Competition Basics


Overview & Mission Scenario

OVERVIEW


The Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge is an initiative supporting NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD’s) Game Changing Development Program (GCD) efforts to rapidly mature innovative/high impact capabilities and technologies for infusion in a broad array of future NASA missions.

The BIG Idea Challenge also offers real world experience for university students in the development of the systems needed to support NASA’s exploration goals. For this reason, the Space Grant Consortium is supporting this year’s challenge. In FY20, Space Grant is leveraging funds to help develop the next line of a STEM-trained workforce with skills and experience aligned directly with STMD technology focus areas and capability needs.

Participation in the 2020 BIG Idea Challenge is limited to teams of undergraduate and graduate students at accredited U.S.-based colleges and universities officially affiliated with their state’s Space Grant Consortium. However, non-Space Grant affiliated colleges/universities may partner with a lead Space Grant University. The BIG Idea challenge allows students to incorporate their coursework into real aerospace design concepts and work together in a team environment. Multi-university and interdisciplinary teams are encouraged.

The 2020 BIG Idea Challenge provides undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to design, build, and test a low-cost sample payload targeted for delivery to the lunar surface. The proposed payload should demonstrate technology systems needed for exploration and science in the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) in and near the lunar polar regions. This competition is intended to be an open innovation challenge with minimal constraints so that proposing teams can genuinely create and develop out-of-the-box solutions.

Through the 2020 BIG Idea Challenge, NASA seeks innovative ideas from the academic community for a wide variety of concepts, systems, and technology demonstrations supported by solid engineering rigor that will address near-term technology capability requirements to support NASA’s exploration objectives for PSRs in and near the Moon’s polar regions. Specifically, teams of students and their faculty advisors are invited to propose innovative solutions with supporting original engineering and analysis in response to one of the following areas:

  • Exploration of PSRs in lunar polar regions
  • Technologies to support lunar in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) in a PSR
  • Capabilities to explore and operate in PSRs

Based on the review of robust proposals, 5-10 university teams (the lead institution for each team must be a Space Grant-affiliated school) will be selected to build their proposed low-cost ISRU, prospecting, or mobility systems payload. Teams will be responsible for setting up and executing their own proof-of-concept demonstration testing, based on what was described in the proposal. This may be accomplished via modeling and simulation, a physical demonstration, video, etc. Teams are encouraged to be creative and design their own accurate and realistically simulated proof-of-concept testing possible. This is key, because if any proposed concepts are deemed viable, NASA just may be interested in including all or part of one of these concepts into a future NASA mission.

Each team will submit a detailed and realistic budget in their proposals, not to exceed $180K. A wide range of award sizes is expected (in the amount of $50K to $180K), depending on the score of the work proposed. We anticipate funding several larger-scope awards (typically $125-$180K) and several smaller-scope awards (typically $50K - $124K). Proposers are encouraged to request what is actually needed to conduct the proposed work.


MISSION SCENARIO


Although it is Earth’s closest neighbor, there is still much to learn about the Moon, particularly in the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) near the lunar polar regions that have remained dark for billions of years.

NASA plans to land humans on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program. But before astronauts step on the lunar surface again, rigorous science and exploration activities on the Moon will be conducted to reduce technical and programmatic risk for the human missions. These robotic precursor missions will further investigate regions of interest to human explorers, including the Moon’s polar regions, and will provide information to the engineers designing modern lunar surface systems.

NASA is engaging the university community for ideas to help achieve some of these activities through the 2020 BIG Idea Challenge, which is asking university 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.

  • To enable sustainable human exploration of the Moon in the coming decade, NASA is looking for innovative, low-cost concepts to perform or support lunar prospecting and resource utilization.

