To increase the participation of underrepresented academic institutions in its technology portfolio, SMD will award, through a two-round process, $50,000 in prize funding and admission to a Starburst-operated ten (10) week startup accelerator program to Minority Serving Institutions who can successfully contribute ideas that advance the state-of-the-art in the following broadly-defined science technology focus area. 

The 2022 Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Space Accelerator technology focus area is:

Verifiable System-Level Autonomy for Future Science Missions.


Under this prize challenge, NASA seeks the design and/or demonstration of introspective agents that can perform effective monitoring of such autonomous systems to diagnose problems, and optimize, reconfigure, and recover from failure. These agents should learn and adapt to improve their behavior over time, including acquiring, modifying, and transforming their activities by augmenting their knowledge on how to perform tasks more effectively and efficiently.

The stated technology focus area above is further subdivided across two mission areas of particular interest.

  • While much attention has been placed on the development of autonomous systems within NASA and other agencies, there has been less emphasis placed on the monitoring and adaptive optimization of such systems. NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office is developing and testing its “New Observation Strategy”, in which ensembles of Earth observing satellites and airborne platforms are able to produce measurements of the Earth system that are integrated from multiple vantage points and in multiple dimensions -- spatial, spectral, and temporal, and are directed by sophisticated numerical models.


  • In Planetary Sciences, future robotic explorers will operate on the surfaces of icy moons and around small bodies with similar synergistic and symbiotic feedbacks between sensors and models. The resulting systems will operate as a single virtual instrument that can detect multiple events of interest and react autonomously to rapidly evolving, transient features, with the goal of maximizing the value of scientific return. These types of dynamic, non-deterministic, data-driven systems can be highly sensitive to error growth due to noise in the observations, and/or misrepresentations of the physical state by the models.


The selection process will be conducted in two rounds:

Round One:​​​

  • Interested institutions will submit white papers that broadly describe the capability being offered and how it might be applied to one of the mission areas identified, and whether the idea represents an existing product or a concept to be matured over time. A statement regarding the concept's commercial potential is also required.

  • White papers are not to exceed 5 pages in length, and must be submitted in PDF format following the challenge guidelines by April 20th, 2022.

  • Judges will review the white papers using the evaluation criteria posted to this website. After review, NASA judges will select the ten (10) highest scoring submissions to advance to Round Two of the competition. Selectees will receive an invitation to the MSI Space Accelerator Selection Day. 

Round Two:​​​

  • Participants advancing to Round Two will be invited to pitch their concepts live in Washington, DC at the MSI Space Accelerator Selection Day on June 2nd, 2022 (1-5pm EDT). 

  • A panel of NASA judges will evaluate the oral presentations using criteria to be posted to this website prior to the application submission deadline and select up to 5 top scoring participants as the 'Round Two winners'.

  • Round Two winners will receive $50,000 in prize funding and an invitation to participate in the MSI Space Accelerator! The prize funding and Starburst-operated ten week startup accelerator program will offer selectees the unique opportunity to develop concrete business plans, establish product market fit, preform customer discovery, connect with industry stakeholders, receive mentorship from JPL experts, and showcase their progress live at the MSI Space Accelerator Demo Day.

  • In the summer of 2023, ESTO's Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) program is scheduled to release an open solicitation that will include topics related to trusted autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Grants of up to $1,000,000 per year may be offered.