Rules for 2011 NASA Make: Challenge: Experimental Science Kits for Space

Rules and Guidelines for Entering the 2011 NASA Make: Challenge

Proposals for the NASA Make: Challenge should be submitted electronically to by midnight (Pacific Daylight Savings Time) April 30, 2011, in accordance with the rules below. If your questions aren’t answered below, please see our frequently asked questions.

The Challenge

The NASA Make: Challenge invites inventors to propose kits that high school students can build in their classrooms to explore a scientific, technical, or math concept by flying the kits on a suborbital rocket flight.

The NASA Make: Challenge is open to all U.S. citizens. Proposers under the age of 18 must include the permission of a parent or guardian to participate.

Specifically, makers are challenged to meet the following conditions:

  1. Think cool. Employ an engaging and interesting way to illustrate important science and math principles that are aligned with national high school education standards in science, math, and/or technology. (To learn more about microgravity, we recommend Don Pettit’s Saturday Morning Science videos and NASA’s 1997 Microgravity Teacher’s Guide.)
  2. Think small. All components of the kit must fit within one of the following two volume envelopes:
    • 9 cm x 9 cm x 9 cm (fits within a CubeSat)
    • 9 cm x 9 cm x 19 cm (fits within a P-POD)
  3. Think easy. Kits should be easy enough to be built by students with teacher/adult supervision in typical school classrooms with fairly common tools.
  4. Think cheap. Kits should be inexpensive and made with materials that are either easily available via local hardware and electronic stores, or easy and quick to obtain from mail order sources.  Think “Bake Sale Space Projects” where the costs to build the experiment could be met by a school bake sale (under $200, preferably under $100). Note: Kits can be proposed that would cost over $100 to build, but cost will be a factor in evaluation with preference given to lower-cost kits.
  5. Think safe for the kids. Kits will be used in high school classrooms, so materials and tools used should not pose a threat to students’ well-being (if reasonable safety precautions are taken.)
  6. Think safe for the vehicle. Kits must be able to be safely flown on suborbital launch vehicles.  The assembly of kits and the assembled kits must be able to be safely flown within the temperature, vibration, and pressure changes of space vehicles – i.e., will not damage vehicle, other experiments, or people. Please note that temperatures at some launch sites, for example those in the Mojave Desert, can reach 115°F or more. An experiment on a suborbital vehicle will experience several different environments during the flight, as described in the chart below (in the section “Typical Suborbital Flight Environment for the NASA Make Challenge”.)
  7. Think humane. No experiment will be selected that is deemed inhumane to multicellular members of the animal kingdom. No experiment will be selected that involves vertebrate animals. Please keep in mind that the experiment might wait for 3 hours in temperatures over 100°F before launch.  Adequate life-support for the animal, plant, or microbe must be provided within the enclosure for a successful experiment.
  8. Think open source hardware. Kits submitted to the NASA Make: Challenge will be considered “open source hardware.” available to anyone to create and build without restrictions in accordance with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Typical Suborbital Flight Environment for the NASA Make: Challenge

NASA Make: Challenge kits will be flown on a suborbital vehicle whose flight may have the following parameters. These numbers are true for the current flight. Please note that future flights may be significantly different.

  • Typical flight duration is 5 to 10 minutes
  • Duration of microgravity varies by mission from 12.5 seconds to 3 minutes
  • Altitude of 30 km  or 100,000 feet (but this might be higher)
  • No human passengers (for now)

A typical flight profile consists of launch, acceleration to Mach 0.9 throughout the majority of atmospheric resistance, then going full throttle before shutting off the engine. During parabolic coast phase, the payload experiences microgravity. As the vehicle descends back into the atmosphere and gains speed the coast phase ends. At this point the rocket stabilizes itself and falls towards the ground engine-first before the engine re-lights and lands the vehicle on the same pad used for takeoff.

Experiments will be turned on when they are installed in the launch vehicle, which may be up to 3 hours prior to launch. It may take up to an hour to recover the payload from the vehicle.