    NASA’s LCROSS mission provided data that suggests that some Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) near the lunar poles contain buried deposits of cold, crystalline ice. Water ice would be a very valuable resource for human exploration. More knowledge about PSRs is needed to plan missions that can provide a detailed survey.
    South Pole Lunar Illumination Map
    Map of the average illumination at the lunar south pole showing PSRs
  • To develop effective systems to map and extract water ice from PSRs at the lunar poles, the characteristics of the surface must be known for mobility system design and also how the water ice is mixed with the regolith must be understood for ISRU system design. A low-cost method of sampling these regions must be developed to inform the design of larger surveyor missions and ISRU demonstrators. This must be done prior to the detailed design of these systems to reduce technical and programmatic risks.

    Lunar prospecting concepts are needed to better characterize the permanently shadowed regions in and near the lunar poles, including understanding where and how water could be found. Demonstrations of lunar resource utilization technologies are needed to understand how to extract and process the resources found from that prospecting.
  • NASA is also seeking innovative concepts for mobility, power, and operations to enable lunar prospecting and resource utilization in permanently shadowed regions.
Basic Challenge, Constraints, & Design Assumptions

BASIC CHALLENGE


The challenge is to develop a sample lunar payload that can demonstrate systems for exploration, reconnaissance, and science; resource prospecting and extraction; or enabling human safety, productivity, and navigation in the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) in or near a lunar polar region. Teams are invited to submit proposals that will respond to one or more of the following categories:

  • Exploration of PSRs in lunar polar regions
    • NASA is seeking proposals for concepts that will help us gain knowledge about the lunar environment. NASA is interested in learning more about the lateral and vertical distribution of volatile deposits, as well as their form and composition. This information could include, but is in no way limited to:
      • Characterizing the regolith/ surface consistency within the PSR
        • This will provide confidence in the mobility systems needed to transport future sensors and ISRU systems into areas of permanent shadow (i.e. surface fluffiness/compactness/porosity (i.e. packing fraction %), cohesion (0.1 to 1.0 kN/m2), densification with depth (bulk density (i.e. g/cm3)), Maximum Slope Stability (degrees), etc.
      • Locating and characterizing lunar water, or other hydrogen-rich deposits
        • All aspects of physical and chemical characterization, including: is the water amorphous ice or crystalline ice or another form, small-grained or large-grained, coating silicate grains or separate ice particles, cementing the soil together or not, what concentration in the soil, what porosity, what fraction of other chemicals mixed with the water, homogeneously or heterogeneously/randomly distributed in the lateral and vertical directions and over what distance scales, etc.?
      • Identify mineable water concentrations - understanding how water ice is mixed with the regolith
        • ISRU system designs will need to understand how the water ice is mixed in with the bulk regolith. The low-cost prospecting system concept should provide data to help create a vertical profile (stratigraphy) of water ice concentrations down to 1-2 meters below the surface.
      • Thermal environment of the regolith in a PSR
  • Technologies to support lunar in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) in a PSR
    • NASA is seeking proposals for concepts that can demonstrate the ability to use resources found in the lunar environment. These could include, but are in no way limited to:
      • collecting icy regolith
      • transporting and storing collected water
      • water purification
      • demonstrating electrolysis in the relevant environment
  • Capabilities to explore and operate in PSRs
    • NASA is seeking proposals that include ways to enable getting into (and out of) the PSR. These could include, but are in no way limited to:
      • Innovations in mobility systems
      • Innovations in navigation systems
      • Innovations in power systems
      • Innovations in communications systems
      • Innovations in sensing systems

PAYLOAD CONSTRAINTS


To provide realistic design parameters, teams will be asked to design their concepts based on the lunar surface delivery capabilities of the commercial providers selected under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. Through the CLPS contract, commercial providers have several opportunities to compete for service task orders to deliver science, exploration, and technology payloads to the surface of the Moon, with the first two awarded lunar surface deliveries occurring as soon as July 2021.

More details on the CLPS program can be found here.

