Nasa is inviting the public to provide the agency with ideas for a lunar cargo unloading system as part of a mission to launch a lunar surface crew and cargo mission. The agency has awarded SpaceX, Dynetics and National Team a $967 million contract to design and develop lunar landers that will form the backbone of the Artemis program and will take over the unloading system once the spacecraft lands on the moon. NASA is accepting the idea for the system on the crowdsage platform HeroX. Paul Kessler, NASA’s spacecraft design and mission analyst, answered some of the concerns in an interview. Mr. Kessler explained the purpose of NASA’s Lunar Delivery Challenge, how the agency will use the winning design, and whether the private sector will be involved in working with NASA to develop selected offloaders.
Paul Kessler says the payload offloader program is a crowdsort challenge to try to inform the public, especially those with experience on Earth. Because it will work with NASA’s Artemis program, NASA needs to place many objects on the moon’s surface. Now that NASA is doing this, part of NASA’s goal is to reach out to new areas and see broader perspectives that are beyond the typical box NASA might think of.
Paul Kessler says NASA will also sign contracts with private companies to design solutions that it believes will be a combination of crowdsort challenges. Some contractors want to do it, too, and NASA believes they will have their own ideas. The current plan is to trade NASA stuff for their concepts and ideas. NASA wants to use and understand what these concepts are, so NASA will contact the individuals who won the challenge. NASA has plans to use these discussions as part of the challenge, and making the most of their ideas is a goal.
NASA’s current plan is that NASA will work with all the winners, so NASA will have different support. It will include all the awards, so all the awards will be considered by NASA. On the question of when the cargo processing system will reach the moon’s surface, Paul Kessler said some of the payloads sent there could be science, inspectors, and larger aircraft and human habitats. To that end, it will likely be used for multiple missions from 2025. So NASA believes that a lot of analysis is under way to determine what the requirements are. NASA has many different ideas.
The winner of the Lunar Cargo Unloading System Challenge will receive $10,000 in prize money, with two second- and third-place finishes at $4,500 and $2,000 respectively. Submissions must be uploaded to the HeroX website by 05:00 EST on 19 January 2020. HeroX will determine the winner after NASA’s assessment.