FAQs

A Q&A Session was hosted on October 6th, 2016.
A detailed transcript with responses can be found by clicking on the button below:



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 2017 BIG Idea Challenge. However, foreign students who are attending a U.S.-based university are eligible to participate with their team. Please note there is always the possibility that foreign nationals may not be granted access to attend the BIG Idea Forum on-site at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC), due to ever-changing NASA security regulations.

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 2017 BIG Idea Challenge. However, foreign students who are attending a U.S.-based university are eligible to participate with their team. Please note there is always the possibility that foreign nationals may not be granted access to attend the BIG Idea Forum on-site at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC), due to ever-changing NASA security regulations.

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).

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

The 2017 BIG Idea Forum will be held February 15-16, 2017 at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.

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

Could you please elaborate on your definition of self-assembly, as well as what is expected of the tug after its 60 days in LOE are complete.

The key words are autonomous assembly. With commands from a ground station, some form of autonomous robotics should begin to unpack the stowed components/modules and assemble them into the desired structural configuration for the SEP tug including the propulsion system. There should be no or very little need for ground commanding of the robotic operations. The type of robotics is the designer’s choice. After completing the robotic assembly, the tug can utilize ground station commands to complete system check-out for its first mission.

Is there anything in particular that the tug will be moving? How far?

The SEP Tug will be supplied by cargo from commercial launch vehicles available at the start of this competition. Autonomous rendezvous and docking of the cargo to the SEP tug will be used. Thus the mass is limited by the current launch vehicle payload mass to LEO orbits. Once the cargo is attached to the tug in LEO, the tug will leave earth orbit for rendezvous with another vehicle in lunar distant retrograde orbit (~60,000 km orbit around the moon). Then the SEP tug will then return to LEO. There must be enough SEP fuel for one round-trip journey from LEO to LDRO and back. The Tug can be refueled by the cargo craft for the next mission.

Do we have any constraints regarding materials, budget, and/or time limitations?

Constraints and evaluation criteria are stated in the call for proposals. As stated, assembly time should be less than 60 days. Evaluation criteria does include TRL assessment and associate challenges and issues which may affect material choices. Cost is not in the evaluation criteria. The vehicle should be designed to be robust enough for multiple missions (cargo delivery to LDRO). The designer can determine what number of missions is practical.

The time allotted for the assembly of the tub is 60 days. Does that 60 days include the time required to launch all modules, or is it only the time for assembly once all components are in orbit?

60 days is the time allotted for vehicle assembly completion once assembly operations begin. Launching and aggregating components are not considered in the 60 day period.

During the teleconference, we were told that 200kw was exclusively for the SEP and that more power would be needed for other systems like avionics. However, on the main competition guideline page, it simply says that the SEP Solar Array should produce 200Kw. Can you clarify?

Please use the posted design Constraints and Requirements “The SEP solar array area should produce 200kW at beginning of life.” The teams should read this as a “minimum” type of requirement and they are permitted to exceed this power level if their design requires. Do not assume more than 200kW of electric propulsion is available.

We had written in our notes from the Q&A a point made about the VASIMR engine however, this cannot be found in the Final Q&A document. Has use of the VASIMR engine changed in eligibility for this competition?

Xenon and Iodine fueled electric ion propulsion are considered State-Of- the-Art (SOA) but this does not rule out alternate electric propulsion systems including devices such as VASIMR. However the risk/benefit of an advanced technology should be assessed by the design teams since feasibility and technology readiness levels are part of the evaluation criteria. As stated previously, the focus of this competition is on modular design and in-space assembly.