I’m interested in responding to the Orbital Alchemy Challenge. What do I need to do to participate?

To be considered, submit a response before the deadline, May 27, 2022 by 8 pm Eastern Time. 

An eligible response consists of a brief descriptive paper (up to 8 pages in length), along with your contact information and a completed participation agreement. 

We’ve provided a template to help you build your response, but you are not required to use that template. You are welcome to craft your own paper.

A response may optionally include a pitch video, with maximum length of 60 seconds.

In the participation agreement, I’m given the option to opt out of a financial prize. How does that work?

People and organizations choose to participate in Challenges for a variety of reasons: some want the prize money, some just like the challenge, and some hope to develop their idea into a viable product or business. 

Accepting a financial prize means that NASA gains rights to the idea proposed. However, some universities prohibit their researchers from participating in Challenges due to that fact. Likewise, companies may be actively commercializing or marketing their technology. As a result, the potential respondent in some cases may choose not to participate in the Challenge. 

We created the option to forgo a financial prize in order to give researchers and companies who would otherwise opt out of participating a chance to engage with NASA and showcase their solutions, without giving NASA a license to their associated intellectual property. We strongly encourage all potential respondents to carefully consider the regulations and expectations of their respective institutions when deciding to accept or forgo prize money. 

Further, whether you accept a prize or not, all respondents may earn the opportunity to pitch at Defense TechConnect in the fall of 2022.

Is the pitch video required?

No, the video component of the response form is entirely optional. The video could be a brief animation of your technology in action, an introduction to your team, or whatever else you think might be informative or persuasive to the judging panel. The only limit is the duration: the maximum length of any uploaded video is 60 seconds.

What information should I include in my response?

Your response should present engaging and compelling information regarding your approach or technology. Additionally, all information must be non-confidential. Focus on the performance of your technology. The goal of your response is to present interesting details about your approach, focusing on the topics covered by the evaluation criteria.

You are welcome to embed text, graphics, images, or charts with your submission. When determining what content to include, be sure to select only pieces of information that directly relate to the challenge, are powerful and engaging, and provide valuable insight into your approach.

Any response which includes confidential or proprietary information, or which plagiarizes, is ineligible for consideration and will be disqualified.

Can I include images in my response?

Absolutely! Images, charts, or other graphics are great ways to convey information to the evaluator, and we encourage you to embed them in your attached paper. Just be certain that the information provided is non-confidential and fits within the 8-page limit.

Am I required to use the response template?

No, you are not required to use the provided response template, though we strongly recommend it. The response template provides useful guideposts for creating a persuasive response, as it provides respondents with specific questions about their approach or technology.

How many pages should my response include?

The response must be submitted as a PDF. The maximum length for a response is eight (8) 8.5 inch x 11 inch pages, with margins no smaller than 1 inch, and fonts no smaller than 12 point (10 point in figures and tables), plus additional pages for contact information. Please note: content in excess of eight pages will be redacted and will not be evaluated by the judging panel.

Why do I have to bother with the response form? Just have NASA call me!

The intent of the response form is to collect comparable information from all respondents so that the judging panel can make informed comparisons and decisions. A response that simply indicates, “call me for information,” is neither persuasive nor compelling.

Can someone from NASA or TechConnect review my response before I submit it?

We’re not able to provide feedback to prospective respondents. We recommend seeking reviewers from your personal or professional circles. Ask family, friends, or colleagues to read and critique your response before you submit. While informal reviewers might not be NASA professionals, they may be able to strengthen your response by finding weak points.

Can I change my mind about accepting or rejecting prize money from this challenge?

During the submission process, we ask respondents to make a decision regarding their particular interests and desires regarding the eligibility for prize money. Once the response is submitted, that decision becomes binding for that particular submission. Individuals and teams may submit more than one response, although each response must be novel and distinct; and each response may have a different choice regarding the eligibility for prize money.

Do I need to indicate which launch vehicle will be used to get my technology into orbit?

No, you do not. For the purposes of this challenge, just focus on the anticipated performance of your recycling technology in orbit.

Do I need to include how my technology will secure itself to the target?

Unless the method for securing the target to the recycler is a crucial part of your technology, it is not necessary to describe how the recycler will latch on.

For the purposes of this challenge, it can be assumed that the target spacecraft is in the optimal orbit and orientation to facilitate processing.

Are there size, mass, or power limits that I should keep in mind when designing my recycling system?

