NASA Seeks Lunar Cubesat Challenge

NASA CENTENNIAL CHALLENGES PROGRAM – SMALL SPACECRAFT CHALLENGES

Solicitation Number: NNH14STMD002L; Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Office: Headquarters; Location: Office of Procurement (HQ)

The Centennial Challenges Program is NASA’s flagship program for technology prize competitions (www.nasa.gov/challenges). The program is an integral part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. The Centennial Challenges Program directly engages the public, academia, and industry in open prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies that have benefit to NASA and the nation. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech .

The Centennial Challenges program is seeking input on two challenges being considered for start in 2014. Both challenges would be to design, build, and deliver flight-qualified small spacecraft capable of advanced operations near the moon and beyond.

The purposes of this RFI are: (1) to gather feedback on the two competitions being considered, the prize amounts and distribution structure, (2) to determine the level of interest in potentially competing in these challenges, and (3) to understand the applicability of the challenge capabilities for other non-government applications.

The first challenge will focus on finding innovative solutions to deep space communications with small spacecraft, while the second focuses on primary propulsion for small spacecraft. Together, these challenges are expected to contribute to opening deep space exploration to non-government spacecraft for the first time.

The proposed challenges would be NASAs first prize competitions demonstrated and competed in deep space and potentially would be carried into trans-lunar trajectory of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) on the first launch (EM-1) of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion planned for late 2017.

Responses should be submitted in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word format and are limited to five (5) pages in length. Responses should include (as applicable): name, address, email address, and phone number of the respondent, business, or organization, with point of contact for business or organization.

This RFI is seeking feedback on the competition phases, the prize amounts and distribution structure, and/or interest in competing in any or all phases of this Challenge. Comments must be submitted in electronic form no later than March 31, 2014 to Dr. Larry Cooper at e-mail address: HQ-STMD-CentennialChallenges@mail.nasa.gov. Use Deep Space Spacecraft Challenges on the Subject line.

NASA welcomes all segments of industry, academia, and government, including associations, innovators, and enthusiasts to reply to this RFI. This RFI is for informational/planning purposes only and the Government will not be responsible for any cost associated with preparing information in support of this RFI. This RFI is NOT to be construed as a commitment by the government to enter into any agreement or other obligation or to conduct small spacecraft challenges. This notice is issued in accordance with the NASA Prize Authority, 51 U.S.C. 20144. Responses may be made available for public review and should not include proprietary information. Submitted information will be shared within NASA and with contractor personnel associated with the NASA Centennial Challenges Program. All responses are to be for general access by government reviewers.

For general information on the NASA Centennial Challenges Program see: http://www.nasa.gov/challenges . The point of contact is Dr. Larry Cooper, Program Executive, Centennial Challenges Program, NASA Headquarters.

1.0 BACKGROUND

NASA is considering initiating two challenges to incentivize development of deep space science and exploration capabilities for small spacecraft, including CubeSats, with the intention of broadening the national capability to support future exploration architectures. The CubeSat small satellite form factor will be used for these competitions. It offers many potential advantages for future space applicationswhether for public or private useincluding: low cost, small size and mass, and easier integration with launch vehicles through the use of standardized deployment canisters. Advancements in small spacecraft capabilities may not only provide benefit to future missions, but may enable entirely new mission scenarios.

To date, CubeSat communications technology has been limited to low-bandwidth data communications in near-Earth orbits. CubeSats often use low power / low-gain communications subsystems, unique protocols, or amateur radio wavelengths not suitable for advanced science missions in the remote distances of deep space. Also, developers are only starting to introduce limited in-space propulsion systems to CubeSats. These two challenges seek to solve these problems and, by demonstrating fully functional spacecraft near the moon and beyond, establish precedent for all the subsystems necessary for deep-space exploration with small spacecraft.

2.0 CHALLENGE DESCRIPTION

NASAs two challenges would provide competitive opportunities for competition teams to deploy CubeSats on a NASA provided launch that could include Exploration Mission (EM-1) of SLS. Challenge 1 would award prizes in three areas: 1) ground demonstration of communications subsystem performance and acceptance for launch vehicle integration; 2) the highest data volume (bit error corrected) transmitted from and uplinked to a CubeSat within a prescribed period of time from at least 356,700 km (the minimum distance to the moon); and 3) the transmission of a prescribed small data set to the farthest distance beyond the moon and back to Earth. Challenge 2 (to be run concurrently with the Challenge I) would also award prizes in three areas: 1) ground demonstration of propulsion subsystem performance and acceptance for launch vehicle integration; 2) the first CubeSat to achieve a verifiable lunar orbit; and 3) verifiable achievement of at least a prescribed minimum number of lunar orbits.

