Build robotic software for the moon with this NASA challenge

The space agency wants autonomous machines to help support long-term space exploration. Among the tasks: capturing resources on the lunar surface.
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(Getty Images)

NASA is seeking autonomous robots to help aid long-term space exploration.

Specifically, the space agency is interested in machines that will be able to use “local resources” on the lunar surface to supply human astronauts with basic supplies — water, food, propellants — for long missions. The robots must be able to act with little or no human intervention, so NASA is looking for help building software systems that will allow autonomy on the moon.

The agency has launched phase two of its Space Robotics Challenge, aiming to advance robotic autonomy in places where no GPS-style technology exists. The challenge is being organized by NASA and sponsored by “global resources company” BHP, with $1 million total in prize money up for the taking.

Registration for the challenge opened in mid-August, and will stretch through Dec. 20. The challenge will then take place in two rounds — a qualification round during which a top 25 teams will be chosen, and a competition round. The whole thing isn’t expected to wrap up until October 2021.


Phase one of the Space Robotics Challenge focused on improving the capabilities of NASA’s R5 robot. Winners were announced in June 2017.

The robotics contest is one of four challenges in NASA’s Centennial Challenge initiative. The program aims to “stimulate innovation in basic and applied research, technology development, and prototype demonstration” by diverse and nontraditional parties.

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