Finally, new technology prizes from NASA

Self-directed robots, tiny satellites and vehicles that store solar power are next for NASA.
Written by Deborah Gage, Contributor

If you think you can create a nano-satellite, a solar-powered vehicle that runs at night, or a robot that can retrieve geologic samples with no direction from you or any other human, NASA wants to hear from you.

For the first time in five years, the space agency has announced new Centennial Challenges -- NASA's way of soliciting technology projects from anybody who works outside the aerospace industry. Students are also eligible.

Together, the three challenges have a purse of $5 million.

From NASA:

The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is to place a small satellite into Earth orbit, twice in one week, with a prize of $2 million. The goals of this challenge are to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology and encourage creation of commercial nano-satellite delivery services.

The Night Rover Challenge is to demonstrate a solar-powered exploration vehicle that can operate in darkness using its own stored energy. The prize purse is $1.5 million. The objective is to stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies of value in extreme space environments, such as the surface of the moon, or for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems on Earth.

The Sample Return Robot Challenge is to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrain without human control. This challenge has a prize purse of $1.5 million. The objectives are to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies.

Details of the contests won't be announced until NASA can find non-profit agencies to organize and raise money to run them, however. Those candidates can apply here.

NASA is caught in a swirl of controversy this week. A report issued Tuesday by the National Research Council says NASA needs a better way to control spending on its space missions since the last several ran late and over budget.

Today, meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee will be marking up the bill to reauthorize NASA's budget for three more years. Among the items in dispute are whether to extend the life of the space station, and how quickly and by what route NASA will send humans to Mars.

While all these details are being worked out, though, you can still follow three other Centennial Challenges that are already in progress.

- On August 13 in Seattle is the next round of the Strong Tether Challenge, in which teams will try to demonstrate a material that's at least 50 percent stronger than the strongest one you can buy.

- In the fall is the Power Beaming Challenge, where teams will use laser beams to transmit power to a device so the device can climb up a vertical cable that's more than half a mile high.

- Next July in Santa Rosa, California, is the Green Flight Challenge, in which teams will fly aircraft that they've designed to fly 200 miles in under two hours on less than a gallon of gas for each person flying.

The new prizes are described below:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards