NASA Wants New Ideas for Launching Lunar Payloads and Unlocking Climate Science!

NASA has a long history of crowdsourcing solutions, seeking input from the public, entrepreneurs, and citizen scientists. Currently, the agency is tasked with preparing for the long-awaited return to the Moon (the Artemis Program) and addressing the growing problem of Climate Change. The former entails all manner of requirements, from launch vehicles and human-rated spacecraft to logistical concerns and payload services. The latter calls for advances in climate science, Earth observation, and high-quality data collection.

To enlist the help of entrepreneurs in addressing these challenges, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has once again teamed up with the world-leading crowdsourcing platform HeroX to launch the NASA Entrepreneurs Challenge. With a total prize purse of $1,000,000, NASA is looking for ideas to develop and commercialize state-of-the-art technology and data usage that advances lunar exploration and climate science. The challenge launched on April 10th and will run until November 29th, after which the winners will be invited to a live pitch event hosted at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo in Washington, D.C.

In November of 2024, NASA’s Artemis II mission will carry a crew of four (who were recently announced) on a circumlunar flight. This mission follows on the heels of the successful Artemis I mission that validated the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Spacecraft, and established a new long-distance record. In 2025, NASA plans to send the first astronauts to the Moon since the Apollo Era (“the first woman and first person of color”) with Artemis III. This will be paralleled and followed by the deployment of infrastructure like the Lunar Gateway and the Artemis Basecamp, with the long-term aim of creating a program of “sustained lunar exploration and development.”

Much of NASA’s research into Climate Change takes place through the Earth Sciences Directorate.
Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, back on Earth, humanity is facing a mounting climate crisis as rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are driving temperature increases. By 2050, global temperatures will increase by an average of 1.5 to 2 °C (2.7 to 3.6 °F), according to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leading to rising sea levels, coastal flooding, melting ice sheets, and increased drought, famine, disease, and heat waves all across the globe. In keeping with the Mitigation and Adaptation strategies recommended by the IPCC, space agencies rely on Earth Observation satellites to track Climate Change and predict where ecological impacts will occur.

These two challenges are not mutually exclusive, as developments for space have always had game-changing applications for life here on Earth. Through its “Moon to Mars” architecture, NASA is fostering advances in habitats, power generation, food production, and bioregenerative life support systems. These technologies emphasize sustainability, closed-loop cycles, and strategies for living in environments where there is little to no margin for failure. Therefore, it is fitting that NASA has chosen to combine these two areas of focus for this year’s NASA Entrepreneur Challenge.

This year’s competition is a follow-up on Entrepreneur Challenges held in 2020 and 2021. The former was focused on machine learning, autonomous systems, mass spectrometry, and quantum sensors for astrobiology and astrophysics. The latter sought ideas for small satellite capabilities, metamaterial sensors, and sample handling and processing technology (respectively). This year’s challenge will consist of two rounds, where companies will submit pitch decks and technical papers that outline their concepts.

For Round 1, teams will submit a Pitch Deck of up to 8 slides alongside a Technical Submission (a white paper of up to 5 pages) outlining their ideas. These submissions will be judged by a panel of NASA personnel and venture experts who will award up to 20 companies with $16,000. These companies will be invited to participate in Round 2, where they will support a Pitch Deck of up to 12 Slides with a more extensive technical submission (10 pages) further detailing their ideas. Up to eight winners will be selected and awarded $85,000 in funding to further mature their concepts.

Artist’s impression of surface operations on the Moon. Credit: NASA

NASA personnel will score the submissions on their technical viability (60%), while the venture experts will evaluate their venture viability (40%). The winning companies will also be invited to participate in a live event at the Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo (November 28th-30th, 2023, Washington, D.C.) to present their ideas to a panel of judges. The submissions must conform to one of two Technology Focus Areas:

  • Lunar payloads to attract non-governmental funding for delivery to the lunar surface by a commercial provider.
  • A means to obtain high-quality climate science data from small instruments hosted by NASA and/or new business models for using existing climate data to address climate and environmental problems.

NASA program managers and representatives from the commercial sector, venture capitalists, government organizations, and foundations will also be invited to the pitch event. Participants will be able to network with these individuals, who represent potential billions in federal contracts and innovation prizes. The challenge is open to submissions from for-profit and non-profit ventures, and NASA strongly encourages applications from diverse backgrounds and unrepresented communities.

The challenge is open to all U.S. citizens or permanent residents 18 years of age or older. Organizations seeking to participate must be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the U.S. For more information, check out the Challenge Page.

Further Reading: HeroX

Matt Williams

Matt Williams is a space journalist and science communicator for Universe Today and Interesting Engineering. He's also a science fiction author, podcaster (Stories from Space), and Taekwon-Do instructor who lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and family.

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