mission. For example, after launch, foam is then compacted into radiation shields and stored for use on storm shelters during Mars transit. Upon arrival at Mars, foam is re-transformed into packing foam to protect delicate instruments sent to the Mars surface, and foam is also converted into propellant for the Mars descent vehicle. On the return trip to Earth, the remaining foam is used as propellant for ion thrusters and as gas for resisto-jet thrusters for spacecraft maneuvering.

 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Processing 

CO2 is exhaled by astronauts and then extracted from the air. The Environmental Control and Life Support System then processes the CO2, with the addition of hydrogen, to recover  oxygen while producing by-product hydrocarbons like methane, ethylene, and acetylene. These hydrocarbons are currently vented to space, but they also are potential resources. 

How can we extract value from those hydrocarbons? We are interested in processes that convert them into propellants, usable materials, or starting materials for other onboard processes.

 

Prize

NASA will recognize up to 24 winning ideas, and participants are eligible to win multiple awards. Although the same idea may be submitted to multiple categories, responsive submissions will make a strong case for why the idea is relevant and applicable to the selected category. At least two and up to 14 prizes will be awarded in each category, with 20 awards total across all categories. Additionally, judges will recognize four ideas as “best in class”. This category will allow judges to recognize inventive and creative approaches that don’t necessarily fit into a specific waste category but nonetheless hold great potential for overall waste management. Things that might fall into this category include (but are not limited to): greatest impact on launch mass, best physical process, or best chemical process.

In addition to the cash awards, winners will be cited in a NASA white paper that is expected to serve as a roadmap for future technology development efforts. Select winners may be contacted for additional insight into proposed ideas.

Prize Category

Awards 

Total

Trash

At least 2 and up to 14 winners, $1000 each

$20,000

(20 winners total)

Fecal waste

At least 2 and up to 14 winners, $1000 each

Foam packing

At least 2 and up to 14 winners, $1000 each

Hydrocarbons from CO2

At least 2 and up to 14 winners, $1000 each

Best in class 

4 winners, $1000 each

$4000

Total Prize Purse

$24,000 USD

 

Timeline

Open to submissions January 18, 2022

Submission deadline March 15, 2022 @ 5pm ET

Judging March 15 - April 20, 2022

Winners Announced April 26, 2022

 

How do I win?

To advance through pre-screening and be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at minimum:

  • Meaningfully complete all fields of the submission form.
  • Thoughtfully address the submission form prompts.

Responsive solutions will:

  • Describe how the proposed idea can help reduce the specific type of waste by converting it into something else of use to the mission and/or the crew.
  • Be supported by a scientific rationale.
  • Share a high-level concept of operations.

Competitive solutions will additionally:

  • Describe how the solution will ultimately result in a reduced launch mass and provide a rough order-of-magnitude estimate for potential mass reduction.
  • Envision how the proposed idea can be integrated into a spacecraft’s systems. For example, see here for how different systems are integrated into the ISS.
  • Include a high-level discussion of how the solution’s implementation will fit within the spacecraft constraints listed earlier in the guidelines.

Judging Criteria

Section DescriptionOverall Weight
Impact

Likely reduction in launch mass 

Applicability to other waste streams

Impact beyond waste management

Incremental vs step-change.

35
Feasibility

Could it work

Practicality (does the meet the volume, mass and power constraints, will it work in gravity environments) 

Ease of implementation and integration

Reliability, Durability

Standardized parts (ease of maintenance)

Cost to prototype and demonstrate idea (rough order of magnitude/ROM)

35
Vision

Breadth of vision/problem-solving

Creativity

Fits in the lifecycle of the mission

15
NoveltyIs this something NASA hasn’t already thought of10
Technical MaturityCould it be feasible within 5 years5

 

Rules

Participation Eligibility:

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.

If a legal minor wishes to participate, they must have a parent/guardian/instructor sign up for the challenge, submit the entry, and potentially receive the award on the minor’s behalf. 

Submissions must originate from either the U.S. or a designated country (see definition of designated country at https://www.acquisition.gov/far/part-25#FAR_25_003), OR have been substantially transformed in the US or designated country prior to prototype delivery pursuant to FAR 25.403(c). 

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 field of STEM 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 HeroX.com website, on or before 5:00pm ET on 15 March 2022. All uploads must be made through the HeroX platform. 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 are not required to submit multiple entries, if that option is available.

Intellectual Property Rights:

As detailed in the Challenge-Specific Agreement – If Challenge Sponsor notifies Innovator that Submission is eligible for a Prize, Innovator will be considered qualified as a finalist (“Finalist”). To receive a Prize, Finalist must agree to grant The United States Government a nonexclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license to practice, or have practiced for or on its behalf, the subject invention throughout the world in accordance to FAR 52.227-11. Notwithstanding granting the Challenge Sponsor such license for any Intellectual Property demonstrated by the Submission, Finalist retains title (e.g., ownership) of such Intellectual Property.

Selection of Winners:

Prizes will be awarded based on performance against the Judging Criteria section above. In the case of a tie, the winner(s) will be selected based on the Judges’ deliberations.

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.

Judging Panel:

The determination of the winners will be made by a panel of subject matter experts both internal and external to NASA.