  • Surface Mass – Teams should start with a 15 kg total packaged mass limit (including all mechanical and electrical components), unless there is a compelling reason that justifies additional mass.
  • Power - At least 8 W continuous and 40 W peak for 5 minutes
  • Power conditioning - Regulated and switched 28Vdc
  • Bandwidth (i.e., rate which data can be sent to the lander) - At least 70 kbps per kg of payload (if more is needed, internally store/buffer to stay under 70 kbps)
  • RF comm (i.e., rate that can comm can be relayed to Earth) - 70 kbps per kg max (if more is needed, internally store/buffer to stay under 70 kbps)
  • Radiation - 1krad max
  • Wired comm - serial RS-422
  • Wireless comm - 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.11n compliant WiFi
  • Thermal design - should assume adiabatic mounting

*Total available capabilities for any CLPS flight generally exceed these values, but are shared across multiple payloads.


DESIGN ASSUMPTIONS


Proposing teams should clearly identify their assumptions and provide rationale to support them. Below are some recommended assumptions, but teams can adjust them if a good rationale to do so is provided.

  • The payload should be targeted for a 2023 launch date
    • This drives the technology readiness level (TRL) of the components used. A technology development/qualification plan should be discussed for any required component with a TRL less than 6.
  • Any surface delivery to the moon will likely contain multiple payloads
  • It is expected that landers developed for use through the CLPS contract will provide the capability to fly over a PSR and land within 100 meters of the rim of the crater that is in permanent shadow where water ice has accumulated.
    • It is NOT expected that the CLPS delivery will occur INSIDE a PSR.
  • Minimize mass!
    • The cost of transporting payloads to the lunar surface is estimated to be $1M/kg.

PROPOSED DESIGNS MUST CONSIDER:

  • Value
    • NASA is looking for cost effective solutions for PSR prospecting and advancing technology that supports ISRU operations at the lunar poles.
  • Communications capability to transmit the data to Earth.
    • If transmitting via the lander it should be assumed that a payload operating in a PSR will not have line of sight to the lander (which will land outside PSR).
    • Communication could utilize a communication satellite in lunar orbit, but coverage would not be 100%
  • Power needed to gather and transmit the data
    • Nuclear power is not considered a low-cost option.
  • Environments in a lunar PSR
    • e.g., extreme cold/vacuum/complete darkness
  • Deployment from a lander
  • Readiness to support a near term lunar mission
  • Mobility
    • Do payloads need to be located on a small rover, or can the data be acquired from a static lander?

ALL BIG IDEA PROJECTS SHOULD GIVE SPECIAL ATTENTION TO:

  • Innovative design
  • Potential Stakeholders/Funders (i.e. Exploration, Science, Commercial)
  • Use of technologies that could be ready for use on the Moon in the early 2020s
  • Effective packaging for launch and Moon landing
  • Credible fabrication and material selection
  • Creative low-cost operational approaches
    • The design package must include a Concept of Operations (ConOps) that clearly describes the complete lifecycle, including all design assumptions and address fabrication, transport, deployment, and operations.
Eligibility

The BIG Idea Challenge is open to teams of undergraduate and graduate students at accredited U.S.-based colleges and universities officially affiliated with their state’s Space Grant Consortium. Non-Space Grant affiliated universities may partner with a lead Space Grant University; however, the Space-Grant affiliated university must submit the proposal on behalf of the team. Teams may include senior capstone students, clubs, multi-university teams, or multi-disciplinary teams. Teams are also encouraged to collaborate and work in concert with industry partners.


TEAM COMPOSITION AND SIZE LIMIT


Team sizes vary widely, but must contain, at a minimum, one US citizen faculty advisor from a U.S.-based, Space-Grant Affiliated university, and 5 U.S. Citizen students from that university who work on the project and present at the BIG Idea Forum, each of whom must be U.S. citizens.

  • Team size is limited to a maximum of 20 student team members.
  • Teams will be comprised of a minimum number of 5 US citizen students.
    • Up to 5 participating team members may be foreign nationals if they are attending the U.S.-based university submitting a proposal. It is important to note that BIG Idea Challenge funding cannot be used to directly support any non-U.S. citizen.
    • Please note that due to prohibitive restrictions and ever-changing NASA security regulations, foreign nationals will not be able to attend the BIG Idea Forum on-site at NASA. There will be no exceptions to this policy.
  • A faculty advisor is required to attend the Forum with each team, and is a condition for acceptance into the competition
    • Teams who do not have a faculty advisor present at the BIG Idea Forum will be disqualified from competing and stipends will be subject to return to NIA.
  • An individual (either students or faculty advisors) may join more than one team.
  • A university may submit more than one proposal (multiple proposals may be funded from the same institution).