3.0 DRAFT CHALLENGE RULES AND COMPETITION STRUCTURE

Based upon responses to this RFI, NASA plans to develop detailed written challenge rules (Rules). The Rules will include specific milestones, entrance, review and acceptance criteria, and prize award criteria. The final Rules would be the official specification of the competition structure.

Possible Launch Opportunity and Trajectory

The first Exploration Mission (EM-1) of NASAs Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) is currently planned for December 2017. This mission will be designed to insert Orion into a distant retrograde orbit of the moon, then to return to Earth. NASA intends to include a number of CubeSats as secondary payloads on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). They will be deployed after separation of the Orion from the ICPS. The spacecraft will be deployed on the trans-lunar trajectory of the ICPS. Details of the mission concept and secondary payload accommodations and constraints are currently in planning. It is anticipated for these challenges that CubeSats of up to 14 kilograms and 6U form factor will be allowed.

Milestones and Phases

As currently envisioned, challenge competitors will develop their CubeSat, and then must successfully complete a series of reviews and ground based hardware tests, to be accepted for launch vehicle integration. Collectively these reviews and ground tests constitute Phase A of the challenges. All teams that meet all Phase A requirements will receive Phase A prizes. Phase B of the challenges will begin after the competitor spacecraft are separated from the launch vehicle. Selection for inclusion in Phase B will be based on team ranking according to the performance of their systems in the Phase A ground tests.

Phase A Competition:

1. There would be initial Critical Design Review (CDR) of each Challenge contender, to assess concepts and progress. These would be scheduled with each competitor independently and would have to be completed by December 31, 2014. 2. A Flight Safety Review in late 2015 to mid 2016 would be conducted to determine that each CubeSat had passed the prescribed flight and safety qualification analyses and tests. The purpose of the Flight Safety Review is to ensure that the CubeSat payloads meet launch vehicle interface requirements and pose no threat to the launch vehicle. Any CubeSat that did not meet the published flight and safety qualification criteria would not proceed to the Flight Readiness Review. 3. A Flight Readiness Review (FRR) would be conducted for each competitor by the first quarter 2017, prior to launch vehicle integration. Each challenge competitor would present their final flight design and demonstrate required minimum TBD technical performance requirements of their communication and/or propulsion systems. Performance requirements for Challenge 1 are focused on communications capabilities, while requirements for Challenge 2 are focused on propulsion capabilities.

Phase B Competition (for those selected from Phase A)

1. Payload delivery for integration will take place between first and second quarter 2017. Payload integration with the launch vehicle will likely take place mid-2017. No access to the CubeSats will be allowed after integration. CubeSats will be inactive until after the Orion separation. 2. Mission Operations Phase: Planned for late 2017, the CubeSats will launch and be deployed into a lunar flyby trajectory. CubeSat operations may start after a prescribed number of minutes delay after deployment, for safety separation from the ICPS and MPCV.

Challenge 1 (communications performance) will begin once all CubeSats have achieved a distance from Earth of 356,700 km (equivalent to the minimum lunar orbit distance) and will be will be judged for Award 1 after launch + 14 days (see Award structure outlined below). Results for Award 2 will be judged after no transmissions are received from any CubeSat during a span of 28 consecutive days (i.e., 28 days after the last CubeSat is heard from), or at most launch + 365 days, which ever occurs first.

Challenge 2 (propulsion performance) Award 1 and Award 2 (see Award structure outlined below) results will be judged no later than 365 days after launch.

Payload Requirements

NASA is currently considering a requirement that all competitors accommodate a NASA-provided science instrument payload (payload) in each CubeSat. The purposes of the payload are to a) generate data to be transmitted by CubeSats for these challenges, and b) demonstrate the utility of CubeSats in deep space for scientific investigations. The NASA-provided payload is estimated to fit in approximately 1U CubeSat volume. Details of the payload and interface requirements would be published in the Competition Rules.

