NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) jointly announced the five teams participating in the finals of the Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. Each team is tasked with creating a concept for the installation, operation, or design of a large-scale solar power system for use on Mars ahead of the first human arrivals. The finalists were chosen based on judges’ reviews of competitive proposals from universities across the nation, with winning team members to receive a grand prize of paid summer internships at NASA.
The challenge presented the teams with a number of areas they could address that included: packaging and deployment, lightweight and compact components, functional and high-fidelity test methods and lab models, optimal use of advanced materials and solar cells, and validated analysis, modeling, and simulation techniques. Combining several of these areas into one design, the team from Princeton University presented their concept for Horus, a solar array taking inspiration from origami named after the Egyptian god of sunlight.
"Harvesting the sun's power for life, exploration and work on Mars is a critical hurdle in our journey to becoming a two-planet species," said the NIA’s director of education and outreach, Shelley Spears. “Engaging and challenging the next generation of bright minds to tackle this important technology gap moves us closer and closer to this goal. The excitement and enthusiasm the students bring to the opportunity is infectious and inspiring, and we are eager to see their final innovative engineering designs in March.”
The challenge serves a larger purpose as part of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), an initiative focused on rapidly maturing high-impact and innovative technologies for future NASA missions. For the next three months, the winning teams will further refine their ideas into technical papers, and later present their final ideas at the 2018 BIG Idea Forum on March 6th.
Beyond Princeton’s design, the other four finalists include:
- The University of Virginia, proposing a system of two carbon-dioxide filled balloons with flexible solar array blankets on their tops for minimal dust accumulation with maximum solar input.
- The University of Colorado, Boulder, with the Mars Autonomous and Foldable Solar Array (MAFSA), a central hub supporting four photovoltaic array segments on flexible booms.
- Texas A&M, with their Applied Photovoltaic Power Array (APPA), comprised of four 18-meter solar array umbrellas on tethered, telescoping booms.
- Norwich University, with the Norwich Inflatable Mars Solar Array (NIMSA), utilizing Mars’ carbon dioxide to inflate channels that deploy eight large solar panels from a central boom.