FOREIGN UNIVERSITIES


Because this is a NASA-sponsored competition, eligibility is limited to students from universities in the United States. Foreign universities are not eligible to participate in the BIG Idea Challenge.

Evaluation/Scoring

JUDGES/STEERING COMMITTEE


The judges’ panel is comprised of NASA and industry experts who will evaluate and score the competition between participating teams. Design projects will be evaluated and judged based on adherence to the guidelines and constraints and the published evaluation criteria.


PROPOSAL EVALUATION CRITERIA


Teams are encouraged to review the Evaluation Criteria below to better understand how the competition will be judged. The proposal evaluation criteria used to evaluate proposals include:

  • Technical Innovation (Max - 35 points)
    • How compelling is the proposed concept’s goals and objectives?
    • How well does the proposed concept synergize with NASA’s goals and objectives for exploration of the PSRs?
    • How innovative is the concept proposed?
  • Technical Credibility (Max - 35 points)
    • Appropriateness of the proposed concept to achieving its goals and objectives by 2023
    • What level of risk is associated with development and verification of the concept
    • Plan for analyzing data collected?
    • Operational resiliency (ability to withstand adverse circumstances, the capability to degrade gracefully, and potential to recovery from anomalies in flight)
    • Probability of team success (i.e., team expertise (including faculty and industry support), access to required facilities, etc.
    • Meeting minimum CLPS payload capability requirements
  • Technical Management (Max - 30 points)
    • Adequacy and robustness of the cost plan, including cost feasibility, value, and risk
    • Adequacy and robustness of the proposed implementation plan
    • Adequacy and robustness of the mission design and plan for mission operations

ALL BIG IDEA PROJECTS SHOULD GIVE SPECIAL ATTENTION TO:

  • Innovative design
  • Potential Stakeholders/Funders (i.e. Exploration, Science, Commercial)
  • Use of technologies that could be ready for use on the Moon in the early 2020s
  • Effective packaging for launch and Moon landing
  • Credible fabrication and material selection
  • Creative low-cost operational approaches
    • The design package must include a Concept of Operations (ConOps) that clearly describes the complete lifecycle, including all design assumptions and address fabrication, transport, deployment, and operations.
Award Funding for Finalist Teams

A wide range of award sizes is expected (in the range of $50-$180K), depending on the scope of the work proposed. We anticipate funding several larger-scope awards (typically $125-$180K) and several smaller-scope awards (typically $50K - $124K). Proposers are encouraged to request what is actually needed to conduct the proposed work.

Special Notes concerning budget:

  • Since this is a new program with a new scope, the budget and expected number of new awards is somewhat uncertain, as it may depend on the distribution of submissions of sufficient highly rated proposals.
  • NASA may support an award as outlined in the proposal budget, or may offer to fund only selected tasks.
  • NASA has the authority to suspend or terminate an award in whole or in part, and funding is contingent upon availability.
  • BIG Idea Challenge stipends may not be used to directly support travel or stipends for federal employees acting within the scope of employment (this includes co-op students with civil servant status).

Funding will be received in two separate installments:

  • The 1st installment will be received immediately upon selection so that teams may begin development of their proposed concept, and will equal one-half of the budget requested.
    • These funds will be provided directly to the lead university, from the National Institute of Aerospace (on behalf of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s GCD Program)
  • The 2nd installment (i.e., 2nd half of the requested funds) will be provided after teams successfully complete their mid-project review in May.
    • These funds will be provided directly to the state Space Grant Consortium affiliated with the lead institution from NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement (Space Grant Program). The state Space Grant Consortium will then direct the funds to the lead university for the BIG Idea Challenge.

