NIA News Release 2017-04: NASA Seeking BIG Ideas for Solar Power on Mars

NIA News Release 2017-04: NASA Seeking BIG Ideas for Solar Power on Mars

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                         July 24, 2017

Bianca Clark
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

NIA Release: 2017-04

NASA Seeking BIG Ideas for Solar Power on Mars

Missions to the surface of distant planetary bodies require power — lots of power.  Through the 2018 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge, NASA is enlisting university students in its quest for efficient, reliable and cost-effective solar power systems that can operate on Mars both day and night.

The teams will have until November to submit their proposals. Interested teams of three to five undergraduate and/or graduate students are asked to submit robust proposals and a two-minute video describing their concepts by Nov. 30.

NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) are seeking novel concepts that emphasize innovative mechanical design, low mass and high efficiency, with operational approaches that assure sustained power generation on the Mars surface for many years.

It’s not easy to harness the power of the sun from Mars. 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 goal is to have a reliable operating power source in place before astronauts ever step foot on the surface of Mars. That means solar array designs will need to fit compactly into a single cargo launch, have the capability to deploy robotically on the surface, and begin producing power soon after landing.

The 2018 BIG Idea Challenge invites teams and their faculty advisors to work together to design and analyze innovations in the design, installation, and sustainable operation of a large solar power system on the surface of Mars, in the following areas:

  • Novel packaging, deployment, retraction, and dust-abatement concepts
  • Lightweight, compact components including booms, ribs, substrates, and mechanisms
  • Optimized use of advanced ultra-lightweight materials and high efficiency solar cells
  • Validated modeling, analysis, and simulation techniques
  • High-fidelity, functioning laboratory models and test methods

From these proposals, NASA and industry experts will select four teams to continue developing their proposed concepts, submit a technical paper, and present their concepts in a face-to-face design review at the 2018 BIG Idea Forum, held at a NASA center in early March 2018. Each of these four teams will receive a $6,000 stipend to participate in the forum.

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.

For more information about the challenge, and details on how to apply, visit the BIG Idea website at:

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, go to:



Joe Atkinson
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

Shelley Spears
National Institute of Aerospace, Hampton, Va.

NASA Selects Top Three iTech Innovators for Continued Collaboration

The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) welcomed the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist and the top 10 finalists of the second cycle of NASA iTech at the iTech Forum July 10 –14th, 2017.  During the forum, finalists presented their innovative solutions to NASA’s potential challenges for deep space exploration and challenges here on Earth. Innovators outlined solutions within the challenge focus areas of Autonomy, Big Data: Data Mining and Machine Learning, Medical Systems and Operations, Radiation Protection and Mitigation, and a fifth category, X-Factor Innovations: Solutions for Unspecified Future Challenges. Out of the 10 finalists, the top 3 innovators — Context Medical, Children’s National Health System/Omniboros, and University of Houston— were chosen by a panel of subject matter experts based on their relevance, likelihood of achievement and potential positive impact to both space exploration and life on Earth.

Read the NASA feature and learn more information here,

National Institute of Aerospace Named in NonProfit Times 2017 Best Nonprofits to Work For


The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) was recently named one of NonProfit Times (NPT) Top 50 Best Nonprofits to Work For in the United States. The top 50 nonprofits are chosen from data compiled from thorough organizational assessments. Each participating nonprofit completes a questionnaire and employees are asked to complete a confidential survey to rate company performance in categories such as leadership, planning, corporate culture, communication, role satisfaction, work environment, and relationships with supervisors.  These survey categories have been identified by NPT’s Employee Benchmark Report as the top 10 key drivers for employee satisfaction and company success.  NIA was also named as one of the NPT Best Nonprofits to Work For in 2014.

For more information on the NonProfit Times visit,





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