NASA Centennial Challenges Program, Sample Return Robot Virtual Challenge Request for Information

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

Solicitation Number: NNM17ZZP002L
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office: Marshall Space Flight Center
Location: Office of Procurement

General Information

Notice Type: Special Notice
Posted Date: December 8, 2016
Response Date: Jan 20, 2017 5:00 pm Eastern
Archiving Policy: Automatic, 15 days after response date
Archive Date: February 4, 2017
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 08, 2016 10:06 am


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 Sample Return Robot "virtual" challenge being considered for start in 2017. The Sample Return Robot Challenge seeks to develop new technologies or apply existing technologies in unique ways to create robots that can autonomously seek out samples and return to a designated point in a set time period. Robots will be required to navigate over unknown terrain, around obstacles, and in varied lighting conditions to identify, retrieve, and return these samples.

The purpose of this RFI is: (1) to gather feedback on the competition being considered, the prize amounts and distribution structure; (2) to determine the interest level in potentially competing in this challenge; and (3) gather feedback on the competition rules.

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.

This RFI is seeking feedback from potential challengers. Comments must be submitted in electronic form no later than 5:00 pm EDT, January 20, 2017 to Ms. Monsi Roman at e-mail address: . Use SRR Virtual Challenge 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 Sample Return Robot 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.


Collecting samples from the surface of Mars for return to earth presents some unique challenges. One scenario envisions a system that collects samples and returns them to a collection site for loading and returning to Earth. The goal of this challenge is to advance the state of the art in search, examination, and return of samples from places humans cannot go, including places like extraterrestrial bodies or sites of major disasters. The technology must reflect the ability without the aid of typical systems like GPS and compass that may not be available in these environments.

Currently, many searching robots are designed around specific, single tasks or environments and require a full-time operator to manage.


This challenge seeks to unify efforts by creating search algorithms and robots that can work in any setting (indoor/outdoor, no line of sight, varied lighting, and across major time delays) effectively and efficiently. The designs sought will be able to autonomously navigate an area, collect samples of interest, securely transport that sample for eventual return, and then move a significant distance away to sample a new area.

To succeed in this challenge, competitors will have to show that their designs are:

• Innovative - having developed new concepts, processes, and designs or use existing ones in unique ways
• Robust - capable of withstanding rigorous testing and use in a variety of atmospheres and conditions
• Extensible - able to be operated in different settings and scenarios without modification
Evaluation of each entry will be based on both the concept and actualization of their autonomous robotic design, with specific consideration given to their demonstrable solutions in the areas of Sample Identification, Sample Acquisition and Sterile Handling, Mapping and Localization, Search Methodology, and Global Strategy.


See attached document: Sample Return Robot Virtual Challenge Rules


Feedback is sought on the draft challenge rules (attached), specifically any rule modifications that would make the competition more appealing or that would further encourage technology development.

• Is the prize amount/structure sufficient to encourage competition?
• Would you/your organization be interested in competing in this challenge?
• What modifications to the rules would make the challenge more appealing to you?
• Are there other barriers that can be addressed in the timelines, requirements, and formulation of this challenge?
• Are there specific changes that could be made to make the rules more clear and concise?
• Do you have any comments to the competition format?
• Are the evaluation criteria sufficient? If not, how would you change them?

Responses can be submitted in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Word format and are limited to 5 pages in length. Responders should include: name, address, email address, and phone number of the respondent, business or organization with point of contact for business or organization.


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 and entities, which may have up to 50% foreign national members on their teams.

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.


This RFI seeks feedback on the competition rules and structure and/or interest in competing in any or all Challenge phases. Comments must be submitted no later than 5:00 pm Eastern Time on January, 20, 2017 to Ms. Monsi Roman at e-mail address: . Use SRR Virtual Challenge 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 at e-mail address: .

More information 

// end //

More status reports and news releases or top stories.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.