$5 Million Prize Purse to Drive America’s Innovation Engine

Today NASA announced three new Centennial Challenges with an overall prize purse of $5 million.

NASA’s Centennial Challenge program is a dramatic departure from business as usual. Centennial Challenges are inducement prizes that challenge independent teams to race to achieve bold goals—and to do so without a single penny of upfront government funding. In doing so, NASA leverages private sector investment many times greater than the cash value of the prize and pays only for results. Open to all, the Centennial Challenges already boast an impressive track record of generating novel solutions from student teams, citizen inventors, and entrepreneurial firms outside the traditional aerospace industry. The proven success of prizes at NASA and beyond led the Obama Administration to urge other agencies to follow in their footsteps.

This entrepreneurial ecosystem now has three new challenges to tackle.

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 to 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 of this challenge 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 here on Earth.

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

The new Centennial Challenges were announced as part of a larger discussion of the agency’s proposed new space technology investments at a two-day industry forum hosted by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist.

As a research and development agency, NASA plays a vital role in America’s innovation engine and, as such, its future economic prosperity and security. The President’s FY 2011 budget request for NASA is part of a larger national research and development effort in science, technology, and innovation that will lead to new products and services, new business and industries, and high-quality, sustainable jobs. NASA’s new technology and innovation investments are required to enable new approaches to NASA’s current aeronautics, science and exploration missions and allow the Agency to pursue entirely new missions including sending humans into deep space to compelling destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

At the two-day event, speakers will focus on the president's fiscal year 2011 budget request for NASA's new Space Technology Programs. Representatives from industry, academia and the federal government are invited to discuss strategy, development and implementation of NASA's proposed new technology-enabled exploration. During the forum, NASA will update participants on plans for the new Space Technology Programs, solicit feedback, information and relevant ideas, and discuss next steps.

Aneesh Chopra is United States Chief Technology Officer

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