Converting Mars' Natural Resources to Support Exploration
Periodically, NASA and its technology partners issue 'Challenges' to the general public through NASA's Tournament Labs. The challenges are meant to inspire scientists, engineers and technologists to come up with new and innovative ideas for living and working in space and advancing space travel.
The newest Challenge, released in partnership with the global technical innovation company NineSigma, is the In-Situ Challenge -- a program to explore using Mars' natural resources to support exploration. NASA’s Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan announced the challenge at an event Wednesday, October 7, honoring the five-year anniversary of the government-wide platform Challenge.gov
As explained on NineSigma's Challenge Page:
Transforming in situ materials such as regolith or basalt into useful structural elements is a significant way to reduce the mass of materials launched as payload from Earth. Considering exploration on Mars, for every kilogram of native materials used, one saves 11 kg of transportation propellant and spacecraft mass required to launch to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Given the cost for LEO is US$10,000/kg, one avoids at least US$110,000/kg of cost by using 1 kg of in situ materials, making space pioneering on Mars more affordable and feasible.
One could use surface-based materials such as regolith or basalt to produce structural elements that can be interconnected to create launch/landing pads; blast protection berms; roads and walkways; radiation, thermal, and micro-meteorite shielding insulation and structures; equipment shelters; pressure vessels for fluids storage; ablative atmospheric entry heat shields; construction foundations; and other useful structures.
About the Challenge
The In-Situ Materials Challenge seeks solutions to utilize surface-based materials like regolith (crushed basalt rock) for Earth and space fabrication and construction applications and offers a first-place prize of $10,000 and two second-place prizes of $2,500 for top submissions. Advances in technology and methodology can push towards the larger goal of exploration in extraterrestrial environments.
Award Available: $15,000
- First Place - US$10,000
- Two Second Place Prizes of US$2,500
Challenge Launch Date: 10/07/2015
Challenge Close Date: 12/03/15
- Demonstrate and/or provide analysis that shows a method for converting granular regolith or basalt into a useful product to support manufacture of structural elements.
- Define a materials production system configuration that preferably meets the constraints summarized in Challenge document
- Your proposal should demonstrate and/or provide analysis for meeting the payload constraints of Table 2 in the Challenge document, assuming an unlimited supply of in situ regolith or basalt.
NASA will recognize prizewinners through published announcements and individual profile stories. Successful applicants may also have the opportunity for future collaboration with NASA.
For more information about the Mars' natural resources challenge, and details on how to apply, visit: