2017.A.1.4. NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge to Pick 3 Non-Government CubeSats to Compete at Moon and Beyond


Jim Cockrell (1)
Kay Twitchell (1)
Elizabeth Hyde (2)
Monsi Roman (1)
Tony Kim (1)

  1. NASA, United States of America
  2. Millennium Engineering and Integration Company, United States of America




NASA, moon, citizen-inventor, challenge, team, prize, CubeQuest


NASA Science Technology Mission Directorate’s Centennial Challenges Program is poised to select three “citizen inventor” teams from an original field of 13, to launch their CubeSats on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) – the first lunar flyby of the unmanned Orion from atop the SLS. In what’s called the “Cube Quest Challenge”, teams are private, non-government entities, including universities, private companies, and even a group of high school students, who competed over the past two years “Ground Tournament” series to win the coveted free launch. Once deployed from the SLS, their 6U-sized CubeSats must achieve lunar orbit (the “Lunar Derby”), or continue to a range of 4 million km (the “Deep Space Derby”) where teams attempt to achieve or exceed the Challenge goals and compete among themselves for: highest-speed data communications rates, largest data volume over time, longest communications distances, and longest survival.  Teams can also compete after finding their own way to the moon or beyond.  Up to 5 million USD will be awarded as cash prizes.

To survive the harsh deep space environment and operate a CubeSat at these distances, our citizen inventors are developing capabilities never before demonstrated.  New CubeSat technologies will include: navigation without GPS or Earth’s magnetic field; advanced electric and chemical propulsion; high-power and high-gain communications subsystems and private ground stations; low-cost radiation-tolerant components; and autonomous operations – all the more impressive considering they have been developed using team’s own funds.  Except for modest incentive prizes for excellence in the four Ground Tournaments, no funds other are awarded until the Challenge goals are judged to have been met in space.  The in-space competition lasts until the last CubeSat standing, but not longer than 1 year after the launch of EM-1.

We present the motivation for the Cube Quest Challenge, its prize structure and rules, and how we judge Ground Tournaments and future in-space achievements.  We introduce the competitor teams, their CubeSat designs, and their progress during the four Ground Tournaments; and describe the advanced deep space CubeSat technologies emerging from the competition.  We explain the next steps as teams prepare for the in-space competitions.  Finally, we present lessons learned during planning and administration of this complex and exciting prize challenge.


  • Download the slides in PDF format here (4MB)

%d bloggers like this: