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NASA Seeks Ideas from the Public for Powering Exploration on the Moon

Press Release From: Marshall Space Flight Center
Posted: Friday, October 2, 2020

NASA’s Watts on the Moon Challenge -- the agency's newest public prize competition -- is now open and accepting submissions. NASA invites innovative minds from across the United States to provide ideas for sustainable energy storage, distribution, and management on the lunar surface.

As part of the Artemis program, NASA will send astronauts to new areas of the Moon including the lunar South Pole, and prepare for human exploration of Mars. As noted in the agency’s recent lunar surface report, sustainable missions will require an unprecedented capacity for power. Astronauts will need a continuous supply of power from multiple sources to live and work on the Moon for long periods. A flexible and robust system for surface power is key to safe and robust lunar exploration.

“Operating throughout the lunar night creates some of the most demanding energy storage and thermal management challenges in our exploration of the solar system,” said Walt Engelund, the deputy associate administrator for programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “We are calling on the public for their fresh ideas to help us innovate power solutions for the Moon.”

The Goal

On much of the Moon's surface, daylight lasts a little over 14 Earth days, followed by 14 days of darkness and extremely cold temperatures. State-of-the-art power systems cannot operate in such harsh conditions. While sunlight is more available at the lunar poles, there are irregular periods of darkness and locations, like within craters, where the Sun never shines.Existing state-of-the-art power systems cannot operate in such harsh conditions or are too heavy and bulky for flight.

NASA is developing technologies to provide sustainable power through the extreme environments of the lunar night, including fission surface power, solar power, and regenerative fuel cells. The Watts on the Moon Challenge complements those efforts by focusing on technologies to distribute, manage, and store energy generated by different sources.

Similarly, terrestrial energy needs, utility business models, and customer demands for renewable energy are evolving to necessitate new solutions for power distribution, power management, energy storage, and thermal storage. Not only could novel solutions make a difference in lunar and space exploration, but technologies discovered during NASA’s Watts on the Moon competition could help facilitate new power options on Earth.

“We are excited about leading this challenge and being at the forefront of solutions for powering operations on the Moon and potentially improving life here on Earth,” said  Marla Pérez-Davis, director for NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “Here at Glenn, and at our satellite facility, NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, we are conducting research and technology development in power systems for aerospace applications. This competition will take the next step by generating new ideas for ways to distribute, manage, and store that energy on the surface of the Moon.”

The Competition

The Watts on the Moon competition will take place over multiple phases. For Phase 1 of the competition, participants will design a flexible and robust system capable of addressing one or more of three hypothetical mission activities similar to a real lunar mission. Solutions to this challenge will advance technology by developing energy distribution, management, and storage that can facilitate initial human presence on the Moon.

Individuals and teams interested in participating in the challenge can register and submit concept designs until 5 p.m. EDT on March 25, 2021. Winners will be awarded a portion of the $500,000 prize purse.

Depending on the outcome of the design competition, a second phase could task participants to build working prototypes that demonstrate their solutions. Phase 2 prizes are expected to total $4.5 million and could involve testing at a NASA or third-party facility.

The Watts on the Moon Challenge is managed by Glenn, and is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, based at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Centennial Challenges is a part of the Prizes and Challenges program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA Centennial Challenges has contracted HeroX to support the execution of this challenge.

To learn more about the challenge and register to participate, visit:

nasa.gov/wattson

For more information about NASA’s Prizes and Challenges, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/solve/index.html

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