Category Archives: Contests and Games

NASA competition seeks innovative lunar power systems ideas

NASA opens a public competition for innovations in power systems for lunar exploration:

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

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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Virginia student wins first Design/Build/Launch competition sponsored by AIAA/Blue Origin

Here’s an announcement from AIAA and Blue Origin :

Virginia High School Student Wins First Design/Build/Launch Competition
Sponsored by Blue Origin and AIAA

July 8, 2020 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and Blue Origin are pleased to announce the winner of their Design/Build/Launch (DBL) competition.

Eleanor Sigrest.

Eleanor Sigrest, a rising senior enrolled in a dual program at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, and the Governor’s School at Innovation Park in Manassas, Virginia, won the competition with her experiment, Improving Fluid Management Through A Novel Microgravity Slosh Mitigation Technique, which will be the first AIAA-sponsored payload to go into flight.

“Ever since I can remember,” she said, “I’ve looked at the stars and known I want to go to space. I want to be the first person on Mars. Through research, I feel I better my personal knowledge and contribute to a community, all sharing the same goal of exploring beyond our Earth and developing the technologies necessary to get to Mars – technologies that will also benefit all humankind.”

In her quest to be the first person on Mars, Eleanor has been conducting independent research on rockets since middle school. She has won a host of science competitions, beginning with the grand prize, regional level, in her first science fair when she was in fourth grade, and including the Broadcom MASTERS Samueli Foundation prize at the national level with her experiment, “Rockets and Nozzles and Thrust, OH MY!

“Design/Build/Launch is the perfect next step to complement my research of a novel microgravity slosh technique that could simplify spacecraft systems, increase payload capacity and save the space industry billions of dollars,” she said. “This opportunity provides me the chance to further this research and prepare for my own launch to Mars.”

AIAA Executive Director Dan Dumbacher said,

“If aerospace is to continue pushing boundaries to create a better world for us all, we need students like Eleanor Sigrest to be inspired to take up the challenge. Congratulations, Eleanor, on being the first winner of Design/Build/Launch! You inspire us!”

[ Dr. Erika Wagner, Payload Sales Director at Blue Origin, said,]

“Pushing the boundaries of technology are essential to charting our future course in space,” … “Eleanor’s passion to explore the unexplored and determination to bring clarity to science we don’t yet understand are unmatched, and we can’t wait to see how her experiment performs in space. We’re humbled to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM through payloads on our reusable New Shepard vehicle and our non-profit, Club for the Future.”

Eleanor has made presentations at the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS Science and Engineering Project Showcase in Washington, DC, and the 2017 World Science Festival in New York, NY. She leads workshops for middle-school girls, advocating for greater representation by women in STEM fields. She has been featured on NBC’s TODAY program in a “Girls Changing the World” segment and is a lifetime fellow of the American Junior Academy of Science. In May, Eleanor received the first-place AIAA “Look Up!” Award presented at the 2020 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

A fully reusable New Shepard rocket lifts off for a suborbital trip to space. Credits: Blue Origin

Design/Build/Launch (DBL) Competition
The DBL competition is open to high school students and designed to promote student engagement in microgravity and/or space technology research. Each proposal is composed of two parts: each entrant designed an experimental payload to be launched on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket and described outreach plans to engage the public with the promise and excitement of space.

Eleanor’s DBL proposal was selected from among entries received from students from across the United States.

Eleanor will receive a $1,000 grant to prepare her work to fly on a future New Shepard flight. She will report on the results of her experiment at 2021 ASCEND, AIAA’s event dedicated to the space ecosystem.

About Blue Origin: For information on Blue Origin, visit www.blueorigin.com and follow @BlueOrigin on Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about Club for the Future and our space mail program, visit clubforfuture.org and follow @ClubForFuture on Twitter and Instagram.

