Releasing trace materials, such as barium or strontium, into the Martian atmosphere to be tracked and studied by spacecraft in orbit and on the ground – this idea was inspired by a process used to analyse the Earth’s atmosphere but given a brand new scope. The concept is the winner of NASA’s Mars Balance Mass Challenge.
Ted Ground, a self-employed technical consultant from Texas, will reveive $20,000 for his winning idea. A team of engineers from Michigan also got an honourable mention for their proposal to study Martian weather by looking at wind patterns on the planet’s surface. The team members – Leslie Hall, Louis Olds and Brian Kujawski – will collect a prize of $5,000.
The NASA Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation received 219 submissions from 43 countries. Launched in September 2014, the competition sought ‘design ideas for small science and technology payloads that could potentially provide dual purpose as ejectable balance masses on spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere’.
‘We want citizens to join us on the Journey to Mars,’ explained George Tahu, programme executive for Mars Exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ‘Challenges such as this invite innovative design ideas and creative solutions that will support our science and technology planning processes as well as encourage science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.’
You can find more on NASA prizes and challenges here.