NASA could use a few good teams. At least, that’s who they’d like to have participating in their first in-space NASA Centennial Challenges Program. It doesn’t seem to matter who the competitors are or what their backgrounds are, either. Heck, they might even want you. The whole idea of the NASA Centennial Challenges Program seems to be to throw something against the moon and see what sticks. NASA is also trying to get some feedback to determine how interested the public is in competing in these challenges.
The challenges themselves are focused on deep space missions, but with small spacecraft (or satellites—cubesats in particular). The first of the NASA Centennial Challenges wants competitors to figure out how deep space communications will work. The second challenge requires competitors to design a viable propulsion system for the small spacecraft. The goal would be a propulsion system that ideally allows the spacecraft to orbit the moon a few times. The intent of this particular challenge is to capture the ideas burbling up from cogitating competitors for contribution to the “opening up” of deep space exploration for non-government spacecraft. Deep space, according to NASA’s definition in the challenge, is the Moon and beyond.
First-prize winners could have their spacecraft prototypes launched into space with NASA’s Space Launch System. The spacecraft themselves would be hitchhiking on the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which would be on a trajectory toward the moon. The launch of the ICPS is projected for late 2017, but the government’s track record with this sort of thing, especially when building new space launch systems, trends towards the launch occurring later.
If this sort of thing excites you, and you have the brainpower and means to design and build satellite communications and propulsion systems, NASA’s challenge might be the place for you to show off your brainy satellite design prowess. NASA is asking for responses. They are, probably for their own sanity, limiting responses to five pages. March 31 of this year is the drop-dead date for the response. I would recommend going to this page for the contact and challenge details.
Planning to compete? We’d love to hear about it.