In 2020 as part of the Centennial Challenges Program, NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge was announced on the HeroX website. The mission: to find solutions for energy distribution, management, and/or storage, addressing NASA technology gaps, progressing towards future operation on the lunar surface, and understanding the applications this technology could have on Earth.
The Watts on the Moon project spans two phases of development. Phase 1 of the competition launched in September 2020 and lasted eight months. In this phase, U.S. innovators, from garage tinkerers to university researchers and startup entrepreneurs, were provided a hypothetical mission scenario and asked to address specific Mission Activities. Sixty teams submitted original design concepts to the challenge and on May 20, 2021 seven Phase 1 winners were announced and awarded a total of $500,000 in prize funds.
The mission scenario included three different activities and a panel of judges from government, industry, and academia scored submissions on their scientific and technical merit, applicability, feasibility, and development potential with extra points awarded for solutions that could benefit Earth.
The first mission activity challenged teams to deliver power from a power plant to a mobility platform, or rover, operating inside a crater. The mobility platform would collect and deliver icy regolith to a water extraction plant. Astrobotic, the $100,000 grand prize winner in this category, proposed a fleet of small tethered rovers that lay out and connect power cables between the power plant and mobility platform. KC Space Pirates, a team of inventors and space enthusiasts, and UC Santa Barbara's team Moonlight each won $50,000 for their proposed laser power beaming concepts.
The next mission scenario tasked teams with delivering power from a power plant to a water extraction plant inside a crater. Michigan Technological University's Planetary Surface Technology Development Lab won the $100,000 grand prize in this category for their proposed system of tethered rovers that unspool superconducting wire into the crater. Astrolight – a collaboration between Astrobotic and Montreal startup Eternal Light Photonics Corp. – won $50,000 for its wireless mobile power beaming solution. And Team FuelPod from Orion AI Labs, an applied robotic research institution, won $50,000 for its intelligent microgrid concept that uses machine learning and a modular system of lithium ion battery-powered pods.
Mission activity three involved delivering power to an oxygen-producing plant outside a crater. Skycorp Inc. won the $100,000 grand prize for its innovative system of power cells and intelligent interfaces for storing and distributing power through the lunar month's extreme light and temperature changes.
Phase 1 helped the Watts on the Moon Challenge get off to a roaring start by challenging the crowd to imagine what could be possible in the future of energy management technology.
However in Phase 2 of the challenge, which launched on February 23, 2022, the wider public is now being asked to bring their visions for lunar power management to life as a functioning prototype.
By contrast to the first phase, Phase 2 includes no hypothetical mission scenario and has no requirement that its competitors come from Phase 1. In fact, all eligible innovators are encouraged to participate, even if they’ve only just arrived at this challenge.
The goals of Phase 2 focus more on the nuts and bolts of prototyping, testing, and delivering a real-world example of a team’s proposed technology. Therefore, the skills of a new team could be the perfect complement to the ideation capabilities of a team already familiar with the challenge. The hope is that the best teams and competitors will now advance the mission of this project, so participation remains widely open in the United States.
To participate in Phase 2 of this challenge, head to the current Watts on the Moon Challenge page, team up with your fellow competitors to combine your skills, and then be sure to submit your entry to the 1st Competition Level by the deadline on June 15, 2022.
Your participation could help shape the future of power management technologies on Earth and even the fate of Lunar explorations!