To support future missions and reduce risk, NASA seeks to rapidly identify and develop technologies of significant interest through a series of challenges. Participants in these challenges submit an application to develop a specific technology and then compete for awards to build the payloads. As an added incentive, NASA intends to provide a suborbital flight test to the Winners of each challenge.
What is the Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge No. 1?
The Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge No. 1 is a competition focused on advancing spacecraft landing capabilities made possible by sensing systems that can map terrain and help a spacecraft identify a safe landing spot in the dark from an altitude of 250 meters or higher. Refer to the Technical Guidelines for additional details. The challenge asks individuals, teams, and organizations that meet the eligibility criteria to develop a flight-ready payload to meet this need.
Who can participate?
The NASA TechLeap Prize challenges are open competitions designed to discover promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce. NASA encourages participation from teams who may not have previously engaged in other NASA funding opportunities.
NASA welcomes applications from individuals, teams, and organization or entities that have a recognized legal existence and structure under applicable law (State, Federal or Country) and that are in good standing in the jurisdiction under which they are organized with the following restrictions:
Individuals must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States and be 18 years of age or older.
Organizations must be an entity incorporated in and maintaining a primary place of business in the United States.
Teams must be comprised of otherwise eligible individuals or organizations and led by a U.S Citizen or permanent resident of the United States who is 18 years of age or older.
U.S. government employees may participate so long as they are not acting within the scope of their position, rely on no facilities, access, personnel, knowledge, or other resources that are available to them as a result of their employment except for those resources available to all other participants on an equal basis. Employees and on-site contractors of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory are not eligible to win an award.
Foreign citizens may only participate as (i) employees of an otherwise eligible U.S. entity who reside in the U.S., (ii) full-time students at an otherwise eligible U.S. university or college who reside in the U.S., or (iii) owners of less than 50% of the interests in an otherwise eligible U.S. entity who reside in the U.S.
Additionally, NASA encourages participation from teams who demonstrate a commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Refer to the Rules for a complete set of eligibility requirements.
We’re a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program grantee. Can we submit?
If you are a past grantee of the SBIR program, you may submit a proposed technology. If you are a current grantee and have received Government funding for similar projects in which you are developing a flight test ready hazard detection and avoidance system payload for spaceflight applicationsthat includes sensing of the terrain at night, you or your employer may not be eligible for award under this Challenge. Please contact us if you need help determining your eligibility.
Can government contractors participate in this competition?
If you or your employer is receiving Government funding for a project to specifically develop a sensing system for sensing of the terrain at night from an altitude of 250 meters or higher to generate a terrain map in real time to help identify a hazard-free landing site, you or your employer may not be eligible for award. However, if your company does not have funding for work that meets this specific description, you should be eligible to continue your participation. Please email us if you need help determining your eligibility.
I work for a Federally funded research and development center. Can I participate in this competition?
Federal entities or Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment are not eligible to win an award. Similarly, employees and on-site contractors of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory are not eligible to win an award.
If you or your employer is receiving Government funding for similar projects in which you are developing a flight test ready hazard detection and avoidance system payload for spaceflight applications that includes sensing of the terrain at night, you or your employer are not eligible for an award under this Challenge. However, if your company does not have funding for work that meets this specific description, you should be eligible to continue your participation. Additionally, the U.S. Government may have Intellectual Property Rights in your solution if your solution was made under a Government Contract, Grant or Cooperative Agreement. Under such conditions, you may not be eligible for an award. However, if your company does not have funding for work that meets this specific description, you should be eligible to continue your participation. Please contact us if you need help determining your eligibility.
How do I submit an application?
You must first register no later than Thursday, May 5, 2022, at 5:00 PM Pacific. Registration is a simple two-step process. First, create a username and password, and then check your inbox to confirm your registration. Next, complete the online registration form. Once you are registered, applications are due no later than Thursday, May 19, 2022, at 5:00 PM Pacific.
How will applications be evaluated?
