NASA offering up to $180,000 to students that can solve this problem

NASA has a BIG problem that it aims to find a solution to via University Students by its annual BIG program. This year, NASA’s annual BIG (Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Ideas Challenge) program is focusing on solving the problem of lunar dust.

Lunar dust is very different from dust on Earth. Dust on the moon sticks to almost any surface and can scratch/damage sensitive equipment. How is that so, if it’s just dust? Well, unlike Earth, the moon doesn’t have a thick atmosphere to protect it from incoming meteors that cause giant craters, creating clouds of dust. There are also no winds on the lunar surface that can smoothen/soften rocks and lunar soil. This causes dust on the moon to be sharp and dangerous.

NASA’s Artemis program focuses on landing American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, back on the Moon by 2024. | Image: NASA
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NASA is searching for students that can find solutions to prevent lunar dust from reaching places it doesn’t want it to go when sending manned missions to the moon. With NASA accelerating the development of the Artemis program, the focus of this year’s BIG program is apt. The program is called “Dust Mitigation Technologies for Lunar Applications.” NASA has detailed four aspects that it wants students to focus on and develop solutions for:

  1. Landing Dust Prevention and Mitigation – to preclude or protect from plume/surface interactions which may result in damaged landers and nearby surface assets.
  2. Spacesuit Dust Tolerance and Mitigation – to limit dust adherence to spacesuits and other deleterious effects to its subsystems.
  3. Exterior Dust Prevention, Tolerance, and Mitigation -to protect lunar surface systems or preclude dust from entering habitats and landers
  4. Cabin Dust Tolerance and Mitigation – to clean habitable volumes and their interior surfaces, which helps prevent dust from making it back to Gateway and Orion when the lander returns to lunar orbit from the surface

NASA will be selecting five to ten teams via a panel of judges, granting those teams $180,000 to test and develop their proposed solution. Students can join the competition in teams of 5-25 from graduate or undergraduate, from accredited institutions in the US. However, NASA also requires that the college/university should be affiliated with the Space Grant Consortium for their respective states, The Science Times reports.

If you have a team and intend on competing, you need to send NASA a notice of intent by September 25, 2020. The deadline for final proposal submissions is December 13. “This competition gives students an unparalleled opportunity as members of the Artemis generation to help overcome the historically challenging technical obstacles of mitigating lunar dust,” Niki Werkheiser (program executive for NASA’s Game Changing Development program) says.

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