NASA has a program of technology prizes currently consisting of seven competitions held throughout the year. The program, which began in 2005, is known as Centennial Challenges in recognition of the centennial of powered flight. In keeping with the spirit of the Wright Brothers and other American innovators, the Centennial Challenge prizes are offered to independent competitors who work without government support including small businesses, student groups and garage inventors. The prize competitions are targeted at a range of technical challenges that support NASA’s missions in aeronautics and space. The goal is to encourage novel solutions from non-traditional sources. In the Centennial Challenge program, NASA offers the prize money but each of the competitions is managed by an independent organization, sometimes with additional private sponsorship.
There are two NASA prize competitions scheduled for August 2008, one in robotic space technology and one in aeronautics. Both competitions will be held in California.
The Regolith Excavation Challenge is scheduled for August 2, 2008 on the campus of the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. The competition requires teams to build a roving lunar excavator that can autonomously navigate, excavate, and transfer 150 kg of simulated lunar regolith (soil) into a collector bin within 30 minutes. Excavating lunar regolith will be an important part of any construction projects or processing of natural resources on the Moon. NASA is looking for new ideas for excavation techniques that do not require excessively heavy machines or large amounts of power.
The California Space Education and Workforce Institute manages this challenge and the 2008 prize purse is $750,000. The four teams that competed at the event in 2007 will be returning this year to compete with a much larger field. Twenty-five teams have registered for 2008 so the competition should be fierce. Most of the teams are from the private sector including some from the toy and information technology industries. Four of the teams are affiliated with universities.
Another Centennial Challenge event will begin during the following week. The 2008 General Aviation Technology Challenge will be held from August 4 through August 10 at the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, California. In this challenge teams are asked to demonstrate the performance of aircraft that incorporate improvements to maximize fuel efficiency, reduce noise and improve safety. These innovations are intended to result in aircraft that have less negative impact on the environment and on the communities surrounding airports.
The Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation based in Santa Rosa manages this challenge for NASA. The total purse for 2008 is $300,000 divided among the following prizes:
- The Community Noise Prize
- The Green Prize ($50,000) (lowest miles per gallon)
- The CAFE Safety Prize (handling and electronic safety features)
- The CAFE 400 Prize (combining speed and efficiency)
- The Quietest Light Sport Aircraft Prize
You can read more about the General Aviation Technology Challenge on the Internet at: cafefoundation.org.
You can read more about the Regolith Excavation Challenge at: regolith.csewi.org.
You can read more about the NASA Centennial Challenges at: centennialchallenges.nasa.gov.