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NASA Orbital Alchemy Challenge

Click Here to Learn More and Apply! 

Academic Level:
K-12 Educators
Undergraduates - First Year
Undergraduates - Sophomore
Undergraduates - Junior
Undergraduates - Senior
Graduate Students (Masters)
Graduate Students (PhD)
Postdoc & Early Career
Faculty & Administrators

Note: this opportunity encourages applications from community college students.

The NASA Orbital Debris Program Office estimates that there are more than 23,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than 10 cm currently in orbit around the Earth. Smaller pieces number in the millions. That debris comes in many forms: sections of rockets jettisoned during launch, non-operational satellites, and shrapnel created by collisions or explosions. As of last year, the estimate for the total amount of material in orbit exceeds 8,000 metric tons (17 million pounds) with an estimated value in the tens of billions of dollars. As humanity pushes further out into space, this space debris presents an opportunity to make use of materials already in orbit, such as aluminum, titanium, steel, Kevlar, plastics, silicon, ceramics, and residual fuels or other volatile liquids and gasses.

With this global ideation challenge, NASA seeks to inspire innovators of all ages, skills, and interests to consider how humanity can make use of these materials to explore the cosmos in a more sustainable and cost effective way. Remember: every kilogram of space debris that can be recycled is one less kilogram that needs to be launched, saving time, fuel, and money.

The goal of this challenge is to explore whether recycling of space assets (sections of rockets, satellites, etc.) can be cost-effective versus launching new materials into space. Since launch costs increase proportionally with mass, recycling larger objects means that cost effectiveness will improve as more and more mass is recycled and reused while in orbit. Consequently, NASA is targeting those objects with the largest mass, typically greater than 1 metric ton. NASA is interested in all aspects of recycling spacecraft including: Safety operations such as removing liquids, gasses or electrical energy; Disassembly; Materials separation; Cleaning; Feedstock forming; Storage.

We challenge solvers to envision technologies or approaches that could recycle large space debris and end-of-life spacecraft, obtaining usable materials and without creating new orbital debris. Proposed approaches should describe technologies capable of performing one or more of these operations in microgravity. Approaches which handle multiple common spacecraft materials are highly desirable. Approaches should be cost effective (recycling more mass than its own), sustainable (minimal support needed, especially from additional launches), and robust (ideally able to process multiple spacecraft).

The total prize pool for the Orbital Alchemy Challenge is $55,000:' One first place: $25,000 ' One second place: $10,000 ' Three third place: $5,000 each ' Five honorable mention: $1,000 each.

Additionally, participants and winners may also be considered for:

-Invitation to a pitch event to be held at Defense TechConnect Innovation Summit and Expo in September. We will invite up to 15 top-rated respondents to pitch their technologies during Defense TechConnect Conference (September) in Washington, D.C.. Respondents may have competed for or have waived monetary awards.

-Connections to technology accelerators or other innovation development programs including SBIR/STTR.

-Connections to existing developers and/or manufacturers.

-Invitations to NASA conferences and/or lectures.

-Opportunities to speak with broader space operations audiences.

Participants are eligible to win multiple Awards provided that the Entries are clearly distinguishable as novel and different from one another as determined by the Judging Panel.

Participating Institution(s):
(Click an institution to see all programs it hosts)
NASA (Lead)
TechConnect (Lead)

Program Materials:
 • Program Website 

This Program can be Described by:
Academic Disciplines:
Aerospace Engineering
Artificial Intelligence
Astronomy & Astrophysics
Materials Science & Engineering
Mechanical & Industrial Engineering
STEM Fields

Applied Physics
Engineering Research
Manufacturing Engineering
Materials Processing
Mechanical Engineering
Space Exploration
Space Flight
Space Sciences

Learn More and Apply!

This program is funded by:
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Page last updated 8/22/2022
Click here to submit updates to this program listing!


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