NASA has announced the winners of its first Mars Balance Mass Challenge that asked for design ideas for small science and technology payloads that could provide dual purpose as ejectable balance masses on spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere.
Texas-based Ted Ground was awarded $20,000 for his idea to study the Martian atmosphere by releasing material that could be seen and studied by other Martian spacecraft in orbit and on the ground. A team of engineers from Grand Rapids, Michigan, received an honourable mention and $5,000 for their idea to study Martian weather by looking at wind patterns near the planet's surface.
"The 219 submissions from 43 countries to the Mars Balance Mass Challenge show the interest the public has in directly engaging with NASA," said NASA chief technologist David Miller. "The two winning ideas highlight how effective these activities can be at helping NASA bring innovative ideas into our missions," he added.
The Mars Balance Mass Challenge was announced in September 2014. The payloads would serve two roles: perform scientific or technology functions that help us learn more about the Red Planet and provide the necessary weight to balance planetary landers.
"We want citizens to join us on the journey to Mars," said George Tahu, programme executive for Mars Exploration at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC. Submissions to the challenge ranged from analysing Martian weather or the Martian surface, to demonstrating new technologies such as 3D printing or parachutes, to pre-positioning supplies for future human missions on the planet's surface.