NASA is seeking public designs for the Ultralight Starshade Structural Design Challenge

Searching the universe for Earth-like planets is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

To further this exploration, NASA is supporting the preliminary study of a hybrid observatory concept that would combine a ground-based telescope with a space starshade. These devices block star glare when observing planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, from the ground. The Hybrid Observatory for Earth-like Exoplanets (HOEE) would convert Earth’s largest telescopes into the most powerful planet finders ever – and the public has the opportunity to be part of this groundbreaking endeavor.

The Ultralight Starshade Structural Design Challenge asks participants to develop a lightweight starshade structure that could be used as part of the HOEE concept. The ideal design would allow for compact packaging and successful deployment once in Earth orbit. It must also have the lowest possible mass so that chemical thrusters can keep it aligned during observations and propulsion systems can alter its orbit to observe different targets, while using as little fuel as possible.

One way to locate an exoplanet in the vast darkness of space and determine its potential habitability is to observe the light it reflects as it orbits its star. This light is influenced by the surface minerals, oceans, continents, weather, vegetation and gases that make up its atmosphere. But the star often produces glare when observing planets from ground-based telescopes, disrupting observations. Starshades casts a dark shadow on the star without blocking light from its planets, giving observers a better view.

“The hybrid observatory could help us answer some of the most pressing questions about extraterrestrial life,” said Dr. John Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead scientist on the project. for the James Webb Space Telescope. “Observing many systems would help answer the question of why setups like ours are rare and why none are quite like ours. It’s really exciting that the public can be part of this effort. I can’t wait to see what ideas they bring to the table.

The top five submissions will share a $7,000 prize. The competition deadline is August 22. The challenge is administered by GrabCAD. For more information on the challenge, visit: LINK

This competition supports the NIAC (Nasa Innovative Advanced Concepts) study of the HOEE concept. The NASA Tournament Lab, part of the Prizes, Challenges and Crowdsourcing program, is managing the challenge. The program supports public competitions and crowdsourcing as tools to advance NASA research and development and other mission needs. NIAC and the Awards, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program are part of NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate.

Learn more about opportunities to participate in your space program through NASA Prizes and Challenges at: http://www.nasa.gov/solve

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