Status Report

NASA Centennial Challenges Program Challenge Concepts

By SpaceRef Editor
June 20, 2014
Filed under , ,
NASA Centennial Challenges Program Challenge Concepts

Synopsis – Jun 20, 2014

General Information

    Solicitation Number: NNH14STMD006L

    Posted Date: Jun 20, 2014

    FedBizOpps Posted Date: Jun 20, 2014

    Recovery and Reinvestment Act Action: No

    Original Response Date: Aug 08, 2014

    Current Response Date: Aug 08, 2014

    Classification Code: A — Research and Development

    NAICS Code: 541712

Contracting Office Address

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters Acquisition Branch, Code 210.H, Greenbelt, MD 20771



The Centennial Challenges Program is NASA’s flagship program for technology prize competitions ( The Centennial Challenges Program directly engages the public, academia, and industry in open prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies that have benefit to NASA and the nation. The program is an integral part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: .

The Centennial Challenges program is seeking input on several potential challenges being considered for start in 2015.

The purposes of this RFI are: (1) to gather feedback on the potential competitions, (2) to determine the level of interest in potentially competing in these challenges, and (3) to understand the applicability of the challenge capabilities for other non-government applications.

Responses should be submitted in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word format and are limited to five (5) pages in length. Responses should include (as applicable): name, address, email address, and phone number of the respondent, business, or organization, with point of contact for business or organization. Information must be submitted in electronic form no later than 11:59 PM Eastern DST August 8, 2014 to Mr. Sam Ortega at e-mail address: Use Challenge Concepts on the Subject line.

NASA welcomes all segments of industry, academia, and government, including associations, innovators, and enthusiasts to reply to this RFI. This RFI is for informational/planning purposes only and the Government will not be responsible for any cost associated with preparing information in support of this RFI. This RFI is NOT to be construed as a commitment by the government to enter into any agreement or other obligation or to conduct any challenge. This notice is issued in accordance with the NASA Prize Authority, 51 U.S.C. S 20144. Responses may be made available for public review and should not include proprietary information. Submitted information will be shared within NASA and with contractor personnel associated with the NASA Centennial Challenges Program. All responses are to be for general access by government reviewers.


The NASA Centennial Challenges Program was established to conduct prize competitions to stimulate innovation in basic and applied research, technology development, and prototype demonstration that have the potential for application to the performance of the space and aeronautical activities of NASA. Those competing for the NASA monetary prizes can be individuals, independent teams, student groups, research organizations or private companies. The Program seeks unconventional solutions from non-traditional sources and, therefore may lead to identifying new talent and stimulating the creation of new businesses. Competitors retain ownership of their intellectual property.

The Centennial Challenges in the past have typically required multiple annual competitions to occur before the award of total prize purses. Competitions have generally utilized a first-to-demonstrate format in head-to-head contests. Further, all competitions involved an “unfunded open track” format whereby all qualified non-government participants meeting entry rules could compete regardless of affiliation but competitors were not offered funding to participate. Prize purses were limited to US based competitors. The competition events, especially in the head-to-head contest format, have typically involved public spectators and televised or webcasted coverage that garnered significant public outreach and high visibility.


NASA is considering initiation of a new Centennial Challenge competition structure for use in some of its future challenges. New challenges using the existing format would still occur. This new challenge structure would couple the traditional “unfunded open track” challenge competitions with a parallel “funded track” of competitors. Domestic institutions of higher education would be able to submit proposals for funded support of their participation in the challenge under the funded track. Unsuccessful proposers to the funded track could still participate in the unfunded open track. Additionally, instead of a first-to-demonstrate format the new challenge structure would utilize a repetitive best-performer format. The Challenge would operate on a yearly basis for 3 to 4 years. Each year of the competition both funded and unfunded track competitors would compete for the best performance with the winner in each year awarded part of the total purse. The approach incentivizes competitor teams from academic institutions to repeatedly participate with the same team over a set timeline (no more than four years), and ensures that prize awards are made to the most successful competitors regardless of funding / track status. The following challenge concepts are under consideration for this new competition structure:

* Europa Ice Challenge: Demonstrate innovative, scalable solutions to penetrate a very thick, low-temperature, surface ice layer found on Europa and other icy outer planetary moons. In a mission scenario the penetrator, delivered via soft lander, would drill, melt or otherwise gain access through the icy sheets to allow sampling and exploration of the expected sub-surface oceans. An analogous Earth environment such as a polar region ice sheet may serve as a stage for the Challenge Competition, with winners selected based upon deepest penetration within a mass constraint and while maintaining a data link.

* Cache Capture Challenge: Ground based robotics competition demonstrating autonomous detection, rendezvous, and capture of orbiting sample cache. The Challenge would advance our understanding of a potential capture scenario that involves a Mars surface material cache placed in Mars orbit that must be recovered by an arriving orbital vehicle. For this challenge a ground demonstration would utilize a velodrome track to simulate the constraints of orbital mechanics. The competitor would provide a small mobile robot platform to traverse along the velodrome track and attempt to detect/capture a mock-up orbiting sample moving along the same track. Competitors would be mass and volume constrained. Winners would be determined based upon the time to rendezvous with and transfer the sample target to their vehicle.

