NASA Centennial Challenges Program Life Detection Challenge Request for Information

Status Report From: Marshall Space Flight Center
Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2016

Solicitation Number: NNM17ZZPOO1L
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office: Marshall Space Flight Center
Location: Office of Procurement

General Information

Notice Type: Sources Sought
Posted Date: December 7, 2016
Response Date: Jan 27, 2017 11:59 pm Eastern
Archiving Policy: Manual Archive
Archive Date: -
Original Set Aside: N/A
Set Aside: N/A
Classification Code: A -- Research & Development
NAICS Code: 541 -- Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services/541712 -- Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences (except Biotechnology)


Added: Dec 07, 2016 2:46 pm


The Centennial Challenges Program is NASA's flagship program for technology prize competitions ( The program is an integral part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions. The Centennial Challenges Program directly engages the public, academia, and industry in open prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies that have benefit to NASA and the nation. For more information about NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: .

The Centennial Challenges program is seeking input on a life detection challenge proposed to start in 2017. The challenge focuses on building and demonstrating a scientific instrument capable of detecting evidence of Earth-type life in a small (10 mL) liquid sample provided to the instrument.

This RFI seeks: (1) to gather feedback on the competition being considered, including the challenge goal, prize amounts, and competition structure (including parameters and evaluation criteria); (2) to determine the interest level in potentially competing in this challenge; and (3) to determine the interest level in administering the challenge (as an allied organization). Specific information sought is detailed in Sections 5.

Responses should be submitted in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word format and are limited to five (5) pages in length. Responses should include (as applicable): name, address, email address, and phone number of the respondent, business, or organization, with point of contact for business or organization. Comments must be submitted in electronic form no later than 11:59 pm Eastern Time on January 27, 2017, to Ms. Monsi Roman at . Please use Life Detection Challenge RFI on the subject line.

NASA welcomes all segments of industry, academia, and government, including associations, innovators, and enthusiasts to reply to this RFI. This RFI is for informational/planning purposes only and the Government will not be responsible for any cost associated with preparing information in support of this RFI. This RFI is NOT to be construed as a commitment by the government to enter into any agreement or other obligation or to conduct a Life Detection Challenge. This notice is issued in accordance with the NASA Prize Authority, 51 U.S.C. § 20144. Responses may be made available for public review and should not include proprietary information. Submitted information will be shared within NASA and with contractor personnel associated with the NASA Centennial Challenges Program. All responses are to be for general access by government reviewers.

For general information on the NASA Centennial Challenges Program see: . The point of contact is Ms. Monsi Roman, Program Manager, Centennial Challenges Program, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.


NASA is considering a life detection challenge to incentivize the development and demonstration of scientific instruments capable of detecting evidence of life in a liquid sample.

The search for life beyond Earth has long been a priority for NASA. Our knowledge of the solar system has advanced to the point that we have identified the most likely areas to find such life, and planetary missions are poised to push toward the goal of actively seeking direct evidence of it. The challenge remains to identify measurement techniques that will a) robustly and convincingly detect evidence for extant life and b) operate within the constraints and environments expected for NASA missions. We seek to spur a demonstration of such scientific instruments on Earth to prove their ability to meet these challenges.


This Life Detector Challenge is currently contemplated as a single tiered challenge that would provide opportunities to evaluate a wide range of innovative methods to use a scientific instrument to search for evidence of life in a liquid sample. This challenge would seek to engage the scientific community, aerospace and biology industries, educational institutions, and amateurs to provide solutions. The Challenge would award prizes for successful demonstration of a scientific instrument that can detect life in liquid samples provided by NASA within the constraints shown in Table 1.

The Life Detector Challenge will be conducted as a head-to-head competition in two parts at a single location. In the first portion, participants will be given samples and then conduct their measurements. At least three hours will be allotted for data analysis after measurements are taken. In the second portion, participants will present their results and methodology to a panel of judges.

The following evaluation criteria are under consideration for determining award recipients:
• Accuracy of the instrument in determining the presence of life in all samples,
• Robustness of the methodology underpinning the instrument measurements and data analysis leading to the results as judged by the evaluation panel,
• Ability of the instrument to fit and operate within the key challenge requirements in Table 1.

