NASA Wants Your Big Ideas for Solar Power on Mars

solar power on Mars
Curiosity Rover Low-Angle Self-Portrait at 'Buckskin' Drilling Site on Mount SharpImage courtesy of NASA/


If you saw the hit movie “The Martian” with Matt Damon (or read the book in one sitting like I did), you probably remember that he relied on solar energy to power his habitat and stay alive.  It was an accurate portrayal of the importance that the harnessing of solar energy on the surface of Mars plays in the mission to send humans to the red planet.

According to NASA, “it’s not easy to harness the power of the sun from Mars. Depending on where spacecraft land, the angle and distance from the sun changes substantially during different seasons, affecting solar power flow management and performance. Martian dust is also a threat. It clings to everything on the surface and could form a blanket over solar panels.”

Ideas Needed for Solar Power on Mars

This is why NASA is enlisting University students in its quest to solve these problems.  The “2018 BIG Idea Challenge” invites teams and their faculty advisors to work together to design and analyze innovations in the design, installation, and sustainable operation of a large solar power system on the surface of Mars, in the following areas:

  • Novel packaging, deployment, retraction, and dust-abatement concepts
  • Lightweight, compact components including booms, ribs, substrates, and mechanisms
  • Optimized use of advanced ultra-lightweight materials and high efficiency solar cells
  • Validated modeling, analysis, and simulation techniques
  • High-fidelity, functioning laboratory models and test methods

NASA and industry experts will then choose four finalists from amongst the proposals they receive.  These four teams will continue developing their proposed solar power concepts, submit a technical paper, and present their concepts in a face-to-face design review at the 2018 BIG Idea Forum, held at a NASA center in early March 2018. A $6,000 stipend will be awarded to these finalist to enable them to participate in the forum.

Student members from the BIG Idea Challenge winning team will receive offers to participate in paid summer internships at either NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, or Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where they will continue developing their concept under the mentorship of NASA experts.  What a great opportunity!

For more information about the challenge, and details on how to apply, visit the BIG Idea website at:

Tracey Smith About Tracey Smith
Tracey is an accountant and entrepreneur with a passion for nature. This passion is what spurred her interest in renewable energy, and the rest is history as they say. Tracey is a principal in Energy Think Group, the publisher of Solar Thermal Magazine and Tek-Think. She is also the principal at Women's Financial Help Desk. She spends her free time in the outdoors with her horses and dogs. She loves to travel.


  • Dr. Ben Hindley says:

    Hi! I have commercial systems that could be used on MARS. This in-tales Housing, Commercial, Growing of Food etc.
    How do I contact people that would like to work with me? Dr. Ben Hindley The MAGIKOS Project.

  • Teresa Kuhl says:

    While I haven’t studied the nuts and bolts of solar energy, I do have a few ideas that might be useful to someone with the know-how and the resources to make them happen. Would NASA, or someone representing NASA, be interested?

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