NASA Offering $55,000 in Prize Money to Improve Aircraft Design Software

Even tiny speed gains could mean huge performance improvements, researchers say.

NASA wants its FUN3D software to run 10,000 times faster, and so it wants people familiar with the software language to accept the challenge.NASA

NASA wants its FUN3D software, the application its engineers use to design aircraft and airfoils, to run 10,000 times faster, and is asking for anyone with working knowledge of the Modern Fortran software language to take up the High Performance Fast Computing Challenge.

Doug Rohn, director of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program, calls the effort to speed the agency’s design software “the ultimate geek dream assignment.” To stimulate the old creative juices, NASA is offering $55,000 split between a first and second prizes for the best solutions.

Programmers will be tasked with downloading the current FUN3D code and looking for performance bottlenecks or identifying modifications that might speed the software even just a few seconds here and there, changes that would produce significant improvements to the agency’s research efforts.

The agency is comparing its research to a three-legged stool. One leg focuses on initial designs tested with computational fluid dynamics that demand a supercomputer for numerical analysis and data structure problem solutions. The second leg builds and tests scale models in wind tunnels that hopefully prove the CFD designs that came before. The third leg takes NASA research airborne with X-planes capable of flying for further analysis and demonstration.

Contestants must be at least 18 years of age. Because the FUN3D code is owned by the U.S. government, its export is also restricted.

The agency is also hoping the solutions it sees will be more impressive and certainly more fun than the name they gave the contest.