Pending results from the RFI, the final challenge will be announced approximately in February 2017, with the challenge taking place near the end of 2017.

Table 1. Key Challenge Requirements
Instrument Volume 57,000 cm3
Instrument Mass 45 kg
Total Energy to analyze one sample 800 W-hrs
Peak Power 80 W
Sample 10 individual unfiltered liquid samples, each 10 mL in volume
Sensitivity Microbial abundance of 10 cells/mL or equivalent


Based upon responses to this RFI, NASA may develop detailed written challenge rules ("Rules"). The Rules would include specific milestones, entrance, review and acceptance criteria, and prize award criteria. The final Rules would be the official specification of the competition structure.


NASA suggests a reward of $2M split between teams that successfully meet all criteria. Should no teams successfully meet all criteria the award will be split between teams that are able to successfully meet a majority of the criteria. That majority must include the criterion to successfully identify samples containing life.

5. INFORMATION SOUGHT from Competitors

a) Competition Structure
• Please remark on the benefits/drawbacks of the preferred model of a simultaneous, head-to-head competition including measurements by instruments followed by presentation to the judges.
• Are there metrics beyond the Key Challenge Requirements in Table 1 and the evaluation criteria in Section 3 that should be incentivized in the scoring rubric or with bonuses, such as minimizing resources for the instrument, etc.
• What definition of life and/or biosignatures would you find convincing for use in this Challenge?

b) Competition Awards
• NASA is considering up to $2M in prizes. How could the award structure best incentivize participation and technical progress?
• Is the prize money sufficient to incentivize potential competitors?
• Please comment on the award scenario being considered. Are there other alternative scenarios that would provide greater incentives to compete?
• What other actions should be taken to increase public interest?

c) Interest and Readiness
• Are you interested in participating in this competition?
• Are there other barriers that can be addressed in the timelines, requirements, and formulation of these challenges?
• Do you have a concept on which to base an instrument?
• Do you have an instrument ready or nearly ready to participate in this Challenge?
• What level of development and investment is needed before your instrument is ready to participate in the Challenge?
• Are there specific emerging breakthrough technologies that are applicable to the competition?

d) Allied Organizations
• Are you interested in partnering with NASA to plan and execute the challenge as an "Allied Organization"?


This RFI seeks feedback on the competition phases, the prize amounts and distribution structure, and/or interest in competing in the Challenge. Comments must be submitted no later than 11:59 pm Eastern Time on January 27, 2017, to Ms. Monsi Roman at e-mail address: . Please use Life Detection Challenge RFI on the subject line.

For general information on the NASA Centennial Challenges Program see: . The point of contact is Ms. Monsi Roman, Program Manager, Centennial Challenges Program, Marshall Space Flight Center.


In the event that NASA does initiate this challenge, NASA will post a public notice in the Federal Register. At that time, all individuals or entities that wish to participate in the challenge must register as members of a team and enter into an agreement with the designated challenge management organization. Teams foreign and domestic may compete in the challenge, although teams that include foreign nationals who are not permanent residents of the United States may not receive prize money for these competitions. The sole exception is for U.S based educational institutions, which may have up to 50% foreign national students on their teams. No team members may be from countries listed on the NASA list of designated countries. (The current list of designated countries can be found at ).

Teams cannot include any Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment. This includes any U.S. Government organization or organization principally or substantially funded by the Federal Government, including Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, Government-owned, contractor operated (GOCO) facilities, and University Affiliated Research Centers.

NASA and other federal agencies may work with and provide technical support to participating teams as long as it is done on an equitable basis. That is, similar requests are dealt with in a similar fashion, be it access to facilities, testing, scientific consultation, or other services. This does not obligate NASA or other federal agencies to provide the support. These services may be at no cost or on a cost reimbursable basis as determined by the subject federal agency in accordance with law and policy.

Registration and participation in a challenge does not entitle a participant to a NASA-funded prize. To be eligible to win a NASA funded prize, the competitor must (1) register and comply with all requirements in the rules and enter into a team agreement; (2) in the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States; and (3) shall not be a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment.

Contracting Office Address:
NASA/George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Office of Procurement
Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama 35812
United States
Primary Point of Contact.:
Melinda E Swenson 
Phone: 2565440381

More information 

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