Constraints

1) To encourage innovation in both the space- and ground-elements of CubeSat communications capabilities, the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN), Near Earth Network (NEN), and all other government-run ground stations may not be used to meet requirements any of the competition prizes of these challenges. 2) Any single ground station radio frequency (RF) dish antenna used for the prizes of these challenges must be no larger than 20 meters in diameter (314.2 square meters in area or less). 3) NASA will prescribe the format, content, minimum data volume, and maximum allowable Bit Error Rates (TBD) of the data to be transmitted by competing CubeSats and ground stations for the purpose of the challenge rules. NASA will specify the respective start date/times and the end date/times for data transmissions that are allowed under the rules of these challenges. 4) Rules will specify what constitutes verifiable achievement of lunar orbit. Constraints may include maximum allowable eccentricity, minimum number of complete lunar orbits, and minimum orbital duration before escape or impact with the moon. The rules will also specify what evidence or measures are required to demonstrate successful achievement of a lunar orbit.

Awards

NASA plans to offer the following prizes, for Challenge I (communications performance) and Challenge II (propulsion performance):

Challenge 1 Prizes:

a. Phase A: Communication Subsystem – Ground Demonstration and Selection for Launch. TBD $ will be awarded to all teams that meet all requirements to be selected for launch vehicle integration, based on ground demonstrations of (at least) a communications subsystem meeting TBD minimum requirements, while meeting all specified safety and launch vehicle interface requirements.

b. Phase B – Award 1: Largest Amount of Data Transmitted from Distance of Lunar Orbit. TBD $ will be awarded to the team that proceeds to at least 356,700 km from Earth and transmits (round trip, Earth to CubeSat and return) the largest volume of data over a prescribed period of time (a number of days) on or before a prescribed deadline date . In addition TBD $ will be divided amongst all teams that exceed the minimum data volume requirement within the prescribed time period and deadline.

c. Phase B – Award 2: Last CubeSat Standing (Farthest CubeSat Transmission to Earth). TBD $ will be awarded to the very last team to reliably transmit (round trip, Earth to CubeSat and return) a prescribed small set of data (TBD) (i.e., the CubeSat that receives and transmits from the farthest distance to Earth). The prize will be awarded once no transmissions are received from any CubeSat over a span of 28 (TBD) consecutive days (i.e., TBD days after the last CubeSat heard from), or at most launch + 365 days, whichever occurs first. In the event that the last successful transmission by more than one team is on the same date, then those teams will split this Award.

Challenge 2 Prizes

d. Phase A: Propulsion Subsystem Ground Demonstration and Selection for Launch. TBD $ will be awarded to all teams that meet all requirements to be selected for launch vehicle integration, based on ground demonstrations of (at least) a propulsion subsystem meeting TBD minimum requirements, while meeting all specified safety and launch vehicle interface requirements. e. Phase B – Award 1: First CubeSat to Achieve Lunar Orbit. TBD $ will be awarded to the first team that successfully achieves TBD lunar orbits (as prescribed TBD) on or before a prescribed end-of-competition date (launch date + 365 days). f. Phase B – Award 2: Runner-up CubeSats to Achieve Lunar Orbit. TBD $ will be divided amongst all teams that achieve TBD lunar orbits (as prescribed TBD) and exceed the minimum (TBD) number of orbits/duration of lunar orbits, on or before a prescribed end-of-competition date (launch date + 365 days).

In the event that one team wins more than one Prize topic in either challenge, all applicable prizes will be awarded to that team. In the event that two or more teams tie for any Prize topic, awards will be split equally among the tying teams.

4.0 INFORMATION SOUGHT

NASA seeks information and comments on the following:

a. Competition Name Please suggest official names that best, succinctly, characterize these Centennial Challenges. Please provide comments on how the naming could increase the public interest in the prize competition. What other actions should be taken to increase public interest?

b. Competition Milestones and Phases What should the durations of the competitions be? When should the distance and lunar orbit competitions begin and end? How could the Milestones and Phases be better structured?

c. Competition Awards NASA anticipates that up to $5,000,000 in prizes will be divided between the two challenges. What should the award levels be for each challenge? How could be the award levels and distribution structure best incentivize participation?

d. Launch Selection What are alternatives and merits of specific approaches for selecting which competitors are selected for the launch opportunity (e.g. when and how should ground test communications demonstration or a propulsion subsystem demonstration be conducted for the purpose of selecting which CubeSats to launch)? What are your limits on orbit elements at the time of separation of the CubeSat from the launch vehicle?

e. Competition Performance, Tracking and Distance Determination

Challenge 1 – Communications Are there aspects of the challenge competition metrics that should be added, modified, or deleted? What are the useful considerations for minimum data volume, format, and Bit Error Rates? How can competitors demonstrate genuine transmission and reception of valid data within the allowed dates/times, allowed by the rules of these challenges? What should be the required parameters for lunar orbit? How should achievement of lunar orbit be determined? Should distance from Earth that data is successfully transmitted be a factor considered in Awards? And if so, how would absolute distance be determined and verified?

