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NASA BIG Ideas Challenge Seeks Concepts for Solar Power on Mars

NASA has launched the BIG Ideas Challenge asking college students to submit ideas for efficient, reliable and cost-effective solar energy systems that can work on Mars day and night.

Managed by the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate and the National Institute of Aerospace, the Game Changing Development (GCD) Program is asking for proposals focused on mechanical design, low mass and high efficiency and sustained power generation on the Martian surface for years.

The BIG (for Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing) Ideas Challenge is looking for ideas in five areas:

  • Concepts related to packaging, deployment, retraction and dust-management;
  • Compact and lightweight components such as ribs, struts, booms and more;
  • Optimized use of advanced solar cells or ultra-lightweight materials;
  • Modeling, analysis and simulation techniques; and
  • Laboratory models and test methods.

"It's not easy to harness the power of the sun from Mars," according to a news release. "Depending on where spacecraft land, the angle and distance from the sun changes substantially during different seasons, affecting solar power flow management and performance. Martian dust is also a threat. It clings to everything on the surface and could form a blanket over solar panels."

The eventual design will have to fit inside a single cargo launch, be deployed by robots and begin producing power shortly after it arrives on the surface so that it is ready to go before astronauts ever land on the planet.

Teams of three to five graduate or undergraduate students must submit their proposals and a two-minute video before November 30. Four teams will be selected to continue working on their proposals and will receive a $6,000 stipend to attend the 2018 BIG Idea Forum in March to present their concepts.

"Student members from the BIG Idea Challenge winning team will receive offers to participate in paid summer internships at either NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, or Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where they will continue developing their concept under the mentorship of NASA experts," according to information released by NASA.

More information is available at

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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