The goal here is to generate promising new approaches for recycling objects in orbit. As a consequence, no specific mass, volume, or power constraints will be provided. Bear in mind, however, as the mass of the recycling satellite goes up, so do launch costs. The more mass for the recycling technology, the more a recycler must be able to process in order to be economically viable.

To assist with calculations, here are some very rough numbers around which a response could be created:

  • Payload mass: maximum of 20,000 kilograms
  • Payload volume: maximum of 400 cubic meters
  • Electrical power: maximum of 240 kW from  any source of safe, sustainable on-orbit power

You are not required to keep your solution within these numbers; they are for reference only.

Can student groups participate in this Challenge?

Absolutely! The Orbital Alchemy Challenge is open to almost everyone.  See the official rules for limitations. Participants who are under the age of 18 need to have a parent or guardian complete the Minor Participation Agreement and be sure to have someone over the age of 18 submit the response online before the deadline.

All participants in the Orbital Alchemy Challenge are required to provide proof of citizenship as part of the submission process.

What documents can I use to prove citizenship?

Acceptable forms of proof include RealID driver’s license, passport, or a national ID card. Additionally, certificates of birth, citizenship or naturalization are also acceptable.

When providing proof of citizenship, the only information we need to see is:

  • First and last name of the participant
  • Date of birth
  • Issuing government agency or department
  • Expiration date, if applicable

All other information on the proof of citizenship may be redacted, covered or otherwise obscured from view. Once awards are made and accepted, all documents pertaining to proof of citizenship will be destroyed.

If I have an idea of how to reuse a spacecraft, is that of interest in this challenge?

Since the purpose of this challenge is to solicit ideas for recycling spacecraft, submissions which detail approaches to use existing spacecraft for new missions or which seek to reactivate dormant spacecraft will not be considered.

What is “safing”?

Safing, or safety operations, refers to actions or technology used to properly and safely secure a spacecraft for further operations. In this case, safing includes removal of fuels, stored gasses or electrical energy.

Securing these sources of energy reduces the risks of other recycling operations and is also potentially a source of recycled material itself.

How much does it currently cost to launch a satellite into orbit?

While launch costs vary depending on many different parameters, a rough estimate of $1,000 per pound is a reasonable assumption.

What does it mean that a satellite recycling solution is “sustainable”?

A sustainable solution is one that provides the ability to cost-effectively recycle as much mass as possible, ideally from multiple spacecraft. Additionally, it should do so with minimal support from Earth, especially in terms of additional launches.

Why is NASA doing this Challenge? Is NASA trying to make money off of space recycling?

The purpose of this Challenge is to spur ideation and interest in potential technologies to recycle spacecraft while in orbit. By doing so, NASA is hoping to facilitate the development of on-orbit spacecraft recycling and manufacturing industries.

By US federal statute, NASA is not able to profit from this or any other space operations.

What are the NASA Technology Readiness Levels?

NASA published something explaining them here. An excerpt that may be helpful in defining a TRL:

“In the research and development world, ideas are like schoolchildren. All new technologies must pass through a number of grades before they are declared ready for graduation. At NASA, as in the rest of the research community, these grades are called technology readiness levels, or TRLs. Each TRL represents the evolution of an idea from a thought, perhaps written on a cocktail napkin or the back of an envelope, to the full deployment of a product in the marketplace.”

Learn more about the details of each level here: https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/458490main_TRL_Definitions.pdf

Do I need to include citations with my submission?

As far as citations go, they will be considered to be part of the submission content and therefore subject to the page limitation. That said, inclusion of citations is not required.

While I’m not a US citizen, I am a permanent resident. Can I participate in this Challenge?

Yes, permanent residents of the United States are eligible to participate. When completing your submission documentation, please be sure to include proof of your residency status.

How can I find a detailed design description of a target orbiting spacecraft?

To develop a credible response to this challenge, participants should know how large spacecraft are constructed. Therefore, you may wish to identify a large spacecraft and learn as much as you can about its construction and design. We provided initial links to a few example spacecraft on the background page. Note that, since spacecraft designs may be proprietary and export controlled, it may be difficult to find a detailed design description of a specific spacecraft. Further, orbital recycling solutions targeted to the design of a specific spacecraft may be inflexible in handling multiple targets. A more robust approach might include strategies to handle a variety of spacecraft designs, perhaps even without detailed prior design knowledge.