Technical Guidelines
Photo Credit: US Army
NASA is interested in advancing observation capabilities made possible through the use of adaptive, distributed, heterogeneous networks of spacecraft, suborbital, and ground-based sensors working cooperatively.

In particular, NASA seeks to further the use of these networks for autonomous detection, localization, and observation of transient events. Earth-based examples include the detection of aerosol dispersion in the atmosphere, high-resolution temperature and current measurements in the ocean, and discovery and precise measurement of Earth surface deformation and change. Examples beyond Earth include discovery and observation of geysers on the icy moons of Saturn and Jupiter. NASA is also interested in leveraging these distributed sensor platforms for autonomous cooperative observations. In this application, once any single platform detects an object of interest, it can share that target’s location and features across the network so that other platforms can automatically be brought to bear on this object for persistent observations.

Similar capabilities could be leveraged for autonomous ad hoc optical communications networks. Example applications for lunar exploration include relays that can detect, locate, track, and establish line-of-sight communications with any lander, rover, or other object on the lunar surface.

In order to be competitive, your application should describe how your technology will meet these technical guidelines:
  • Able to perform autonomous natural/non-cooperative target recognition and acquisition of ad hoc targets on Earth’s surface, without a priori knowledge of number of targets or their location, by pointing at and either (a) imaging/sensing the target, or (b) communicating with a laser ground terminal. Key performance metric: Speed of target recognition
  • Capable of precise pointing of optics, sensors, radar, or communications lasers that are needed for Earth science or laser communications. Key performance metric: Degree of pointing precision
  • Able to record the target’s coordinates inside the payload in Earth Centered Earth Fixed (ECEF) coordinates so that those can be logged with the science data or transmitted to other sensors. Key performance metric: Accuracy of target coordinate determination
  • Addresses key elements, such as size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) that are critical for small spacecraft applications. Able to fit within a small form factor (2U or 3U sized package) and with design choices and component selections that will enable transition to an orbital flight package that is compatible with small low-cost spacecraft platforms.
  • Able to be demonstrated on a suborbital vehicle. Testing will require activation of the payload once it is at altitude. If possible, the payload will be recovered at the end of the mission.

Payload Build Phase

  • During Payload Build Round 1, Winners will have the opportunity to compete for an additional award of $200,000 each. Winners will participate in a Payload Build kick-off call to present their plans for the payload development and progress to date. Field Judges will conduct an on-site visit in January 2022 to score the progress each Winner has made to determine if they qualify for the Round 1 award.
  • Upon successful completion of Round 1, Winners will have the opportunity to compete for an additional award of $100,000 each in Payload Build Round 2. Winners will participate in a conference call to present their progress to date on their plans for the payload development. Field Judges will conduct an on-site visit in June 2022 to score the progress each Winner has made to determine if they qualify for the Round 2 award.

Post-Challenge Suborbital Flight Tests

  • NASA intends to award a suborbital flight test to each of the Winners of Round 2. These flight tests will be conducted on an appropriate vehicle provided by one of the following vendors contracted to provide flight services for NASA government-sponsored research.
  • Once the suborbital flight has completed, each Winner will submit a final report, discussing flight test results and future plans for the technology.
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Photo Credit: Blue Origin