Status Report

NASA Solicitation: Teaming Opportunity to Develop Autonomous Robotic Swarms for Planetary Exploration

By SpaceRef Editor
April 2, 2011
Filed under , ,

Synopsis – Mar 29, 2011

General Information

Solicitation Number: SS-ROBOTIC_SWARMS
Posted Date: Mar 29, 2011
FedBizOpps Posted Date: Mar 29, 2011
Recovery and Reinvestment Act Action: No
Original Response Date: Apr 11, 2011
Current Response Date: Apr 11, 2011
Classification Code: A — Research and Development
NAICS Code: 541712 – Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences (except Biotechnology)

Contracting Office Address

NASA/Langley Research Center, Mail Stop 144, Industry Assistance Office, Hampton, VA 23681-0001


This partnering synopsis solicits potential partners to participate in developing a proposal addressing the goals and objectives of NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNH11ZUA001N, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC). The NRA can be accessed at:

Participation in this partnering synopsis is open to all categories of U.S. and non-U.S. organizations, including educational institutions, industry, not-for-profit institutions, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as NASA Centers and other U.S. Government Agencies. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Other Minority Universities (OMUs), small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs), veteran-owned small businesses, service disabled veteran-owned small businesses, HUBzone small businesses, and women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) are encouraged to apply.

Participation by non-U.S. organizations is welcome but subject to NASA’s policy of no exchange of funds, in which each government supports its own national participants and associated costs. Under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), the NRA solicits multiple studies, each of which will investigate an architecture, mission, or system concept that has the potential to change the possible in aeronautics or space. NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is also part of the Office of Chief Technologist (OCT). Concepts proposed for NIAC Phase I studies must be innovative and visionary, technically substantiated, and very early in development (10+ years out; Technology Readiness Level 1, 2, or early 3). Focused technology maturation and incremental improvement are explicitly not of interest in this program.

In response to the NASA Research Announcement (NRA) NNH11ZUA001N, NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) partners are sought to demonstrate concepts for planetary exploration using autonomous robotic swarms. Exploration of remote planetary surfaces has been limited to few humans and singular robotic vehicles thus severely limiting the range and duration of expeditions. NASA has proposed an exploratory airplane for MARS that would extend the range but removes the robot from surface contact and still presents a singular view. A flying swarm of a large number of smaller vehicles, operating autonomously yet cooperatively, could extend the exploration range while maintaining direct surface contact as the swarm “hops” from point to point. Such a design has the added benefit that individual failure would not condemn the mission to fail (e.g., 80% of individuals could fail with 100% mission success). A swarm design presents new problems such as how the swarm will effectively fly in formation and how the swarm will determine course of action. Because much the environment is unknown, the swarm must adapt to unforeseen situations. Centralized control and predetermined script execution is likely not practical. Without directions from a central controller, individual members of the swarm are limited to local observations and communication with neighboring members. From these observations, individuals must make autonomous decisions and take individual action. From these actions, a behavior emerges. Thus, the challenge is to design the swarm for desired emergent behavior. NASA seeks a demonstration of true autonomy in formation flying of a swarm and in decisions on actions of the swarm to complete an exploratory mission.

A successful demonstration will not have the swarm directed by a central controller but will exhibit swarm action emerging from combined action of autonomous individuals. In particular NASA LaRC is seeking potential partners having demonstrated experience and expertise in application of autonomy and cognition to robotic systems. Such experience must go beyond conventional automatic operation, where robots move and act independently by executing predetermined scripts. The experience must facilitate action by autonomous robots to assess their environment and make cognitive decisions to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

Teaming with providers of and leveraging emerging technologies, such as current and recent Small Business Innovative Research awards (http://sbir.gsfc.nasa.fov/SBIR/awards.htm ), is of special interest. If selected through this synopsis, it is expected that the selected partner(s) will work with NASA LaRC scientists and engineers to jointly develop the proposal. If the proposal is selected, NASA LaRC anticipates issuing grants, cooperative agreements, intra or inter agency transfers or contracts to the selected partner(s) for performance of the proposed tasks. This partnering opportunity does not guarantee selection for award of any contracts or other agreements, nor is it to be construed as a commitment by NASA to pay for the information solicited. It is expected that the partner(s) selected would provide (at no cost to NASA) conceptual designs, technical data, proposal input, project schedules, and cost estimates.

Partner selections will be made by LaRC based on the listed criteria in the following order of importance:

(1) Relevant experience, past performance, technical capability, key personnel availability, and demonstration of development of autonomous and cognitive robotic systems. This criterion evaluates the proposer’s relevant recent experience, past performance in similar development activities, technical capability to perform the development, and key personnel available to support the development. Substantive evidence of successful participation in similar developments should be included.

(2) Cost and schedule control. This criterion evaluates the proposer’s ability to control both cost and schedule. The proposer should provide evidence of successfully controlling cost and schedule for similar development programs and provide evidence of management processes in this area.

(3) Facilities. This criterion evaluates the proposer’s facilities (development, testing, and analysis) to conduct the development or demonstration of the proposed task. The proposer should discuss facility availability/access and the ability to meet the proposed objectives.

RESPONSE INSTRUCTIONS: Responses to this partnering synopsis shall be limited to 8 pages in not less than 12-point font. Responses must address the aforementioned evaluation criteria. All responses shall be submitted to LaRC electronically via email by 5:00pm EST on April 11, 2011 to Kennie Jones ( and Brad Gardner ( Technical and Programmatic questions should be directed to Kennie Jones ( Procurement questions should be directed to Brad Gardner (

Point of Contact

Name: Robert B. Gardner
Title: Contracting Officer
Phone: 757-864-2525
Fax: 757-864-7898

Name: Teresa M Hass
Title: Contracting Officer
Phone: 757-864-8496
Fax: 757-864-8863

SpaceRef staff editor.