Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload Challenge
Exploring the Moon with Mini Rovers
The Honey, I Shrunk the Payload Phase 1 challenge raised the bar on external challenges for NASA. A lot of work was done to ensure the challenge guidelines conveyed the importance of project management and systems engineering, as well as the innovative ideas we have come to expect from the external community.
Kevin Kempton, NASA
Type of challenge: Ideation
Challenge duration: 3 months
Prize purse: $160,000 USD
HeroX services: (Crowdbuild, Platform, Challenge Design, Challenge Management)
Category: Government, Science, Space
Returning to the Moon
NASA’s Artemis program aims to send humans — including the first woman and person of color — to the moon for long-term missions. Establishing a lunar base camp and exploring more of the moon than ever before is NASA’s way of preparing for the next leap: a mission to Mars.
But transporting water, food and fuel 238,900 miles (384,400 km) to the moon is expensive. Exploratory missions will help better understand what critical resources, like water and key minerals, are already available on the lunar surface, as well as potentially harmful
environmental conditions like
radiation. So NASA plans to
send a swarm of tiny rovers
the size of Roomba® vacuums
to comb over the moon’s surface
and inspect the lunar dirt, or
regolith. These tiny vehicles will
carry lightweight gadgets no bigger than a bar of soap that must be able to withstand extreme lunar temperatures — all while collecting essential data from an extraterrestrial landscape!
Thinking Outside the Box
NASA famously employs thousands of the best and brightest scientists. But for this epic mission, they wanted to harness the creativity and innovation of minds outside their own brain trust, and also beyond U.S. borders. NASA decided to leverage the power of the crowd.
Previously, NASA’s Tournament Lab had used HeroX’s platform and challenge design services to create compelling challenges, attract international innovators, and successfully source innovative concepts. Through a request for
proposal process, NASA selected HeroX to design, host, and manage an open innovation challenge to help develop instruments that the mini rovers could use to explore the moon and prepare for human visitors. Because of the extremely tight timeline for NASA’s Artemis missions, HeroX would have to design and launch this challenge faster than any in its history!
Shrinking the Payload
HeroX launched the Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload challenge in April 2020, and announced the winners just three months later. The $160,000 prize purse was allotted to 14 winners in two categories — lunar resource potential and lunar environment. Additionally, winners were given the opportunity to meet directly
with NASA JPL engineers.
“The focus of this phase was not only on identifying innovative miniature instruments, but also on the merit and credibility of the plans to deliver a qualified instrument that could return valuable measurements on the moon,” says NASA’s Kevin Kempton, who led the challenge. “In this way, the Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload Challenge pushes the crowdsourcing envelope by obtaining working flight hardware that will be sent to the moon.”
Ultimately, the Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload Challenge attracted 132 entries from 29 countries, offering instruments that spanned a wide range of uses — from mapping iron and titanium distribution on the moon, to detecting energetic neutral atoms emitted from the ground. In fact, the challenge received so many strong submissions that in addition to the 14 planned awards, NASA gave 3 honorable mentions.
“I was thinking maybe we would get 25 or 50. So the number of submissions way exceeded our expectations,” said Andrew Shapiro, program manager at NASA JPL’s Space Technology Office. “Certainly in the top tier, the quality of the top 30 to 40 submissions was really outstanding.”
But the top two were well above the rest, according to Shapiro. The Puli Lunar Water Snooper developed by a Hungary-based team won the $30,000 first prize in the lunar resource potential category for its proposed device to detect hydrogen in the regolith. First place and another $30,000 for a proposed environmental instrument went to a U.S.-based team that developed a miniature x-ray spectrometer dubbed Sun Slicer to help monitor the sun’s active regions and lunar radiation.
To propel the 14 winning teams onto the next stage of development, NASA launched another challenge, Honey, I Shrunk the NASA Payload, the Sequel, in Fall 2020. This challenge was only open to those 14 winning teams, and winners are set to be announced in summer of 2022.
“Your success is our success, so we’re really, really pushing for your success,” Kempton told the winning teams in a webinar honoring the top teams. “I’m really looking forward to getting some of these payloads on the moon.”
Exploratory missions will help better understand what critical resources, like water and key minerals, are already available on the lunar surface, as well as potentially harmful environmental conditions like radiation.
Because of the extremely tight timeline for NASA’s Artemis missions, HeroX would have to design and launch this challenge faster than any in its history!