Small Tactical Aerial Platforms for Extended Loitering.

About This Event

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is making significant investments in the arena of small tactical aerial platforms and looking to support the growth of medium to high altitude unmanned aircraft platform technologies that can support various defense applications.


The National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), in partnership with the Space Prototyping and Experimentation Branch (SPEB) at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC), seeks to identify capabilities for a low-cost, air or ground-launched medium to high-altitude balloon capable of carrying payloads of at least 10 lbs and of being deployed rapidly by one to two individuals. Participant companies must be U.S.-owned and operated, or be owned and operated in a NATO participant nation, Five Eyes Alliance participant nation, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) participant nation, or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) participant nation.

A team of subject matter experts will evaluate applicants and select up to 15 companies as semi-finalists for participation in the virtual Pitch Day in November 2023. Up to 10 companies will be invited as finalists to participate in an in-person Demonstration Day and awarded $2,000 for travel and final preparations. The demonstrations will take place in Colorado Springs, CO in December 2023. A total of $130,000 in awards will be awarded to the top performing company/companies.

Ask Me Anything | Oct. 6, 2023

Watch the Ask Me Anything information session.

Key Dates

The proposed schedule is subject to change. Please refer to this page for current dates.

  • September 21, 2023: Solicitation Release - IdeaScale,, NSIN website.
  • October 6, 2023, 3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. ET: Ask Me Anything Session
  • October 27, 2023: Solicitation Closes & Down-selection begins
  • November 3, 2023: Down-selection Ends & Finalists Announced
  • Week of November 6, 2023: Pitch Event
  • Week of November 13, 2023: Finalists Announced
  • Week of December 11, 2023: Demonstration Event
  • Week of December 18, 2023: Winner Announced

Benefits of Participating

  • $150,000 in awards to the top performing company/companies
  • Exposure to leaders across multiple DoD branches and international partners
  • Potential for follow-on opportunities such as Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs), Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), and others


  • U.S. owned and operated companies; OR companies from NATO, Five Eyes Alliance, USMCA, and TPP countries
  • Early-mid stage ventures (less than 500 employees); OR non-traditional defense contractors
  • Have mature solutions and the ability to demonstrate their platform by Dec. 2023

Apply Now

Applications are required for consideration for the challenge. NSIN Challenges - by IdeaScale | Project STAPEL Challenge (

Problem Statement

The DoD is identifying, demonstrating, and assessing medium/high-altitude capabilities in support of emerging needs. Platforms could carry all manner of technologies to include communications; imaging; assured positioning, navigation, and timing; and other critical capabilities. Potential platforms include balloons, solar aircraft, and airships that could provide mission support, augment existing capabilities globally, and reconstitute lost assets in the air and space domains. FY23 NDAA Sec 817 compliance will be required for any work with DoD that results from the competition or otherwise.

Judging Criteria

Applications and pitches will be judged on the following focus areas (all weighted equally):

  • Technical: Soundness, technical merit, novelty of proposed approach, and feasibility of the proposed solution.
  • Operational Effectiveness: Proposed solution aligns with listed features.
  • Cost & Scalability: Forecasted costs and scalability of proposed solution are feasible for adoption.

The DoD Seeks platforms with the following features:


  • Lift capacity > 12 lbs
  • Requires a maximum of 2 people to launch
  • Time to deploy < 15 minutes
  • Minimum of 1 power port
  • Nominal altitude 40,000-80,000 ft
  • Minimum flight duration of 8 hours
  • Minimum operating wind speeds 15 knots
  • Unmanned
  • Cost < $12,000/platform
  • Full rate production > 100 units/month


  • 8 hours of endurance at 10W power draw (80Wh)
  • Lift capacity > 30 lbs
  • Able to be launched by 1 person
  • Time to deploy < 5 minutes
  • Ground and/or air launch, mobile
  • More than 1 power port
  • Available total power 80 Wh
  • Max payload > 50 lbs
  • Nominal altitude 20,000-100,000 ft
  • Minimum flight duration of 24 hours
  • Minimum operating wind speeds 30 knots
  • Software license
  • Autonomous flight
  • Novel navigation
  • Time over area of interest
  • Cost < $1,000/platform
  • Full rate production > 1,000 units/month
  • Ability to deploy in austere environments

End-user: Multiple customers across the DoD and international partners.


Testing and evaluations will be conducted by the U.S. Army SMDC Space Prototyping and Experimentation Branch (USASMDC). USASMDC develops and provides current and future global space, missile defense, and high altitude capabilities to the Army, joint force, and our allies and partners, to enable multi-domain combat effects; enhance deterrence, assurance, and detection of strategic attacks; and protect the nation.

About NSIN

NSIN, the National Security Innovation Network, is an unrivaled problem-solving network in the U.S. Department of Defense that adapts to the emerging needs of those who serve in the defense of our national security. We are dedicated to the work of bringing together defense, academic and entrepreneurial innovators to solve national security problems in new ways.

Intellectual Property Considerations: Applicants retain ownership of existing Intellectual Property (IP) submitted under this Challenge and agree that their submissions are their original work. Applicants are presumed to have sufficient rights to submit the submission. For any submission made to the Challenge, you grant NSIN and USASMDC a limited license to use this IP for testing and evaluation for efforts specifically related to the Challenge. NSIN and USASMDC will negotiate with individual competitors in the event additional usage, integration, or development is contemplated.
Other Transaction Authority This NSIN Challenge public announcement is an open call to small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors seeking innovative, commercial technologies proposed to create new DoD solutions or potential new capabilities fulfilling requirements, closing capability gaps, or providing potential technological advancements, technologies fueled by commercial or strategic investment, but also concept demonstrations, pilots, and agile development activities improving commercial technologies, existing Government-owned capabilities, or concepts for broad Defense application(s). As such, the Government reserves the right to award a contract or an Other Transaction for any purpose, to include a prototype or research, under this public announcement. The Federal Government is not responsible for any monies expended by the applicant before award and is under no obligation to pursue such Other Transactions.
Satisfying Competition Requirements: This NSIN Challenge Open Call Announcement is considered to have potential for further efforts that may be accomplished via FAR-based contracting instruments, Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for Prototype Projects 10 USC 4022 and Research 10 USC 4021, Prizes for advanced technology achievements 10 USC 4025, and/or Prize Competitions 15 USC 3719. The public open call announcement made at the **[IdeaScale](** website is considered to satisfy the reasonable effort to obtain competition in accordance with 10 USC 4025(b), 15 USC 3719 (e) and 10 USC 4022 (b)(2). Accordingly, FAR-based actions will follow announcement procedures per FAR 5.201(b).