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NASA Seeks BIG Ideas from Universities for Tech to Study Dark Regions on the Moon

The Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge is an initiative supporting NASA’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 at 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.