BIG Idea Challenge Funding is to be used for full-participation in the competition, including the purchase of hardware/software, creation of analog testing environment, stipends for student research that directly supports the proposed activity, travel to the culminating design review (2020 BIG Idea Forum), etc.

BIG Idea Challenge awards may not be used to directly support travel or stipends for federal employees acting within the scope of employment (this includes co-op students with civil servant status).

Resources

2020 CHALLENGE REQUIRED DOCUMENTS


2020 BIG Idea Quad Chart

2020 BIG Idea Letter of Support

2020 BIG Idea W9/Vendor Form

  • Note: Teams may receive a pre-filled W-9 form from their institution's accounting department. This form is equivalent to our “Vendor/W-9 Form," and it is acceptable for teams to submit their institution's pre-filled form in place of our "Vendor/W-9 Form" with their Proposal submission.

2020 CHALLENGE RESOURCES


More resources will be listed as they are made available. Most recently added resources are at the top.

Spectrum Guidance for NASA Small Satellite Missions

NASA Software Catalog

"Basic Handling Guide of Small Satellite Hardware for non-government organizations"

NASA Standards by Topic

Small Space Craft Body of Knowledge

CubeSat101 Guide

CubeSat State of the Art Guide – published by Ames with latest flown hardware

SPOON – repository of flight certified parts and their successes

Quality control training classes: The AAQ (Academy of Aerospace Quality)

Lunar Sourcebook (Mentioned during 2020 Q&A Session held on Oct 15, 2019)

"Cost Breakeven Analysis of Cis-lunar ISRU for Propellant"

"Cost Breakeven Analysis of Lunar ISRU for Human Lunar Surface Architectures"

NASA LRO Mission Imagery

NASA ALHAT Precision Landing System Paper

Example paper on soil porosity increases in PSRs

Video Presentation: LUNAR SOUTH POLE BOULDERS AND BOULDER TRACKS: IMPLICATIONS FOR CREW AND ROVER TRAVERSES

NASA News: Lunar Impact Uncovered More Than Just Moon Water

NASA LRO Mission Page

NASA Feature Story on PUFFER, "Origami-inspired Robot Can Hitch a Ride with a Rover"

NASA Technical Report Server (NTRS)

Example Payload User Guide from one of the CLPS providers


NASA Testing Facilities by Center


Ames Research Center: https://www.nasa.gov/Ames/Facilities

Armstrong Flight Research Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/armstrong/capabilities/CodeZ/facilities/index.html

Glenn Research Center: https://www1.grc.nasa.gov/facilities/

Goddard Space Flight Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/about/unique_resources.html

Jet Propulsion Laboratory: https://www-robotics.jpl.nasa.gov/facilities/index.cfm

Johnson Space Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/engineering/documents/facilities/index.html

Kennedy Space Center: https://kscpartnerships.ksc.nasa.gov/Partnering-Opportunities/Capabilities-and-Testing/Testing-and-Labs/All-KSC-Labs

Langley Research Center: https://researchdirectorate.larc.nasa.gov/facilities-capabilities/
LaRC Test Facility: Antenna, Scattering, & UAS Ranges

Marshall Space Flight Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/capabilities/expertise.html

Michoud Assembly Facility: https://mafspace.msfc.nasa.gov/

Plum Brook Station: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/testfacilities/index.html

Stennis Space Center: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/etd/facilities/index.html

Wallops Flight Facility: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/about/research.html

White Sands Test Facility: https://www.nasa.gov/Directorates/heo/rpt/white-sands-test-facility.html

EXAMPLE NASA TESTING FACILITIES: LaRC Gantry for drop testing, JSC Rock Yard for mobility testing, Ames Lunar Lighting Simulator for navigation testing, GRC Slope mobility facilities, KSC Swamp Works for simulated regolith operations, various environmental chambers at multiple centers, etc.

Images

LOGO

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IMAGES

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Proposal Video Examples

2017 Finalist Video Submissions


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2018 Finalist Video Submissions


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