Lunar unboxing: Space service can't unload lunar payloads

Getting stuff to the moon is hard. Turns out the trickier part might be unloading it.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

So you've sent a payload to the moon. How, exactly will you unload it?

No really ... NASA is asking. How?!

That question undergirds a new lunar delivery competition, open to the public, from the NASA Tournament Lab and NASA's https://www.nasa.gov/langley. In conjunction with the vaunted Artemis program, which seeks to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon in 2024 in advance of establishing a sustained human presence on the moon, the competition seeks to solve a tricky problem: Unloading supplies that arrive from earth.

The quotidian nature of the problem underscores the difficulties of working in space, where even seemingly straightforward problems are incredibly difficult, even life threatening. In the next decade, NASA believes it will be continuously sending payloads to the lunar surface, which means it has to figure out its logistics game across a variety of cargo types. Rovers and building materials need to be shipped, and so do small instruments and delicate materials. What's the best system to handle it all to ensure door-to-door delivery across tens of thousands of miles?

"We are looking for broad concepts from the public, so this is not an engineer-specific challenge. We want to hear from everyone," says Paul Kessler, Aerospace Vehicle Design and Mission Analyst, NASA. "We are interested in concepts that range from simple to complex. We don't yet know what will work best, and that's why we're interested in every proposal. We are excited to see what people have to offer and to have them contribute to NASA's ambitious mission. This is the stuff that makes history."

The competition is being run in coordination with HeroX, which bills itself a social network for innovation and the world's leading platform for crowdsourced solutions.

"Replicating our everyday activities on the Moon continues to be a challenge. Finding ways to do these things in a lunar environment is crucial to the success of a sustained human presence on the Moon," says Christian Cotichini, CEO, HeroX. "The unloading of payloads is a critical part of that overall effort. NASA hopes it can once again leverage the brilliance of the crowd so that astronauts have access to the equipment and supplies they need."

The competition will award up to six participants a total prize purse of $25,000, plus the chance to directly influence space logistics during a crucial age of space exploration.

Editorial standards