About AIAA: The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit www.aiaa.org, or follow AIAA on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

About ASCEND: ASCEND stands for Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration and New Discovery and is designed to bring together technical and business leaders to solve problems that affect the entire planet and beyond. Powered by AIAA, the ASCEND event will happen online 16–18 November 2020. For more information, please visit www.ascend.events, or follow ASCEND on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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ESA sponsors AI competition to spot GEO objects in low-cost telescope images

ESA sponsoring a new citizen science challenge at Kelvins- “ESA’s Advanced Concepts Competitions”. In the spotGEO Challenge, held in partnership with the  University of Adelaide,

… you are asked to develop an algorithm to detect Geostationary orbiting objects from simple png images (or frames) acquired by an unknown, low-cost ground-based telescope. Can you learn on how to cope with cloud cover, atmospheric/weather effects, light pollution, sensor noise/defects, star occlusions and more?

Check out the problem description, the dataset and the starter-kit (the dataset and the starter kit will only be available at the competition start date).

The start date is June 8, 2020. Here’s the official announcement from ESA:

Telescope-peering AI challenged to spot mystery space objects

“Artificial objects in or near geostationary orbit appear stationary or nearly stationary compared to the background stars, which appear to move due to Earth’s rotation, as shown in this sequence of observed images.” Credits: ESA/Univ. Adelaide

ESA’s latest public competition challenges ‘citizen scientists’ to combine AI with observations from low-cost telescopes to pick out mystery objects in and around geostationary orbit, thousands of kilometres above Earth.

Geostationary orbit is also known as the ‘Clarke belt’ – science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke forecast it back in 1945. The further up that satellites orbit, the slower they need to travel to overcome Earth’s gravity. Orbiting at approximately 36 000 km altitude directly above the equator, satellite velocity precisely matches Earth’s rotation, enabling them hover above the same spots in the sky.

The result has been called the most valuable real estate in our solar system: a 265 000 km ring of telecommunications, meteorology and other satellites around our planet, carefully regulated by the International Telecommunication Union.

Despite its economic value however, geostationary orbit – as well as adjacent ‘geosynchronous’ orbits – must contend with the same problems of space debris also seen in lower orbits. ESA and other space agencies perform regular monitoring to identify and track potentially-hazardous debris items. This is usually done using either high-power radar or high-performance astronomical telescopes.

“Geostationary orbit is generally well managed and documented, partly because of its immense practical and commercial value,” notes Tat-Jun Chin of the University of Adelaide, partnering with ESA on the competition. “However, precisely because of that value we should put more efforts into further understanding and protecting it.”

Dario Izzo of ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) adds:

“So, for our new ‘spotGEO’ competition, we want to see how well low-cost telescopes combined with tailored AI algorithms can identify ‘resident space objects’ at these altitudes.”

Competition entrants will receive a dataset made up of sets of five sequential images of unspecified segments of the geostationary belt, then challenged to pick out artificial objects against the surrounding stars.

This small telescope at the Univ. of Adelaide was used to “gather imagery of geostationary artificial objects for ESA’s GEOspot competition”. Credits: Univ. Adelaide/ESA

In theory this is made easier because such objects will remain static (or nearly static) compared to the background starfield, which appears to move because of Earth’s rotation. In practice, with atmospheric distortion and an approximately 40-second exposure time for each single image the objects will be smeared out and dimmed. Clouds, light pollution and sensor noise also add to the challenge.

“The sheer distance between the observer and the target objects makes this a difficult problem,” adds Dario.

“Each pixel observed at this altitude corresponds to an arc length of about 800 m – so the objects of interest are much smaller than a single pixel. But success should help us keep better watch on this essential region of space around our planet.”

Tat-Jun Chin and his team made contact with the ACT after winning the Pose Estimation Challenge, their previous space-themed AI competition, on estimating the orientation of distant satellites from a dataset of still images.

“Deep learning algorithms can be trained through such datasets to detect visual features of interest,” he notes. “Researchers in AI – particularly computer vision and machine learning – understand that having common datasets is vital towards making progress. These allow different methods to be compared objectively, so that the community can learn the best practices then apply them for their respective problems.

“Generally speaking, sharing datasets in space research is not so common, but the excellent Kelvins competitions are changing this, and after getting to know the ACT we decided to contribute our own.”

The University of Adelaide team coincidentally acquired these images during an observing campaign during the last Australian summer, so that forest fire smoke adds to the observing difficulty.