Challenge 2 – Propulsion What should the required parameters for Lunar Orbit be? How do you recommend that achievement of lunar orbit be determined? It may be determined that pressurized fuel vessels over a TBD pressure level would not be allowed to be included in CubeSats integrated with the launch vehicle, thus perhaps precluding certain CubeSat chemical propulsion solutions. How can NASA encourage innovation in CubeSat propulsion systems, with a fair competition that might include both high-thrust and low-thrust concepts (such as Solar Electric Powered thrusters or solar sails)? NASA intends to release the CubeSats on a trans-lunar trajectory, details of which are TBD. What are your constraints on your initial spacecraft trajectory at the time of separation by NASA from the Launch Vehicle, for you to successfully achieve a stable lunar orbit? What Delta-V do you expect your spacecraft could generate?

f. Technology Development and Utilization What are the alternatives to the use of DSN or other government ground assets? What are the non-technical concerns regarding use of non-government ground communications assets? (For example: licensing, cooperation/coordination of private ground networks, etc.) Are there specific emerging breakthrough technologies that are applicable to the competition? Are there specific commercial space and/or non-space related applications for the capability? Are there ways to adjust the competition metrics that would assist with the synergy with commercial space and/or non-space applicability? Should NASA make the standardized science experiment optional or required for competitors? Are there concerns or other considerations regarding technical requirements (e.g. size, weight, power, data interfaces, etc.) for accommodating a NASA-provided science instrument payload?

g. Interest Are you interested in participating in these competitions? Are there barriers that can be addressed in the formulation of these challenges?

5.0 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

This RFI is seeking feedback on the competition phases, the prize amounts and distribution structure, and/or interest in competing in any or all phases of this Challenge. Comments must be submitted no later than March 31, 2014 to Dr. Larry Cooper at e-mail address: HQ-STMD-CentennialChallenges@mail.nasa.gov. Use Deep Space Spacecraft Challenges on the Subject line.

For general information on the NASA Centennial Challenges Program see: http://www.nasa.gov/challenges . The point of contact is Dr. Larry Cooper, Program Executive, Centennial Challenges Program, NASA Headquarters.

6.0 ELIGIBILITY TO PARTICIPATE IN CHALLENGES

In the event that NASA does initiate either or both of these challenges, NASA will post a public notice in the Federal Register. At that time, all individuals or entities that wish to participate in the challenges must register as members of a team and enter into an agreement with the designated challenge management organization. No teams will be accepted for these competitions that include foreign nationals who are not permanent residents of the United States. The sole exception is for U.S based educational institutions, which may have up to 50% foreign national students on their teams. No team members may be from countries listed on the NASA list of designated countries. (The current list of designated countries can be found at http://oiir.hq.nasa.gov/nasaecp/ ).

Teams cannot include any Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment. This includes any U.S. Government organization or organization principally or substantially funded by the Federal Government, including Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, Government-owned, contractor operated (GOCO) facilities, and University Affiliated Research Centers.

NASA and other federal agencies may work with and provide technical support to participating teams as long as it is done on an equitable basis. That is, similar requests are dealt with in a similar fashion, be it access to facilities, testing, scientific consultation, or other services. This does not obligate NASA or other federal agencies to provide the support. These services may be at no cost or on a cost reimbursable basis as determined by the subject federal agency in accordance with law and policy.

Registration and participation in a challenge does not entitle a participant to a NASA-funded prize. To be eligible to win a NASA funded prize, the competitor must (1) register and comply with all requirements in the rules and enter into a team agreement; (2) in the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States; and (3) shall not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.

:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters Acquisition Branch, Code210.H, Greenbelt, MD 20771
:
Dr Larry P Cooper, Program Executive for Centennial Challenges, Phone 202-358-1531, Fax 202-358-3223, Email HQ-STMD-CentennialChallenges@mail.nasa.govDr Larry P Cooper