Settlers on Mars will need to live off the land and off the atmosphere as well. For example, methane for rocket fuel can be derived from the Red Planet’s abundant carbon dioxide (CO2).  NASA has now opened a Centennial Challenges contest to find an efficient and Mars-base compatible way to convert that CO2 into other “useful compounds”, particularly glucose.

The NASA CO2 Conversion Challenge invites teams from schools and private industry to compete for the one million dollar purse.

Help us discover ways to develop novel synthesis technologies that use carbon dioxide (CO2) as the sole carbon source to generate molecules that can be used to manufacture a variety of products, including “substrates” for use in microbial bioreactors.

Because CO2 is readily abundant within the Martian atmosphere, such technologies will translate into in-situ manufacturing of products to enable humans to live and thrive on the planet, and also be implemented on Earth by using both waste and atmospheric CO2 as a resource.

The contest will be in two phases:

NASA envisions this competition having two phases with a total prize purse of up to $1 million. Phase 1 (the current phase) is the Concept Phase with a prize purse of up to $250,000. The initiation of Phase 2, a Demonstration Challenge with a prize purse of up to $750,000, is contingent on the emergence of promising submissions in Phase 1 that demonstrate a viable approach to achieve the Challenge goals. The official rules for Phase 2 will be released prior to the opening of Phase 2.

See the timeline for assembling your team, registering, etc:

Do you have an idea to develop or adapt technology for converting CO2 into compounds like glucose, which can then be used to manufacture “food” for microbial bioreactors? You must first register no later than Thursday, January 24, 2019, at 5:00 PM Central.

Here is the official announcement:

NASA CO2 Conversion Challenge 

When astronauts begin exploring Mars, they’ll need to use local resources, freeing up launch cargo space for other mission-critical supplies. Carbon dioxide is one resource readily abundant within the Martian atmosphere. NASA’s new CO2 Conversion Challenge, conducted under the Centennial Challenges program, is a public competition seeking novel ways to convert carbon dioxide into useful compounds. Such technologies will allow us to manufacture products using local, indigenous resources on Mars, and can also be implemented on Earth by using both waste and atmospheric carbon dioxide as a resource.

“Enabling sustained human life on another planet will require a great deal of resources and we cannot possibly bring everything we will need. We have to get creative.” said Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. “If we can transform an existing and plentiful resource like carbon dioxide into a variety of useful products, the space – and terrestrial – applications are endless.”

Carbon and oxygen are the molecular building blocks of sugars. Developing efficient systems that can produce glucose from carbon dioxide will help advance the emerging field of biomanufacturing technology on Earth.

While sugar-based biomaterials are inexpensively made on Earth by plants, this approach cannot be easily adapted for space missions because of limited resources such as energy, water and crew time. The CO2Conversion Challenge aims to help find a solution. Energy rich sugars are preferred microbial energy sources composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They could be used as the feedstock for systems that can efficiently produce a variety of items. Glucose is the target sugar product in this challenge because it is the easiest to metabolize, which will optimize conversion efficiency.

The competition is divided into two phases. During Phase 1, teams must submit a design and description of a conversion system that includes details of the physical-chemical approaches to convert carbon dioxide into glucose. NASA will award up to five teams $50,000 each, to be announced in April 2019. Phase 2, the system construction and demonstration stage, is contingent on promising submissions in Phase 1 that offer a viable approach to achieving challenge goals. Phase 2 will carry a prize purse of up to $750,000, for a total challenge prize purse of $1 million.

The Centennial Challenges program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, bridges the innovation gap between NASA and the nation by stimulating research and technology solutions inside and outside of the traditional aerospace community. The program offers incentive prizes to generate revolutionary solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation. Centennial Challenges is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.


See also NASA Mars Mission Contest Will Award $1M for Turning CO2 into Glucose | Fortune