Timeline Element Duration Environment
Payload is installed and waits for launch Up to 3 hours Ambient temperatures could range from near freezing to over 115°F
Launch 1-2 minutes to apogee Heavy vibration and acoustic stresses.  Acceleration to Mach 0.9
Parabolic coast phase to Apogee < 1 minute During parabolic coast phase the payload experiences microgravity. As the vehicle descends back into the atmosphere and gains speed the coast phase ends.
Duration of microgravity
during parabolic coast phase
12.5 sec to 3 minutes <0.001 g MICROGRAVITY LEVEL

Return to Earth 1-2 minutes to descend At this point, the rocket stabilizes itself and falls towards the ground engine-first before the engine re-lights and lands the vehicle on the same pad used for takeoff.
Landing TBD g level
Time to recover payload Up to 1 hour

Note that batteries should be selected to operate as necessary for 4 hours. Name-brand alkaline batteries, such as Energizer or Duracell, have been used successfully in the past and can be used as a power source.

Proposal Preparation Checklist

A submission to the NASA Make: Challenge will consist of two parts: (1) a written proposal describing the kit and (2) the project documentation described online at Make: Projects

Written Proposal

  • Create a Cover Page which includes
    • Proposer’s Contact Information: including Name, Address, Email, and Phone Number
    • Permission to participate, if proposer is under 18 years of age: Important: For proposers who are minors, email and phone number of parents or guardians and statement of permission for their minor child to participate in this challenge must appear on the cover page. Entries submitted by minors without parental consent will not be eligible for judging or award.
    • License Agreement: A statement acknowledging that your proposed kit, whether selected or not, will be considered open source designs in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (
    • A link to your project documentation on (see below)
  • Summarize the experiment and the design of the kit that enables it, including diagrams or photos.
  • Describe the kit in greater detail.
    • What is it and what does it do?  (e.g. Build and fly an accelerometer)
    • What does this kit demonstrate?  (e.g. The purpose of this kit is to measure the vibration profile of a suborbital spaceflight throughout the mission.)
    • Educational and scientific value. (e.g. Students will learn to build an accelerometer which explorers foundational technical concepts including force measurements, gravity, and how vibration is generated by various mechanical devices such as cars, bicycles, washing machines, and suborbital spacecraft)
    • Concept of operations. Describe how the experiment will operate in space. (How is the experiment turned on? How does the experiment operate during the mission? How does one collect data from the experiment?)
    • Budget. State the total cost of all kit components, including all parts and materials used. (Note that these should be listed individually in your online documentation.)
  • Address safety issues, that is, any component, material, or design that can harm people, other experiments in the flight, or the vehicle during assembly, integration, or operation.  (e.g. sharps, toxic materials, corrosive materials, explosive materials or designs, harmful biological agents, temperature issues, electromagnetic interference issues, etc
  • Submit your proposal electronically to by midnight (Pacific Daylight Savings Time) April 30, 2011.

  • Keep proposals shorter than 5 pages (standard 8.5 x 11 inches) not including the Cover Page. Proposals must be typed (except for diagrams) using a 12-point font and 1-inch margins. Diagrams must be legible and clearly labeled.Project Documentation at Make: Projects

To use Make Projects to document the project itself…
  1. Go to
  2. Create a user account if you don’t have one. Use the name and email address that you provide on your the Cover Page of your Written Proposal.
  3. Start a new project to describe the kit and its components and how to build it.
  4. On the “Introduction” page, you’ll be asked to provide some data about the project.
    a) Choose the topic “DIY Space” under the “Flight and Projectiles” category in the pull-down menu.
    b) In the Flags area at the bottom of this page, choose “Unpublished.”
  5. In the “Keyword Tags” area to the right, use the tag “nasamakechallenge2011” to identify the project.
  6. Click on the “Meta Guide Data” link on the right or the blue “Meta Information” link near the bottom to provide a complete parts list, along with the tools required for the kit.
  7. Click on the “Add Step” button on the right or the blue “First step” near the bottom to supply photos and instructions in order to illustrate a step-by-step procedure for the kit.
  8. When you are done, leave the project status as “Unpublished.”  (Projects will be published after they’ve been reviewed by NASA.)

Evaluation and Award

Winning proposals will undergo three levels of review by NASA personnel and other technical judges in the areas of (1) safety; (2) technical merit; and (3) educational value. Winners will be honored at Maker Faire, have their project printed in MAKE magazine, and receive other prizes which we unfortunately cannot mention here (but, trust us, they are pretty darn cool!)


If you still have questions that aren’t answered in the rules above, please see our frequently asked questions, where you can ask them in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Rules for 2011 NASA Make: Challenge: Experimental Science Kits for Space

  1. Ionode says:

    Does anyone know if there is somewhere we can see the final submissions for this competition?

  2. Ionode says:

    Does anyone know if there is somewhere we can see the final submissions for this competition?

Comments are closed.