More Details about 3 New Centennial Challenges

I recently posted about 3 new Centennial Challenges: the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, the Night Rover Challenge, and the Sample Return Robot Challenge. These links to the 3 challenges have some information that either I didn't catch and post about when these challenges were introduced, or that wasn't available then.

Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge

The current description of the objectives for the Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is more detailed and nuanced than the one I originally saw:

  • Safe, low-cost, small payload delivery system for frequent access to Earth orbit.
  • Innovations in propulsion and other technologies as well as operations and management for broader applications in future launch systems.
  • A commercial capability for dedicated launches of small satellites at a cost comparable to secondary payload launches--a potential new market with Government, commercial, and academic customers.
The preliminary description also briefly mentions tracking, range safety, sponsorships and other partnerships, and FAA licensing.

The prize purse section mentions the possibility of additional prize money for a 2nd-place or a bonus prize. My interpretation is that NASA would like to have a 2nd-place prize and bonus prizes, but Centennial Challenges doesn't have the money to do that. Will someone else step up to the plate, or will Centennial Challenges fund these augmentations in a later year?

Night Rover Challenge

In my earlier post, I speculated about the length of the "night" in the Night Rover Challenge, given some hints about the Moon in the material on the challenge. I recall that some other observers on the Internet were wondering the same thing. The current description of the challenge's objectives makes it more likely that the Moon's day/night cycle will govern the length of the "night" in the challenge with the following point:
  • Innovations in energy storage technology for space operations and, in particular, to meet the demands imposed by the daylight/darkness cycle on the Moon.
That should make this challenge all the more interesting to Google Lunar X PRIZE teams interested in a bonus prize. However, in this case the energy storage system needs to survive more than 1 night cycle:

The Challenge would be to demonstrate a portable energy collection and storage system through several cycles of daylight and darkness. ... The winning system would be the one that moved the greatest distance during darkness in an allotted time period (over several day/night cycles) using only its own stored energy.

The competition could be held in a typical Earth environment, but

Competitors with successful and appropriate system designs might be invited to test their energy storage systems in NASA thermal-vacuum chambers to demonstrate applicability to the space and lunar environment.

Sample Return Robot Challenge

The description gives some ideas about what the sample return environment will be like:

The roving area should include rolling terrain, granular medium, soft soils, and a variety of rocks. A pre-cached sample and several other samples would be located in smaller sampling zones within the larger roving area.

There could be 2 levels of prizes in this competition:

In order to win a Level-1 prize, a robot must retrieve only the pre-cached sample. Robots should be autonomous, but periodic intervention with teleoperation would be permitted with penalties imposed for its use.

In order to win a Level-2 prize, a team must autonomously navigate at all times and must retrieve the pre-cached sample and several additional sample types that may include rock, regolith, gas, liquid, etc...

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