NASA Loves A Good Challenge-Not Business As Usual
NASA's pioneering use of prize competitions and innovation challenges is a dramatic departure from government's traditional "business as usual." The agency's innovation and technology challenges include prizes that encourage independent teams to race to achieve bold goals without any upfront government funding. NASA benefits from private sector investments many times greater than the cash value of prizes, and the agency only pays for results. "NASA prize competitions unlock the extraordinary, sometimes untapped potential of U.S. students, private companies of all sizes and citizen inventors," said NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These individuals and teams are providing creative solutions to NASA challenges while fostering new technology, new industries and innovation across the United States."

NASA has a history of broad and successful experiences with prize challenges. The agency is a leader in government-sponsored competitions that solve problems to benefit the space program and nation. Since 2005, NASA has conducted 20 Centennial Challenges in six areas and awarded $4.5 million to 13 teams. Each challenge is managed by non-profit organizations in partnership with NASA. In July, NASA announced three new challenges and is seeking non-profit organizations to manage them. The challenges are: The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is to place a small satellite into Earth orbit, twice in one week, for a prize of $2 million. The goals of this challenge are to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology and encourage 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 for extreme space environments, such as the surface of the moon, or for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems on Earth. The Sample Return Robot Challenge is to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from varied terrain without human control. This challenge has a prize purse of $1.5 million. The objective is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic technologies.

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