A common question we get is, “How can I work with NASA?”
The good news is—just in time for the back-to-school season—we have a slew of newly announced opportunities for citizen scientists and researchers in the academic community to take a shot at winning our prize competitions.
As we plan to land humans on the Moon by 2024 with our upcoming Artemis missions, we are urging students and universities to get involved and offer solutions to the challenges facing our path to the Moon and Mars. Here are five NASA competitions and contests waiting for your ideas on everything from innovative ways to drill for water on other planets to naming our next rover:
1. The BIG Idea Challenge: Studying Dark Regions on the Moon
Before astronauts step on the Moon again, we will study its surface to prepare for landing, living and exploring there. Although it is Earth’s closest neighbor, there is still much to learn about the Moon, particularly in the permanently shadowed regions in and near the polar regions.
Through the annual Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, we’re asking undergraduate and graduate student teams to submit proposals for sample lunar payloads that can demonstrate technology systems needed to explore areas of the Moon that never see the light of day. Teams of up to 20 students and their faculty advisors are invited to propose unique solutions in response to one of the following areas:
• Exploration of permanently shadowed regions in lunar polar regions
• Technologies to support in-situ resource utilization in these regions
• Capabilities to explore and operate in permanently shadowed regions
Interested teams are encouraged to submit a Notice of Intent by September 27 in order to ensure an adequate number of reviewers and to be invited to participate in a Q&A session with the judges prior to the proposal deadline. Proposal and video submission are due by January 16, 2020.
2. RASC-AL 2020: New Concepts for the Moon and Mars
Although boots on the lunar surface by 2024 is step one in expanding our presence beyond low-Earth orbit, we’re also readying our science, technology and human exploration missions for a future on Mars.
The 2020 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Competition is calling on undergraduate and graduate teams to develop new concepts that leverage innovations for both our Artemis program and future human missions to the Red Planet. This year’s competition branches beyond science and engineering with a theme dedicated to economic analysis of commercial opportunities in deep space.
Competition themes range from expanding on how we use current and future assets in cislunar space to designing systems and architectures for exploring the Moon and Mars. We’re seeking proposals that demonstrate originality and creativity in the areas of engineering and analysis and must address one of the five following themes: a south pole multi-purpose rover, the International Space Station as a Mars mission analog, short surface stay Mars mission, commercial cislunar space development and autonomous utilization and maintenance on the Gateway or Mars-class transportation.
The RASC-AL challenge is open to undergraduate and graduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics at an accredited U.S.-based university. Submissions are due by March 5, 2020 and must include a two-minute video and a detailed seven to nine-page proposal that presents novel and robust applications that address one of the themes and support expanding humanity’s ability to thrive beyond Earth.
3. The Space Robotics Challenge for Autonomous Rovers
Autonomous robots will help future astronauts during long-duration missions to other worlds by performing tedious, repetitive and even strenuous tasks. These robotic helpers will let crews focus on the more meticulous areas of exploring. To help achieve this, our Centennial Challenges initiative, along with Space Center Houston of Texas, opened the second phase of the Space Robotics Challenge. This virtual challenge aims to advance autonomous robotic operations for missions on the surface of distant planets or moons.
This new phase invites competitors 18 and older from the public, industry and academia to develop code for a team of virtual robots that will support a simulated in-situ resource utilization mission—meaning gathering and using materials found locally—on the Moon.
The deadline to submit registration forms is December 20.
4. Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge to Design Hardware, Practice Drilling for Water on the Moon and Mars
A key ingredient for our human explorers staying anywhere other than Earth is water. One of the most crucial near-term plans for deep space exploration includes finding and using water to support a sustained presence on our nearest neighbor and on Mars.
To access and extract that water, NASA needs new technologies to mine through various layers of lunar and Martian dirt and into ice deposits we believe are buried beneath the surface.
A special edition of the RASC-AL competition, the Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge, seeks to advance critical capabilities needed on the surface of the Moon and Mars. The competition, now in its fourth iteration, asks eligible undergraduate and graduate student teams to design and build hardware that can identify, map and drill through a variety of subsurface layers, then extract water from an ice block in a simulated off-world test bed.
Interested teams are asked to submit a project plan detailing their proposed concept’s design and operations by November 14. Up to 10 teams will be selected and receive a development stipend. Over the course of six months teams will build and test their systems in preparation for a head-to-head competition at our Langley Research Center in June 2020.
5. Name the Mars 2020 Rover!
Red rover, red rover, send a name for Mars 2020 right over! We’re recruiting help from K-12 students nationwide to find a name for our next Mars rover mission.
The Mars 2020 rover is a 2,300-pound robotic scientist that will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.
K-12 students in U.S. public, private and home schools can enter the Mars 2020 Name the Rover essay contest. One grand prize winner will name the rover and be invited to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. To enter the contest, students must submit by November 1 their proposed rover name and a short essay, no more than 150 words, explaining why their proposed name should be chosen.
Just as the Apollo program inspired innovation in the 1960s and ‘70s, our push to the Moon and Mars is inspiring students—the Artemis generation—to solve the challenges for the next era of space exploration.
For more information on all of our open prizes and challenges, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/solve/explore_opportunities
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