Future exploration of the Moon and beyond will require tools of all shapes and sizes — from sweeping orbiters to the tiniest of rovers. In addition to current planned scientific rovers like the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, NASA could one day send even smaller rovers to help scout the Moon’s surface. These tiny robots would provide mission flexibility and collect key information about the lunar surface, its resources and the environment. The data collected by these rovers would be helpful for future lunar endeavors and NASA’s Artemis program.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California is running a public prize competition to design miniaturized payloads for future Moon missions. The “Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload” challenge is seeking instrument designs that could help support a sustained human lunar presence, demonstrate and advance the use of resources found on the Moon, and enable new science.
Existing payloads are often big, heavy and require a lot of power. The payload designs sought for this challenge are required to be similar in size to that of a bar of soap at a maximum of 3.9 inches by 3.9 inches by 1.9 inches (100 millimeters by 100 millimeters by 50 millimeters) and weigh no more than 0.8 pounds (0.4 kilograms).
“Smaller payloads are game changing,” said Sabah Bux, a JPL technologist. “They will allow us to develop technologies to do more prospecting and science on smaller, more mobile platforms.”
This ideation challenge is expected to be followed by new competitions to prototype, test and deliver the miniaturized payloads. The competition is intended to generate a maturation pipeline of next-generation instruments, sensors, technologies and experiments for near-term lunar exploration.
Participants will have an opportunity to win a share of $160,000 in prizes across several categories. JPL is working with the NASA Tournament Lab to execute the challenge on the heroX crowdsourcing platform. Submissions will be accepted through June 1, 2020.
For more information about the challenge and how to enter, visit the challenge website.
The challenge is funded by NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). The initiative champions technologies needed to live on and explore the Moon. NASA Tournament Lab, part of STMD’s Prizes and Challenges program, manages the challenge. The program supports the use of public competitions and crowdsourcing as tools to advance NASA R&D and other mission needs.
Artemis includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap — sending astronauts to Mars.