This is the latest competition hosted at the ACT’s Kelvins website, named after the temperature unit of measurement – with the idea that competitors should aim to reach the lowest possible error, as close as possible to absolute zero. The spotGEO dataset will be available there from 8 June, at the start of the three-month competition.

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Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration

“Xtronaut 2.0: The game of solar system exploration” – Xplore sponsors Kickstarter campaign

An announcement from Xtronaut:

Xplore Sponsors Xtronaut’s Kickstarter Campaign,
Donates Space Games to The Boeing Academy
for STEM Learning at The Museum of Flight

Xplore’s Xcraft™ Now Featured in
XTRONAUT 2.0: The Game of Solar System Exploration,
the award-winning space-themed board game

Xplore Xcraft™ playing card in Xtronaut 2.0 Game

Xtronaut 2.0, a fun, multi-player game for players ages eight and up, teaches the real-world challenges of solar system exploration and educates players on how to plan missions to deep space. Xplore’s high-performance spacecraft, the Xcraft™, is a new feature in Xtronaut 2.0, which mirrors real-life space missions. Players can plan exploration missions and send the Xcraft™ to the Moon, Mars, Venus, and asteroids, including Bennu, the target of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return mission. Spacecraft in the game can launch on SpaceX, ULA, and NASA-SLS rockets. Planetary scientist Dr. Dante Lauretta created Xtronaut with CEO Michael Lyon. Lauretta is a University of Arizona Professor and Principal Investigator for OSIRIS-REx. Lyon, while at Space Adventures, helped orchestrate the private astronaut flights for Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth to the International Space Station.

Xplore founder and Chief Operating Officer Lisa Rich said,

“Xtronaut 2.0 provides valuable education about space missions, builds strategic skills, and inspires players to pursue STEM careers. We are proud to have the Xcraft™ featured in Xtronaut 2.0 and are delighted that our sponsorship enables us to give 120 games to the youth organization of our choice. Xplore selected The Boeing Academy for STEM Learning at The Museum of Flight to receive our gift to support their mission to enhance educational opportunities for young people, particularly students of color, females, and those from low income families and communities to access and pursue STEM pathways.”

Reba Gilman, Vice President of Education for The Museum of Flight said,

“The Boeing Academy for STEM Learning at The Museum of Flight is pleased to accept Xplore’s generous gift of 120 Xtronaut 2.0 games, and we look forward to distributing them among our students. Xplore aligns well with our goal of promoting STEM opportunities. They are a creative company that thinks out-of-the box in terms of how their commercial missions to space will impact the lives of others. While scientists, universities, national space agencies, civilian space agencies, national security space agencies and others will fly with them, our students can also benefit from their missions to space.” She added, “We appreciate the leadership of Xplore’s female founder, Lisa Rich, and are thankful Xplore is giving us this positive stay-at-home activity that students will enjoy during these uncertain times.”

Dr. Dante Lauretta said:

“We are excited to include Xplore as a real-world example of next-generation missions to space. Our original game allows players to fly heritage spacecraft. With Xtronaut 2.0, we have the added feature of flying the Xcraft™ as a small payload with enhanced capability for missions to our solar system. Our players will love this feature as it adds another layer of real-world authenticity to the game.” He added, “We are pleased that our game will support The Museum of Flight. Xtronaut 2.0 is a constructive way for students enrolled in The Boeing Academy for STEM Learning’s programs to expand their knowledge of the aerospace industry and encourage them to be a part of it.”

Xtronaut 2.0 is currently available on Kickstarter. To obtain a copy or sponsor games to give to the youth organization of your choice, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xtronaut/xtronaut-2?ref=discovery&term=xtronaut

More cards in the Xtronaut game.

About Xplore: Xplore is a Seattle-based commercial deep space company offering Space as a ServiceTM. Xplore provides hosted payloads, communication relay services and exclusive datasets to its customers via a fleet of networked multi-mission spacecraft.