* Aerial Robotic Explorers: Demonstrate a miniature (“flying insect scale”) sensor package able to sense and transmit data and fly for the greatest endurance possible at Mars surface conditions. For the challenge, mass and volume constrained competitors would fly within a large vacuum chamber at simulated mars atmospheric conditions, perform obstacle course maneuvering and demonstrate long endurance while continuously performing routine sensing and maintaining a data link. Winners would be determined based upon a combination of longest endurance and flying accuracy.

* Earth Entry Vehicle Landing Shock Attenuation: Demonstrate new ways to attenuate impact deceleration forces on sample return impactors. In this challenge, competitors would design and build sample return capsules that would contain a predefined payload volume. Capsules designs would need to meet mass and volume constraints. The capsules and their sample volume containers would drop from a significant altitude with landing loads within the sample container measured upon impact with the ground. Winners would be determined based upon lowest impact loads experienced within the sample containers.

* Mission Architecture Studies: Develop and analyze alternative approaches and technology needs to carry out human and robotic exploration of the solar system. Challenge teams would develop, analyze and prototype concepts for challenging future NASA missions such as a Human Mission to Mars or Europa Lander Mission. Mission requirements provided by NASA would establish constraints, such as launch vehicles or number of astronauts, and detailed mission objectives. Teams would then fully develop and design mission architectures and system designs including hardware specifications, integrated layout, technologies utilized, mission assumptions and a concept of operations. The Challenge setting would involve each design team presenting their architecture including providing all detained technical specifications, technologies utilized, analyses, test data and conceptual hardware. Each team would present their architecture in a set time limit and answer questions from a NASA technical systems engineering review team. The review team would also perform detailed analyses to confirm design and architecture feasibility provided by the competitors. Selection of Challenge winners would rely upon a highest overall score based on such parameters as technical feasibility, assessed affordability, accuracy of analysis, and inventiveness of concept and approach. Other Challenge ideas that fit the envisioned new challenge format may be considered.


Based upon responses to this RFI, NASA plans to develop detailed written challenge rules (“Rules”). The Rules will include specific milestones, entrance, review and acceptance criteria, and prize award criteria. The final Rules would be the official specification of the competition structure.


NASA seeks information and comments on the following items for each of the challenge concepts. NASA also welcomes submission of additional challenge concepts (please also address the following questions for additional concepts).

    a. Interest

    * Do you see value in the suggested new challenge competition structure (dual track with best-performer awards) relative to current Centennial Challenge competitions (unfunded track only with first-to-demonstrate awards)? 

    * Would you alter the structure relative to the suggested approach? 

    * Are you interested in participating in this new challenge competition structure? 

    * Are you particularly interested in any of the specific challenges defined herein that would utilize the new structure? 

    * Are there changes to the specific challenges as defined that you would suggest? 

    * Are there alternate specific challenge suggestions that would work well with the new structure?

    b. Competition Milestones and Phases 

    * How should we structure the competitions for specific challenges? Should we use first-to-demonstrate or is a best-performer structure preferred? 

    * Are there concerns or other considerations regarding technical requirements for the specific challenges noted in Section 3?

    c. Competition Awards 

    * To best incentivize participation and technical progress, how should we structure prize awards including the prize amounts, for the specific Challenge Concepts outlined in Section 3?

    d. Technology Development and Utilization 

    * Are there specific emerging breakthrough technologies that are applicable to the competition? 

    * Are there specific commercial space and/or non-space related applications for the capability? 

    * Are there ways to adjust the competition metrics that would assist with the synergy with commercial space and/or non-space applicability?


This RFI is seeking feedback on the new competition structure, potential challenge concepts, suggested prize amounts and distribution structure, and/or interest in competing in any of these Challenges. Comments must be submitted no later than 11:59 PM Eastern DST August 8, 2014 to Mr. Sam Ortega at e-mail address: Use Challenge Concepts on the Subject line.

For general information on the NASA Centennial Challenges Program see: . The point of contact is Mr. Sam Ortega, Program Manager, Centennial Challenges Program, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.


In the event that NASA does initiate any of these challenges, NASA will post a public notice in the Federal Register. At that time, all individuals or entities that wish to participate in the challenge must register as members of a team and enter into an agreement with the designated challenge management organization. No teams will be accepted for these competitions that include foreign nationals who are not permanent residents of the United States. The sole exception is for U.S based educational institutions, which may have up to 50% foreign national students on their teams. No team members may be from countries listed on the NASA list of designated countries. (The current list of designated countries can be found at ).

Teams cannot include any Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment. This includes any U.S. Government organization or organization principally or substantially funded by the Federal Government, including Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, Government-owned, contractor operated (GOCO) facilities, and University Affiliated Research Centers.

NASA and other federal agencies may work with and provide technical support to participating teams as long as it is done on an equitable basis. That is, similar requests are dealt with in a similar fashion, be it access to facilities, testing, scientific consultation, or other services. This does not obligate NASA or other federal agencies to provide the support. These services may be at no cost or on a cost reimbursable basis as determined by the subject federal agency in accordance with law and policy.

Registration and participation in a challenge does not entitle a participant to a NASA-funded prize. To be eligible to win a NASA funded prize, the competitor must (1) register and comply with all requirements in the rules and enter into a team agreement; (2) in the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States; and (3) shall not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.


Point of Contact

    Name:Sam Ortega

    Title:Program Manager Centennial Challenges Program




SpaceRef staff editor.