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Background
Centennial Challenges is a program of incentive prizes to generate novel solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation. The program seeks innovations from diverse and non-traditional sources and the challenges are open to private companies, student teams and independent inventors. The competitors are not supported by government funding and awards are only made to successful teams when the challenges are met. The Innovative Partnerships Program has managed the Centennial Challenges program and it is being incorporated into the Office of the Chief Technologist. In this program, NASA provides the funds for prize purses but the challenge competitions are conducted by private, non-profit organizations at no cost to NASA.

Seven multi-year prize challenges were initiated in the 2005-2006 period. During 2009, the following competitions were concluded:
  • Regolith Excavation – for robotic excavation of simulated regolith. $750,000 was awarded to three winning teams in a field of 23 teams.
  • Lunar Lander – for reusable rocket-powered vehicles. $2 million was awarded to two teams. Between 2006 and 2009 four teams flew a total of six vehicles.
  • Astronaut Glove – for new designs in flexible pressure suit gloves. A total of $550,000 was awarded in 2007 and 2009.
  • MoonROx – to demonstrate extraction of oxygen from simulated lunar regolith. The $1 million prize expired with no winners.
On-Going Challenges

Three existing challenges will continue:
  • Power Beaming – for wireless power transmission. This challenge was initiated in 2005. $900,000 was awarded in 2009 and $1.1 million remains for competition.
  • Strong Tether – for advanced materials. This challenge was initiated in 2005. $2 million is available for the competition.
  • Green Flight – for super-efficient, quiet and safe aircraft. $1.65 million is available for the competition to be held in July 2011.
New Challenges in 2010

New Centennial Challenges Announced!

Three new prize challenges were announced on July 13 at the Industry Forum for the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist. These are the first new challenges since 2005.

illustrations of a nano-satellite orbiting the earth, a night rover and robotic arms holding a rock(Left) Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, (center) Night Rover Challenge, (right) Sample Return Robot Challenge

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.

› View NASA Press Release

The Centennial Challenges program solicited ideas for new prize topics from all NASA employees and from the general public in 2009. These ideas along with numerous other ideas generated in the previous years of the program were shared with representatives of the Mission Directorates and the Office of Chief Engineer. The topics were selected based on collective agency feedback and an assessment of criteria including:
  • Relevance to NASA, national and global needs
  • Potential to stimulate interest and participation among students
  • Practicality based on funding available and past experience with other competitions
  • Compelling nature in terms of risks, benefits and number of potential participants
  • Advocacy within NASA
As part of the solicitation of new allied organizations, we will request that they propose plans for including participation by students at the university level and also younger students, through parallel student-class competitions or other activities.

Future Growth

The President’s budget request for FY2011 through 2015 includes $10 million per year for Centennial Challenges prize purses so we anticipate further growth in the scope and range of future prize competitions and even greater opportunities for the citizen-inventor to participate in NASA’s research and development.