There will be three types of evaluation. During the Evaluation Panel judging, each valid application will receive scores and comments from a highly qualified panel of expert judges who will use a scoring rubric to evaluate their assigned applications. Potential biases in Evaluation Panel review are addressed through our training, which includes unconscious bias training for each member of the Evaluation Panel. All scores are normalized to ensure fairness for everyone. The Selection Committee judges will review the top-scoring submissions and select up to three Winners based on the resulting rank order from the Evaluation Panel, scoring rubric, and diversity of solutions. Winners will receive an initial award of $200,000, with the chance for each to win up to $650,000 total and a suborbital flight to test their technology.
During Payload Build Round 1 and Payload Build Round 2, Winners will have the opportunity to compete for additional awards of $200,000 and $100,000 each. Field Judges will conduct on-site visits in October 2022 and February 2023 to score the progress each Winner has made.
During the Performance Incentive Phase, NASA intends to provide a suborbital flight test to each of the Winners of Payload Build Round 2. NASA anticipates these flight tests will be conducted on a Masten Space Systems rocket-powered vehicle. During the suborbital flight, Winners will each have the opportunity to win an additional award of up to $150,000 based on the payload’s ability to generate a terrain map that meets or exceeds the targets outlined in the Technical Guidelines.
What can we win?
Up to three Winners will have the opportunity to win up to $650,000 each as well as a suborbital flight test.
Upon selection, each of the Winners will receive an initial award of $200,000 each to build their flight-ready payload according to their submitted applications within an eight-month period. During Payload Build Round 1 and Payload Build Round 2, Winners will have the opportunity to compete for additional awards of $200,000 and 100,000 each. Field Judges will conduct on-site visits in October 2022 and February 2023 to score the progress each Winner has made.
During the Performance Incentive Phase, NASA intends to provide a suborbital flight test – provided at no additional cost – to each of the Winners of Payload Build Round 2. NASA anticipates these flight tests will be conducted on a Masten Space Systems rocket-powered vehicle. During the suborbital flight, Winners will each have the opportunity to win an additional award of up to $150,000 based on the payload’s ability to generate a terrain map that meets or exceeds the targets outlined in the Technical Guidelines.
What type of vehicles will be available for the suborbital flight?
NASA intends to secure flight tests for each of the Winners at no cost to the Winners. NASA anticipates that flight test will be conducted on a Masten Space Systems rocket-powered vehicle.
What happens to my intellectual property?
While the Technology Title and Technology Description may be published on this website and/or the NASA website, the ownership and use of intellectual property arising from this competition remains with you. NASA may choose to negotiate for a right to use license for the technologies developed as a result of the competition.
Why is this challenge called Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge No. 1?
The technology needs in landing capabilities are broad. This first challenge is narrowly focused on sensing systems that can detect hazards from an altitude of 250 meters or higher and process the data in real time to generate a terrain map suitable for facilitating safe landing of a spacecraft in the dark. NASA will consider offering additional challenges in the future to further advance technologies for hazard detection and precision landing.
I have a disability. How can I get help with my application?
If you need assistance completing the registration and/or application process, please contact us. We encourage people with disabilities to submit to the Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge No. 1. We provide accommodations as needed.
How can I contact someone at NASA about my application?
Please email us your questions, and a member of our support team will respond as quickly as possible.
How do I sign up to receive competition correspondence like deadline reminders and application status updates?
Once you have registered, and throughout the competition, we will send important notifications to the email address associated with your account, as well as the primary and secondary contacts listed on your registration form. There are three critical steps you can take to make sure these messages are received promptly:
Update your registration form right away if one of your contacts changes. If you need to make a contact change after the application window has closed, please email us, and we will assist you.
Are flight providers eligible to submit applications as well? Are there any restrictions around flight providers competing for an award?
Any entity needs to ensure that they are legally eligible to participate. If flight providers determine that they are eligible to participate, we would encourage them to do so. The key is that applicants cannot receive funding for the same work twice. See the Rules for eligibility information.
Where can we find technical guidelines for size/mass?
