Advancing space technology through flight testing.
Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic

The Universal Payload Interface Challenge (UPIC) invites eligible individuals, teams, and organizations to submit applications for the development of a flight-ready universal payload interface — an optimized interface system that enables easy integration of diverse space payloads onto various flight vehicles. NASA is seeking proposed universal payload interfaces that seamlessly adapt a diverse range of small space-based payloads (e.g., technologies, laboratory instruments, scientific experiments) for testing aboard various commercial flight vehicles (e.g., suborbital, orbital, planetary lander) and address the most common elements of interfaces.

NASA intends to provide up to three Winners a total of up to $650,000 each and an opportunity to flight test their technology at the end of the challenge. Potential vehicles range from the suborbital, including rocket-powered vehicles or landers, high-altitude balloons, and aircraft flying parabolic profiles, to orbital platforms and lunar/planetary landers.

The Challenge

One of the many complex aspects of spaceflight is the design of interfaces for payloads that fly aboard host vehicles. NASA would like to see payloads get to flight test as quickly as possible, but the process to ensure that a payload can interface appropriately with the flight vehicle is often complex and time-consuming. How do you efficiently and effectively facilitate the operations and safety of disparately designed and developed payloads and ensure that they function appropriately across a variety of flight vehicles?

The Solution

NASA is interested in optimized interface systems – or a system of systems – that enable easy integration of laboratory payloads, including scientific instruments and experiments, onto suborbital, orbital, and planetary lander vehicles. Specifically, NASA is seeking systems that meet or exceed the specifications described in the Technical Guidelines and are at a level of development where your system could be used to integrate payloads onto a flight test vehicle.  

The intent of this competition is to find solutions that enable:

  • Rapid and accessible transition of payloads from the bench to integration for testing on a commercial flight vehicle (e.g., suborbital, orbital, lander)
  • Payloads to be as vehicle-independent as possible, to facilitate rapid integration into a target vehicle, to enable early payload development without vehicle interface knowledge, and to unlock the ability to quickly conduct flight tests on multiple different vehicles.

Be sure to review the Technical Guidelines, submission requirements, and scoring criteria to understand how you can submit a competitive application.  

The winning teams will have the opportunity to build their interface system in preparation for a flight test. During the system build phase, teams will refine their interface system design, create prototypes, and validate their concepts through rigorous testing. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring compatibility with the listed common spaceflight interfaces in the Technical Guidelines.

During the performance incentive phase, teams will present their interface system designs to a panel of experts who will evaluate their feasibility, performance, adaptability, and compatibility with a diverse array of laboratory payloads and the listed common spaceflight interfaces.

The NASA TechLeap Prize challenges are open competitions designed to discover promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce. NASA encourages participation from teams who may not have previously engaged in other NASA funding opportunities.

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Photo Credit: NASA
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