 

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 presenting 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.
Timeline
Updates15

Challenge Updates

Announcing the Waste to Base Materials Winners

April 26, 2022, 10 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

The challenge sponsors have selected the following winners to share in the $24,000 prize pool of the Waste to Base Materials Challenge. 

 

The winners are:

Best in Class Winners ($1000 each)

  • InnoPacking: Innovative Knitted Payload Packing - by Yownin Albert Leung - Team Moshirekarikuru
  • Nibbler: Tomorrow’s Objects with Today’s Trash - Lily-Rose Bacon - Lily-Rose Bacon's team
  • 3D print with polymers, metals, ceramics, and ice - Sam Wechsler - Sam Wechsler's team
  • Better Tomorrow - No Waste in Space - Ned Popovic
     

Foam Packing Category ($1000 each)

  • Packing material recycling - by Richard Deal
  • Recycling of packing foam, urine for hydroponics - by Jeff Morse
  • Orbeez in Orbit - Recover water, shock protection - Mitul Sarkar - Team Collab
  • Using PEEK as alternative foam packaging material - Estinamir Name
  • Creating building materials from Trash - Scott Wilcox
     

Carbon Dioxide Category ($1000 each)

  • Algae Oxygen Generator Mushrooms and Panels - John Wagoner - Team Mars Colony X
  • Lets get it done CO2 Processing - Jeff Dewe
     

Trash Category ($1000 each)

  • MAKE - BREAK - MAKE AGAIN - Plastic Recycling - Michael Ricciardi
  • Supercritical Fluid Carbon Dioxide Washing Machine - 翰琨 陳 - 翰琨 陳's team
  • Fashion Your Feast: Clothing as Growing Medium - Amelia Rolf
  • Tracer-Based-Sorting for maximum water reuse - Mitul Sarkar - Team Collab
     

Fecal Waste Category ($1000 each)

  • Toilet to table. Mechanizing natural recycling - Craig Payne
  • 💩🍄🌾 (Poop-Mushroom-Plant Cycle) - Hylton Coxwell
  • Biota Chamber: Fecal Waste Converter - Maggie Coblentz - Maggie Coblentz's team
  • Alkaline hydrolysis: biowaste become inert liquid - olivier weiller
  • Slingin’ Space Sludge! - Kathryn Krieger
  • Fire under Water - Bruce Onisko
  • What ! Fecal waste can be used in this way? - 畊甫 陳 - 畊甫 陳's team
     

We would also like to recognize the following honorable mentions. While these teams will not be receiving a prize for their ideas, we would like to commend them for their contributions:
 

  • Pyrolysis: From Fecal Waste to Deep Space! - Dennis Stilwell - Team Stardust
  • Fecal Waste Composter - Dylan Smith
  • Methane as a heating element, without combustion - Ryan Blevins
  • Urea cream - Skin Care - Mitul Sarkar - Team Collab
  • Recycle Air in Space - Fuat Bahadir
  • Recycling Fecal Waste During Deep Space Missions - Ken & Judy O'Neill
  • Convert fecal waste to PLA - Aleksander Łukaszewicz
     

The next step for those named above as winners will be to prepare your HeroX profiles for the prize payout and to complete all necessary forms from HeroX and NASA. Please monitor your HeroX and email inboxes for further communications.

 

Congratulations once again to our winners!


Thank You for your Submissions

March 15, 2022, 2:05 p.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

Just like that, it’s over! Thank you to all of you who sent in submissions. We can’t wait to finally see what you’ve been working so hard on. 

Crowdsourcing would be nothing without the crowd — that’s you! Thank you for being an indispensable part of this process, and using your brainpower for the greater good.

Congratulations on completing your submission. This is not an easy process, and you deserve a pat on the back for your hard work and dedication. Thank you!


Eight Hours Left

March 15, 2022, 6 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

It’s almost over! You have eight hours left to send in your Waste to Base Materials Challenge submission. 

Be sure to get your submission in well before the deadline. We don’t want you to have put all this work into your project, only to miss the deadline by a hair. Please send it in no later than March 15, 2022 @ 5:00pm ET (New York/USA)

Good luck finishing up your submissions! We can’t wait to see all of your hard work.


Two Day Warning

March 13, 2022, 9 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

It’s the final push! Your project is due in two days, on March 15, 2022 @ 5:00pm ET (New York/USA).

Whether you’re just finishing off the final tweaks, or you’ve got a whole project left to complete, we have faith in you (here’s looking at you, procrastinators). Keep on trucking, and you’ll be done soon.

As you make the final tweaks to your project, it’s a good idea to begin the submission process now. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the submission portal and make sure that all your files are in the correct format.

If you have any last minute questions, now is the time to ask them. Use the forum or comment directly on this post, and we’ll get back to you right away.

Good luck, innovators!


One last piece of inspiration before the challenge closes

March 10, 2022, 11 a.m. PST by Despina Maliaka

Dear innovators,

 

As we move into the final week of the Waste to Base Materials Challenge, we wanted to give you one final piece of inspiration. Go check out the latest blog post and keep those wheels turning away.

 

The evolution of discarding trash and waste in space

 

Enjoy,

Team HeroX

 


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