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Student participants at NASA's 2018 BIG Idea Challenge at the agency's Glenn Research Center.
Students participating in NASA's 2019 BIG Idea Forum at Langley Research Center.
The Northeastern University team tests their COBRA: Crater Observing Bio-inspired Rolling Articulator rover in the desert during the BIG Idea Forum Nov. 14-17, 2022.

NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge

The Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge is an engineering design competition that seeks innovative ideas from teams of undergraduate and graduate students, tackling new themes each year that support technologies needed to develop technology needed to support NASA’s exploration goals. Finalist teams receive up to $150,000 to build and test their concepts before presenting their projects to a panel of NASA and industry experts.  

Visit the BIG Idea Challenge website about NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge

“The BIG Idea Challenge proves time and time again
that engaging the academic community in complex technology
challenges is a worthwhile endeavor for everyone involved.”  

— Niki Werkheiser, Director of Technology Maturation,
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

Infographic showing how to compete in NASA's BIG Idea Challenge.
Participation is open to teams of undergraduate and graduate students at accredited U.S.-based colleges and universities officially affiliated with their state’s Space Grant Consortium.

NASA’s 2024 BIG Idea Challenge invites student innovators to build and demonstrate how their concepts can benefit future missions to the Moon and beyond. Inflatable systems could greatly reduce the mass and stowed volume of science and exploration payloads, which is critical for lowering delivery costs to deep space destinations. Student innovators have been invited to develop concepts for truly novel solutions for future space exploration.

Finalists will be selected by a panel of NASA and industry experts based on a proposal and video package that includes a specific, compelling mission scenario/use case where an inflatable system would be applicable and advantageous. The proposal package is due February 1, 2024, and non-binding notices of intent (NOI) can be submitted on a rolling basis until that deadline.

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate sponsors the BIG Idea Challenge through a collaboration between its Game Changing Development program, in coordination with the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, and NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement’s Space Grant project.  The BIG Idea Challenge is managed by a partnership between the National Institute of Aerospace and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on behalf of NASA.

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Past Challenges

Lunar Forge: Producing Metal Products on the Moon

NASA’s 2023 BIG Idea Challenge

The 2023 BIG Idea Challenge provided undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to design, develop, and demonstrate technologies that could enable the production of lunar infrastructure from ISRU-derived metals found on the Moon. Teams were invited to submit proposals that focused on any part of the metal product production pipeline from prospecting to testing. Key infrastructure products desired included storage vessels for liquids and gases, extrusions, pipes, power cables, and supporting structures (i.e., roads, landing pads, etc.).

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Illustration of an astronaut on the Moon working on metal forging
NASA’s 2023 BIG Idea Challenge asked college students to design technologies that could support a metal production pipeline on the Moon – from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and tools.
Credit: NASA/Advanced Concepts Lab