New Centennial Challenges and More at the Forum

Here's some prize news from day 1 of NASA's Space Technology Industry Forum.

NASA annoucnes three new Centennial Challenges - RLV News

Nanosat Launch Challenge - RLV News - As mentioned here, although there are definitely huge differences (payload mass, prize amount, etc), there may be some interest from N-Prize competitors.

The forum presentation by Brant Sponberg on the Franklin Small Satellite Subsystem Technology Program & Edison Small Satellite Demonstration Missions Program (PDF) also notes that future plans for small satellites include

Dedicated Small Spacecraft Launch
– Follow-on launch service procurement to Centennial Challenges Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge or industry developments

Briefs: New NASA Challenges; An "almost perfect" Challenge; X-Hab student challenge - RLV News

The summary for the new Centennial Challenges (from the NASA Centennial Challenges site) is:

The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge: to place a small satellite into Earth orbit, twice in one week. The prize purse is $2 million.

Night Rover Challenge: to demonstrate a solar-powered exploration vehicle that can operate in darkness using its own stored energy. The prize purse is $1.5 million.

Sample Return Robot Challenge: to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The prize purse is $1.5 million.

In addition,

NASA is seeking Allied Organizations as partners to manage each of these new challenges.

Here are more details from Centennial Challenges Program (PDF), the presentation at the forum by Andrew Petro:

Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge:

Satellite mass - at least 1 kg
Satellite dimensions - at least 10 cm cube
Must complete at least one Earth orbit
Task must be accomplished twice in one week

To stimulate innovations in launch technology
To encourage creation of commercial nano-sat delivery services

Night Rover Challenge

Vehicle generates and stores it own energy using a renewable source available on the Moon and operates over several daylight/darkness cycles

To stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies of value in extreme space environments and in renewable energy systems on Earth.

Sample Return Robot Challenge

Autonomous robot
Easily identified samples
Terrain maps provided but no use of GPS

To encourage innovations in robotic navigation and sample manipulation technologies

The Night Rover Challenge reminds me of the earlier Lunar Night Power Source Centennial Challenge proposal described on slide 25 here (PDF). That one was for $500,000 for power storage that could pass lunar vacuum and thermal tests, recharge quickly, and meet volume and power requirements. The Night Rover Challenge will involve a full vehicle. Will it be similar to the $1M Human Lunar All-Terrain Vehicle proposal on page 22 at the same link?

It will also be interested to see how the Night Rover Challenge interacts with the Google Lunar X PRIZE bonus for surviving a lunar night. Will Google Lunar X PRIZE teams be interested in the Night Rover Challenge (assuming stored power would help survive a lunar night)?

Should I assume that the nights in the Night Rover Challenge are 14-day nights, given the lunar picture in the slide presentation, and the mention of the Moon there?

The Sample Return Challenge reminds me a little bit of the Telerobotic Construction Challenge idea. However, in that case there was "minimal human intervention" with the robots. The Sample Return Challenge case is "without human control". Of course sample return and construction are different types of assignments, too.

Meanwhile, Doug Comstock's presentation at the forum, Partnerships, Innovation & Commercial Space (PDF), describes the Innocentive NASA Innovation Pavilion (slides 11-12) and new X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge for inflatable habitats (slide 13). On the Innovation Pavilion:

Radio Frequency Engineer from Lempster, NH awarded $30,000 for a mathematical model to be used for solar forecasting. 579 “project rooms” participated

Mechanical Engineer from Foxboro, MA awarded $20,000 for novel compact and resistive exercise device design. 564 “project rooms” participated

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