You can find previously selected technologies here. Many PIs are willing to talk about their experiences with potential proposers. You can also find more information and listen to recorded webinar sessions with PIs on the Flight Opportunities Community of Practice web page.
What if the sensor we are developing came from the "NASA Technology Transfer program"? Are we still allowed to participate?
It is up to each applicant to ensure that they have the appropriate rights (e.g., license) to use the technologies that are part of their submission. As stated in the Rules, each application should reflect the anticipated ownership, use, and licensing of any intellectual property. You represent and warrant that your Entry is an original work created solely by You, that You own or have the right to use all Intellectual Property in and to the Entry, and that no other party has any right, title, claim or interest in the Entry, except as expressly identified by You to us in writing in Your application.
Will our technology need to provide its own power, or will power be provided by the suborbital flight vehicle?
Each Winner will need to provide power for their payload.
What is the expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of solutions?
A requirement for selection is that the technology will benefit from testing/demonstration on a suborbital flight. Typically, technologies that are TRL 4-6 can benefit from a suborbital flight test.
Can I participate if I have previously been funded for work related to hazard detection or terrain relative navigation?
If your company is currently receiving Government funding for a project to specifically develop and test a complete sensing system (e.g., hardware and software) for sensing of terrain at night from an altitude of 250 meters or higher to generate a terrain hazard map in real time to help identify a hazard-free landing site, you may not be eligible for award. However, if your company does not have funding for work that meets this specific description, you should be eligible to continue your participation. Please contact us if you have additional questions regarding your specific situation.
Is my technology required to select a safe landing site?
Sensor technologies must have the capability to generate a three-dimensional map with enough resolution to resolve surface features at spatial resolution 10 cm ground sample distance (GSD) or better from a minimum altitude of 250 meters above the surface. However, systems are not required to determine which features may be hazardous nor will they be required to identify “safe” landing sites.
Why is this system needed? Is this a problem that could not be solved using NASA’s HDL (Hazard Detection LiDAR) that’s part of the SPLICE (Safe & Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution) technologies or a with a spinoff of ALHAT (Autonomous precision Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology)?
LiDAR and radar are proven technologies that certainly have the capability to resolve surface features for hazard detection (HD) and terrain relative navigation (TRN) in the dark. However, NASA is interested in drastically decreasing the size and mass of sensors used for HD and TRN. Smaller, less massive LiDAR systems, or other small sensor types not typically used for HD and TRN could allow more mass and more volume allocation aboard landing spacecraft. Smaller, less massive HD/TRN sensors will also enable more missions to more places using smaller landers.
Can we get any information on the spectral reflectance characteristics of the test environments?
To the winners, NASA will provide samples of the surface materials represented in the lunar surface test field.
Can we tap into GNC (guidance, navigation, and control) data streams from the platform?
The flight provider can provide the navigation state or any other GNC information desired, along with a trigger/signal at the data collection altitude.
Requesting clarification on the required performance of the remote activations system: Is there a signal from the platform that can be used to initiate the collection of data with our system on descent? Or does our remote activation system need to control the entire timeline for collecting data?
A trigger/signal will be provided from the vehicle to your system the moment the vehicle has arrived at the data collection altitude. The NASA Campaign Manager will work with the flight provider and those who have won a test flight to ensure the trigger/signal is compatible with the sensor system during the payload build and integration phase.
How much light is expected to be emitted by the plume of the platforms?
Unfortunately, NASA cannot provide a precise answer for this question. The illumination characteristics of rocket engines are complex. During the flight test, teams should expect wide-ranging levels of illumination at varying frequencies. Variables that contribute to these variances in illumination include propellant chemistry, mixture ratios (for bi-props), throttle settings and nozzle ablation (if any). Even seemingly small environmental factors such as atmospheric pressure have the potential to alter the plume-column diffusion characteristics. In order to plan accordingly, please note the vehicle that will be used during the flight test uses a cone-less, regeneratively cooled, throttleable, liquid-oxygen/isopropyl-alcohol engine that produces ~1,200 pounds of thrust.
Are we allowed to initiate our system prior to the 14-second descent flight profile?
The flight test is meant to simulate a lunar descent. Your system may not gather data that will be used to generate a map of the lunar surface test field during the vehicle ascent. The data collection start point is no earlier than the beginning of the planned stationary hover over the lunar surface test field, which is targeted to be 500m AGL.
Why do you want to develop sensing systems for the lander rather than using other technologies, such as beacons or landed markers, to enable landers to land safely?
NASA pursues multiple solutions to these types of problems – this particular challenge is related to developing high resolution maps. To mark a desired exploration spot, we first need a mission to land something at this location to help mark it. If we have numerous follow-on missions, we still need onboard hazard detection to help the lander avoid landing on the previously landed assets. At some point, we could have enough beacon-like assets on the surface and local reconnaissance information of the region so that landers will not require onboard HD hazard detection.
How long is the hover period at 500m?
The hover period is two seconds at 500m, descend to 250m at 25 meters/second, then do a two-second hover at 250m. Please review the technical guidelines for more information.
What is the divert capability of the lander from 500 and 250?
Because this challenge is focused on sensing of the terrain and not guiding vehicle landing, there will be no divert performed during the descent profile.
Is it possible to request a modified descent trajectory for the flight test? For example, can we start at an altitude of 750 meters, with a stop at 500 and 250?
Also, can we request a lateral move or 45 degree descent slope? The intent of these requests is to get the propulsion plume out of the line-of-sight of the instrument to the landing site.
For the Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge 1.0 (NPL1), winners will demonstrate to NASA the viability of their technologies to perform lunar mapping for potential use during future missions. The selected winners will not be competing against one another. Rather than firmly adhere to a strict flight profile, the flight provider will work with the selected teams to attempt to optimize the optical viewing angle, together with the vehicle flight-profile-angle, and wind direction, to minimize the potential of plume interactions in the field of view of their specific sensors. Note that the flight profile must remain within the vehicle’s capability and within range safety constraints. The targeted descent rate is 25m/s and NASA anticipates that 500 meters above ground level will be the maximum allowable altitude.
Regarding the surroundings of the payload we are developing: Is the bottom of the payload (face closest to the lunar surface) exposed or obstructed? Please share more information on how our payload will be mounted on a spacecraft.
The payload section is located on the top of the Masten vehicle. Unless a non-standard agreement is made with the flight provider, teams can expect the bottom of their payloads, including power sources, data acquisition and computing systems, will be completely obscured by the vehicle. However, sensors can be mounted on an arm outside of the payload enclosure to achieve a downward-slant view. The maximum length of the arm and the maximum moment are called out in the technical guidelines. However, because the configuration, mounting bracket and desired position of the winning team’s senor heads are yet unknown, the physical sensor-to-arm mounting interface will be negotiated among Masten integration engineers and the winning teams.
You are welcome to contact Masten Space Systems to find out more about other options for payload mounting. A good amount of information can be found on Masten's website where you can learn more about their capabilities.
What altitude above ground level (AGL) is the suborbital flight?
As stated in the Technical Guidelines, during the flight, NASA anticipates that the vehicle will take off from a concrete pad adjacent the lunar surface test field to an altitude of 500 meters above ground level (AGL).
What is the final goal for this competition: A final working system or a combination of algorithms and sensors which shows potential to work?
NASA is seeking a sensor technology that can generate a digital terrain map within the specified timelines, flight profile, and ranges, as outlined in the Technical Guidelines for the competition. Winning systems have the potential to be considered as a capability that could be leveraged for follow-on applications such as hazard detection and safe site determination, but those aspects are not within the scope of this competition.
Do we need to transmit a point cloud somewhere? This would help determine the size of the output data.
The sensor needs to output the completed map to the vehicle, rather than a point cloud, so that the vehicle can time stamp it to validate that it was transferred within the timeline of the required range. NASA and the flight provider do intend to provide a coordinate frame. More information will be provided to the winning teams at the beginning of the Payload Build Phase.
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