Design an End Effector for a Robotic Arm


Be part of the NASA mission. Compete in a new series of challenges through our Innovation Gateway, a community science initiative. Everyday explorers – just like you – have the opportunity to provide useful solutions to further space exploration and our world.

In this challenge, design an end effector, which is something that can grab or manipulate objects, for the end of a robotic arm.

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Robotics and Engineering

We live in a world full of technological advancements, and robotics is playing an even larger role in our world every day. From something as basic as “The Claw” from the “Toy Story” franchise to the robots being used by surgeons for more precise incisions, the end effectors are helping to significantly increase our quality of life by allowing robots to grab, hold, and manipulate the objects around them.

NASA’s Robotic Systems and End Effectors

End effectors are being used in space right now. On the International Space Station, the Remote Manipulator System, also known as Canadarm2, is used to assist in the docking of spacecraft. NASA’s humanoid robot, Valkyrie, which was built here at NASA Johnson Space Center, has fingers dexterous enough to turn the pages of a book. On Mars, there are landers and rovers, including InSight and Curiosity, drilling through and collecting samples of the Martian surface to help us better understand the red planet. These examples demonstrate how much of an impact end effectors have on our ability to explore outer space.


Challenge winners can select from two general admission tickets to Space Center Houston or a virtual chat with a NASA astronaut.

Before you begin, review the steps below.


Gain a better understand of robotics and engineering. Design a model robotic arm and try to move items from one location to another. Engage in the engineering design process to design, build and operate the arm.


Level 1: Design and build an end effector from the items around your house.

Level 2: Design and build an end effector from the items around your house that can hold and manipulate an item that is three or more feet from you.

Level 3: In addition to Level 2, design an end effector that could function as a part of the future Lunar Gateway or Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. Include the following in your submission:

  • Background on the mission you have chosen
  • Challenges that will be faced during the mission that your end effector will solve
  • How your end effector will integrate with an existing system or the new system that will be necessary to use your end effector
  • Bonus: Estimate how much additional weight your end effector will add to the mission, and any additional fuel will be required to accomplish the mission

Helpful Hints for all levels:

  • Explore the resources provided below to find many answers to your questions about end effectors and accompanying robotic systems to guide your work
  • Work with family and friends to develop your end effector and system
  • Submit your entry by using the submission form on this webpage.
  • Be creative

Challenge winners will be featured on our challenge webpage and on Space Center Houston social media pages.


Level 1 & 2: Submit pictures of your end effector in action with a description of your design process. The file format .jpeg and .png will be accepted.
Level 3: Submit pictures of your end effector in action with a description of your design process AND submit a document with your complete system for adding an end effector to a future NASA mission. The file formats .doc, .docx, and .pdf will be accepted.

Entries must be submitted before 5 p.m. CT Sept. 13 using the submission form on this webpage.


Challenge Winners

Ages 17 & younger

Coming soon

Ages 18 & older

Coming soon

Submission Form
If you would like to receive challenge updates, please provide your email address:
Submission level*
Photo 1*

2mb limit; jpeg, png, jpg, heic file types accepted

Photo 2*

2mb limit; jpeg, png, jpg, heic file types accepted

10-second video

2mb limit; jpeg, png, jpg, heic file types accepted

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