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NASA TechLeap Prize: Autonomous Observation Challenge 1

Discover integrated, compact precision pointing systems for autonomously detecting, tracking, and collecting data on transient events.


Total Cash Prizes Offered: $2,000,000
Type of Challenge: Technology demonstration and hardware
Submission Start: 06/10/2021 01:00 PM ET
Submission End: 08/11/2021 08:00 PM ET


NASA wants to rapidly advance technologies to meet its space exploration and Earth observation goals, and the agency is opening up its search to qualified commercial businesses, academic institutions, entrepreneurs, and other innovators. To do so, the agency launched the NASA TechLeap Prize – a competition that provides payload development funding and access to suborbital flight testing for promising space technologies that meet a specific agency need. 

The NASA TechLeap Prize is funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which helps a wide range of space technologies reach maturity more quickly by testing them on suborbital flights. These tests can provide critical data and insight into how a technology is expected to perform in its intended space environment, as well as help reduce risk prior to much more costly orbital missions.  

The Autonomous Observation Challenge No. 1 will discover integrated, compact precision pointing systems that could be used to autonomously detect, track, and collect data on transient events – both on Earth and beyond. These capabilities might also be leveraged for autonomous ad hoc optical communications networks, aiding lunar exploration in detecting, tracking, and establishing line-of-sight communications with any lander, rover, or object on the Moon. For this challenge, Flight Opportunities is working closely with NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology program to address gaps that are of significant interest to the small spacecraft research community. 

Key Dates

  • Challenge Launch: June 10, 2021
  • Entries Open: July 29, 2021
  • Entries Close: August 11, 2021


Total Cash Prize Pool


Prize Breakdown

$500,000 to up to 4 teams

Non-monetary Prizes

Flight Opportunity


Eligibility Requirements

NASA welcomes applications from individuals, teams, and organization or entities that have are cognized legal existence and structure under applicable U.S. law and that are in good standing in the jurisdiction under which they are organized with the following restrictions:

  • Individuals must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States and be 18 years of age or older.
  • Organizations must be an entity incorporated in and maintaining a primary place of business in the United States.
  • Teams must be comprised of otherwise eligible individuals or organizations and led by a U.S Citizen or permanent resident of the United States who is 18 years of age or older.

U.S. government employees may participate so long as they are not acting within the scope of their position, rely on no facilities, access, personnel, knowledge, or other resources that are available to them as a result of their employment except for those resources made available to all other participants on an equal basis.

U.S. government employees participating as individuals, or who submit applications on behalf of an otherwise eligible organization, will be responsible for ensuring that their participation in the Competition is permitted by the rules and regulations relevant to their position and that they have obtained any authorization that may be required by virtue of their government position. Failure to do so may result in the disqualification of them individually or of the entity which they represent or in which they are involved.

Foreign citizens may only participate as (i) employees of an otherwise eligible US entity who reside in the US, (ii) full-time students at an otherwise eligible US university or college who reside in the US, or (iii) owners of less than 50% of the interests in an otherwise eligible US entity who reside in the US.

Registered competitors shall be responsible for the actions of and compliance with the rules by their employees, subcontractors, officers, owners, and other affiliated persons.


Judging Criteria

There will be three types of evaluation. During the Evaluation Panel judging, each valid application will receive scores and comments from a highly qualified panel of expert judges who will use a scoring rubric to evaluate their assigned applications. All scores are normalized to ensure fairness for everyone. The Selection Committee judges will review the top-scoring submissions and select up to four Winners based on the resulting rank order from the Evaluation Panel, the scoring rubric, and the diversity of solutions. During Payload Build Round 1 and Payload Build Round 2, Winners will have the opportunity to compete for additional awards of $200,000 and $100,000 each. Field Judges will conduct on-site visits in January and June 2022 to score the progress each Winner has made. NASA intends to award a suborbital flight test to each of the Winners of Payload Build Round 2. These flight tests will be conducted on an appropriate vehicle provided by one of the vendors contracted to provide flight services for NASA government-sponsored research.

How to Enter

You must first register no later than Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at 5:00 PM Pacific. Once you are registered, applications are due no later than Wednesday, August 11, 2021, at 5:00 PM Pacific.

Submission URL:

Point of Contact

Have feedback or questions about this challenge? Send the challenge manager an email