RASC-AL program staff will respond to questions presented by eligible student and faculty from accredited colleges and universities in the United States
(and international team participants formally affiliated with a US-based university team).

Teams are encouraged to thoroughly review the transcript of the
2018 Q&A Session, held October 4, 2018

Please click on the button below to review the 2018 Q&A session transcript.

Why are the teams limited to 5 students?

Team size limits are driven by the challenge prize: NASA internship offers to the entire winning team. The team size is limited to the number of internship positions available.

Does the faculty adviser count towards the 5-person team limit?

No, faculty advisor does not count toward the 5-person team limit. The 5-student limit is enforced because of the challenge prize: NASA internship offers to the entire winning team. The team size is limited to the number of internship positions available, so an advisor would not contribute to the limit.

May a single faculty member advise multiple teams?

Yes, a single faculty member may advise multiple teams, though advise from diverse faculty may be beneficial to students.

Can a Civil Servant serve as a team advisor?

Civil Servants are not permitted. Team advisors can be from academia or industry.

Who judges the competition?

The forum competition is judged by a subset of the Steering Committee, comprised of NASA and industry experts who will evaluate and score the competition between participating teams. The exact make up is dependent upon scheduling and availability.

Can multiple teams from the same university submit different proposals to compete in the BIG Idea challenge?

Yes, multiple teams from the same university can submit separate white papers competition, and multiple teams from the same university may move on to the next round of the competition if their proposals merit selection into the program.

Can students from multiple universities form a BIG Idea team?

Yes, you can form multi-university teams for the BIG Idea Challenge! There are a few important factors regarding faculty advisers:

      One university will need to be the "lead" university on your project, and provide a faculty adviser for the team
      If your team is one of the four finalists chosen to attend the forum, the faculty adviser from the lead institution would be responsible for handling the financial piece; we would send the development stipend to the “lead” university, and the faculty adviser would be in charge of distributing it and ensuring as many team members as possible could participate.
      The faculty adviser would also need to go to the forum with the team. However, the multi-university team would only require one adviser, not one for each university.
Is it possible to bring in additional team members, after the Proposal is accepted?

Yes, absolutely. We understand that sometimes things change between the time proposals were submitted and the time the written report is due. We just ask that you list every person who contributed to your project in the technical paper.

Is industry collaboration, either formally or informally, allowed?

Yes, industry collaboration is certainly acceptable! We encourage your team to utilize all of the resources you have at your disposal to submit a top-notch concept.

Can international students participate?

Because this is a NASA-sponsored competition, eligibility is limited to students from universities in the United States. Please see the Eligibility Requirements.

Foreign universities are not eligible to participate in the BIG Idea Challenge. However, up to 2 foreign students who are attending a U.S.-based university are eligible to participate with their team. 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.

Additionally, because NASA has a strict policy that all interns must be U.S. Citizens, foreign nationals are ineligible to receive the top prize (an internship offer at LaRC).

I attend a university outside of the United States. Can I compete in the BIG Idea Challenge?

Because this is a NASA-sponsored competition, eligibility is limited to students from universities in the United States. Please see the Eligibility Requirements.

Foreign universities are not eligible to participate in the BIG Idea Challenge.

When and where will this year's Forum be held?

The 2018 BIG Idea Forum will be held March 5-6, 2018 at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH.

Do I have to cover the costs of participating in the BIG Idea Forum?

Each of the finalist teams will receive a monetary award to facilitate full participation in the Forum.

Why does my advisor have to attend the Forum?

One Faculty Advisor is required to attend the Forum with each team, and is a condition for acceptance into the BIG Idea competition. Advisors can provide guidance and insight into the team's decisions, as well as acting as a primary contact point between the BIG Idea coordinators and the universities.

Teams who do not have a faculty advisor present at the BIG Idea Forum will be disqualified from competing and participation awards will be subject to return to NIA.

Are there any conflicts if we submit elements of our BIG Idea research paper to an AIAA conference?

No, there are no conflicts with submitting your concept and any analysis work to any conference.

Do we need to account for cables running more than a kilometer from the landing site to the astronaut habitat?

Although cables up to 1 km long might eventually be run between landers or between landers and habitats, BIG Idea Challenge teams should focus primarily on the solar power system for a single lander and not on cabling to connect multiple landers.

How much do we have to design for the lander, since the focus of the competition is on the solar array? Do we just have to choose a landing type and design the lander around that, or should we go into details on the aerodynamics of atmospheric entry and descent?

Mars lander designs are notional, but their diameter will likely be between 5 and 10 meters. Teams should select a reasonable concept for the lander and describe all assumptions about the size and shape. Ideally the teams will consider how variations in lander design will affect their selected solar array design. Teams do not need to consider the entry, descent, and landing phase.

What is the longest storm (period of no sun) we should account for?

Teams can assume the longest global dust storm is 120 days. NASA estimates that approximately 30% of the solar flux will still reach the surface during the worst dust storm.

Can we use non-planar photovoltaic structures (not panels) like inflatables, balloons, or fiber optics? If so, does the 1000 square meter minimum refer to the photovoltaic surface area or the amount of land the array takes up?

The 1000 square meter minimum refers to the photovoltaic surface area. NASA believes this size will generate about 10 kW of electrical power continuously (day and night) with suitable energy storage, and about 50-80 kW peak, near the equator in the daytime with clear skies. Any technology that autonomously deploys from a single lander and generates similar power levels using solar radiation is acceptable.

1,000m^2 of solar panels fitting in 10m^3 would only be 1cm thick, this thickness seems a bit small and this is without the inclusion of a shell for entry into martian atmosphere, landing equipment, a deployment mechanism, or any batteries. Is this correct? If there were proposed alternatives to power generation would they be accepted?

NASA expects large solar arrays for Mars surface power generation will have solar cells mounted to thin tensioned flexible substrates. Examples of spacecraft that use this type of lightweight solar cell "blanket" are the International Space Station (ISS) and the Cygnus ISS resupply vehicle. The recent Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) experiment on ISS is another example of advanced, lightweight array/cell technology. Although most spacecraft and terrestrial solar arrays use thick rigid panels, they would require too much launch volume for Mars arrays. The solar array 10 m^3 volume goal includes the solar array mechanisms but not the other non-solar array items you mentioned.

NASA is only looking for solar power generation systems in this challenge. Other methods of power generation will not be considered.

The challenge requires a mass of 1500 kg or less. Does that mass refer to the solar array or the total mass of the lander and the solar array?

The 1500 kg does not include the lander mass – just the solar array.

Can we packaging the solar cell system in a payload that fits on top of the entire architecture? Or can the shape be anything that fits in 10 m^3?

The packaged 1000 m2 solar array system can have any shape with approximately 10 m3 of total volume. Teams should select a reasonable lander geometry and show how the solar array can be packaged, constrained for launch, and then autonomously deployed. Novel solutions could propose designing the large solar array system as an integral part of the lander rather than as an attached payload.

Is there a specific areocentric latitude range for which the lander will land on mars?

Teams should assess solar array performance as a function of latitude. Human missions will probably land between 30 deg south and 50 deg north latitude.

Can the area of the array be divided among multiple landers, say 4, that each provide 1/4 of the power requirement? Or do the judges want this all done with one lander?

All on one lander.

How much information, based on the TRL, do we have to provide on the solar cell encapsulation. This includes superstrate, substrate, and backing selections.

The cell/blanket concept proposed should include masses and thicknesses of all relevant components. Any new technology proposed should include conceptual details and current TRL levels.

How much information do we have to provide for autonomous deployment? if we have a ground station that can communicate with the lander to deploy the array, does this count as autonomous deployment? Is there a limit on the battery storage to start everything?

Teams can assume that “autonomous deployment” means they should minimize communications with Earth to deploy the 1000 m2 solar array. In other words, the solar array deployment controller should be designed to sense and validate that the deployment process is proceeding normally and to pause deployment only when absolutely necessary. We want to deploy the entire 1000 m2 in under 8 hours, which includes the time needed for the deployment motion itself plus the sum of all required communication times. The round-trip communication time with Earth can be as long as 44 minutes when Mars is farthest from Earth.