The mission of Xplore is to expand robotic exploration via commercial Xpeditions™ at and beyond Earth, to the Moon, Mars, Venus, Lagrange Points and near-Earth asteroids in the inner solar system. Xplore provides hosted payload services for scientific instruments and technology demonstrations for national space agencies, national security agencies, sovereign space agencies and universities. Visit: https://www.xplore.com

About Xtronaut Enterprises, Inc.: Dante Lauretta and Michael Lyon founded Xtronaut Enterprises to develop innovative educational content associated with space exploration. Dr. Lauretta has spent over 16 years developing and leading the OSIRIS-REx mission. Xtronaut also produces the award-winning game Constellations: The Game of Stargazing and the Night Sky and Downlink: The Game of Planetary Discovery. Visit: https://xtronaut.com/

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/xtronaut/xtronaut-the-game-of-solar-system-exploration

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Here is an interview with Xtronaut CEO Michael Lyon by Jason Kanigan of the Cold Star Project:

Michael Lyon is an attorney, startup accelerator mentor and space tourism pioneer. I’ve interviewed him for the full format Cold Star Project show (link below), and today he’s back to share Xtronaut 2.0. It’s a fun and educational space board game he has co-created that has already achieved 2X its funding target on Kickstarter. Xtronaut 2.0 was co-created by Dante Lauretta of Osiris-REx fame. Bill Nye and the Planetary Society are also involved. I want you to have the chance to hear about it, and maybe pick up some of the cool swag that comes along with backing the idea. Check out the Kickstarter for Xtronaut 2.0 here: https://coldstartech.com/msbxtronaut

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Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration

NASA opens contest to name next Mars rover

NASA has opened Name the Rover Contest for the Mars 2020 mission, which is set to launch in July of next year.  Here is the announcement from NASA:

NASA Invites Students to Name Next Mars Rover

Red rover, red rover, send a name for Mars 2020 right over! NASA is recruiting help from students nationwide to find a name for its next Mars rover mission.

Starting Tuesday, K-12 students in U.S. public, private and home schools can enter the Mars 2020 Name the Rover essay contest. One grand prize winner will name the rover and be invited to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Name the Rover contest is part of NASA’s efforts to engage students in the STEM enterprise behind Mars exploration and inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“This naming contest is a wonderful opportunity for our nation’s youth to get involved with NASA’s Moon to Mars missions,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “It is an exciting way to engage with a rover that will likely serve as the first leg of a Mars Sample return campaign, collecting and caching core samples from the Martian surface for scientists here on Earth to study for the first time.”

The Mars 2020 rover is a 2,300-pound robotic scientist that will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

“Our Mars 2020 rover has fully taken shape over the past several months, as the project team installed various components onto the chassis: the computer brain and electronics; wheels and mobility system; robotic arm; remote sensing mast; the seven science instruments; and finally, the sample caching system,” said George Tahu, Mars 2020 program executive. “All that’s missing is a great name!”

To enter the contest, students must submit by Nov. 1 their proposed rover name and a short essay, no more than 150 words, explaining why their proposed name should be chosen. The essays will be divided into three groups, by grade level – K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 – and judged on the appropriateness, significance and originality of their proposed name, and the originality and quality of their essay, and/or finalist interview presentation.

Fifty-two semifinalists will be selected per group, each representing their respective state or U.S. territory. Three finalists then will be selected from each group to advance to the final round.

As part of the final selection process, the public will have an opportunity to vote online on the nine finalists in January 2020. NASA plans to announce the selected name on Feb. 18, 2020 – exactly one year before the rover will land on the surface of Mars.

For complete contest and prize details, visit: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/participate/name-the-rover/

The naming contest partnership is part of a Space Act Agreement between NASA, Battelle of Columbus, Ohio, and Future Engineers of Burbank, California, in educational and public outreach efforts.

Name the Rover Contest

Register to be a Judge

NASA is seeking volunteers to help judge the thousands of contest entries anticipated to pour in from around the country. U.S. residents over 18 years old who are interested in offering approximately five hours of their time to review submissions should register to be a judge at: https://www.futureengineers.org/registration/judge/nametherover

Rover Update

With all major elements onboard and initial functional checks complete, Mars 2020’s Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations team is preparing the rover and its sky crane descent stage for the next big test: simulating the vibration dynamics of launch and the thermal environment the rover will experience on the surface of Mars.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages rover development for the agency. The Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management.

For more about NASA’s Moon to Mars plans, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/moon-to-mars

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The Case for Space:
How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up
a Future of Limitless Possibility