NASA 2017 Big Idea Challenge

NASA and NIA invite you and your students to participate in the 2017Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge!   TheBIG Idea Challenge is a university-level design competition sponsored by the Game Changing Development Program (GCD) within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA).

The 2017 BIG Idea Challenge calls for teams of 3-5 students to submit robust proposals for in-space assembly of spacecraft – particularly tugs, propelled by solar electric propulsion (SEP), that transfer payloads from low earth orbit (LEO) to a lunar distant retrograde orbit (LDRO). The proposals should be 8-10 pages in length.

The BIG Idea Challenge seeks new concepts for constructing 200kW class SEP tugs in space using robotic assembly of modules that make up the SEP tug. Proposals should design and analyze potential modular concepts and systems that provide the ability to construct large SE tugs in space. Concepts can employ new approaches for:

  • packaging modules in one or more launch vehicles that minimize launch loads,
  • modular (distributed) solar arrays and ion engines, and
  • robust robotic assembly (joining) of the modules that form the SEP tug.

For your convenience, we have developed a printable flyer for the 2017 BIGIdea Challenge that contains full design guidelines and constraints, and is ideal for posting in classrooms and departmental bulletin boards. Interested teams are encouraged to review the flyer carefully.  Full competition details, including design constraints and submission guidelines, can also be found on the BIG Idea Website (

Based on a review of the proposals, four (4) teams will be selected to submit full technical papers and present their concepts to a panel of NASA judges at the 2017 BIG Idea Forum at the NASA Langley Research Center, February 15 and 16, 2017, in Hampton, VA.

The final four qualifying teams will receive a $6,000 stipend to facilitate participation in the BIG Idea Forum.  The winning team will receive offers to participate in paid internships with the GCD team at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, where they can work toward further developing their concept under the mentorship of NASA experts.

It is my pleasure to invite your interested student teams and their faculty advisors to submit an online Notice of Intent by September 30, 2016 andsubmit proposals by November 30, 2016.

Important Dates:

September 30, 2016 –    Notice of Intent (NOI) deadline

November 30, 2016 –     Proposal deadline

December 15, 2016 –      Selection notifications will be made

February 7, 2017 –           Technical paper deadline for 4 qualifying teams

February 15-16, 20172017 BIG Idea Forum at NASA Langley Research Center

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the BIG Ideateam at