Sorry, this is not about a Pink Floyd concert. Put your glow sticks away. To be more accurate, I should say, the permanently shadowed regions (PSR) of the Moon. The far side of the Moon sees its fair share of the Sun’s rays, but there are areas that are shrouded in darkness near its polar regions.
NASA is interested in probing these dark areas to see what they can find. It’s believed these dark, cold areas contain crystalline ice. Water is necessary for humans and it’s expensive to transport. A local well of water would cut down on cost and make a lunar installment more self-sufficient. Water is also important for making fuel, saving on another pricey resource to launch into space. Before NASA puts another person on the Moon, they want to investigate these mysterious areas, but they don’t want to spend a lot of money.
Every year the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) hosts the BIG Idea Challenge (BIG) in partnership with NASA. BIG aims to challenge the academic community to solve problems presented by future NASA missions. Teams of undergraduates and graduate students at accredited US-based universities officially affiliated with the Space Grant Consortium can participate. This year, students have the opportunity to design a sample payload as well as build and test the equipment. The long term goal is to test the instrument on the Moon.
There are few constraints on the teams, they only need to address one of three focus areas: Exploration of the PSRs in the polar regions; technologies to support lunar in-situ resource utilization in a PSR; or capabilities to explore and operate in a PSR. They plan to provide the resources for 5 to 10 teams to build their proposed idea for a test run on terra ferma. The max award is $180k, though they expect to give a wide spread of award amounts, some small and others at the high end.
It’s a low-budget, call for proposals from the academic community that will hopefully bear fruit for future NASA missions. With a wide variety of challenges, choosing a handful of teams will help NASA come up with solutions that tackle these issues from many angles.
NASA wants to send people back to the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis mission. It’s a tight time frame that NASA can’t accomplish on its own, nor can they afford to. With the help of academics, they hope to speed up the process with innovative new ideas.