Monday, April 12, 2010

Space Access '10 Prize Notes: Andrew Petro on Centennial Challenges

Shortly before Space Access '10, I took a couple walks in Phoenix's nearby South Mountain Park, and took a few pictures. The conference was not held outside in the desert mountains, in case you were wondering.

As is always the case when I present notes from a conference, consider this my best attempt rather than a perfect review of the presentation. If you have any doubts, contact the presenter. I'm fairly bad at hearing clearly and taking notes during a presentation. With that caveat, let's start the Space Access '10 prize notes with the NASA Centennial Challenges presentation by Andrew Petro.

Andrew discussed other programs within NASA IPP that he's involved with besides Centennial Challenges (e.g.: FAST). He noted that IPP is being transferred to NASA's new and bigger space technology program.

With Centennial Challenges, NASA only provides the prize money itself. Other organizations run the prize competitions. This allows NASA to get more prize "bang for the buck". Up to now Centennial Challenges has used $12M that was appropriated in 2005-2006. They recently got $4M more, and the current budget request includes $10M each year for Centennial Challenges.

Andrew went over the big prize year in 2009. In addition to the various competitions and wins, he noted that they announced the new Green Flight Challenge in July, and the regolith testbed at Ames was started. Eight teams have already registered for the Green Flight Challenge.

Ted Southern and Peter Homer, the winners from the Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2009, will go to JSC to demonstrate their glove technologies to engineers there.

The Tether Challenge will have incremental prizes this year.

Centennial Challenges plans to announce a new prize or prizes soon. He expects that within weeks the topic area(s) will be announced.

For future prizes, they are interested in a number of areas. Examples include energy storage, participatory science, minisats, low cost space access, and robotics. They will also seek to enhance participation impact with the new prizes in areas like education. They may have university level or earlier school level prizes. They want to ensure that the technology is relevant to national needs.

Andrew had a dialog with the audience on how the next space access prize should be, should there be one. He listed numerous space access categories to start off the discussion. There wasn't much time for this, though. Paul Breed of Unreasonable Rocket discussed the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge payload requirements. He would like to have had a mass fraction rather than an absolute mass. John Carmack from Armadillo Aerospace had a different perspective. One audience member asked if any thought had been given to doing a prize-brainstorming workshop.