The Administration released its FY 2016 budget proposal yesterday. The NASA budget proposal (PDF)
gives some insight into NASA's plans, including the area of space prizes. The Space Technology portion of the document describes existing challenges like the Sample Return Robot Challenge, the Mars Ascent Vehicle Challenge, and the Cube Quest Challenge to demonstrate cubesat technologies beyond low-Earth orbit. It also describes some ideas NASA is working on for future challenges:
- NASA is formulating a manufacturing challenge with America Makes to demonstrate on-demand, low cost shelter production using resources on the planet. This challenge aligns with NASA mission and goals for deep space exploration and planetary surface construction of infrastructure and will encourage the acceleration of technology in the area of additive manufacturing between industry, academia, and government.
- Additional future challenges will address NASA’s efforts in robotics for human exploration and planetary science missions, and improve University involvement through targeted challenges. For example, Space Technology is working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to formulate the Space Robotics Challenge where NASA and NSF developed robots will be awarded to qualified institutions. The selected teams will have three years to improve the software and automation aspects of the Robonaut series robots.
The document gives more information about NASA's robot challenge plans:
- A new freeflyer robot for use inside ISS as a follow-on to SPHERES. This robotic system will improve the crew’s efficiency by autonomously performing the more mundane and monotonous tasks such as inventory management and air quality assessments. In addition, with its open source software platform, it will continue to be available for use by Universities and for telerobotics challenges on ISS.
- Continued maturation of humanoid robots through a collaboration with Centennial Challenges and the National Science Foundation. NASA will leverage the DARPA robotics challenge as an on ramp to initiate a NASA robotic challenge and to form partnerships with private and university organizations that show potential to dramatically improve NASA’s future robotic capabilities. Space Technology is maturing the Robonaut software to improve the robot’s efficiency and autonomy further freeing up the crew’s valuable time.
In addition to prize information, you can find other interesting ideas and projects that you might not be familiar with throughout the document. Examples include:
- building an icy moons lander testbed
- a suborbital test by JSC of a small capsule called Maraia
- a series of fire experiments called Saffire to be conducted aboard Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft after it leaves the ISS
- a relative navigation sensor experiment called Raven to be delivered to the ISS in a couple years
- the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor-1 (TSIS-1) and CLARREO (Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory) Pathfinder Earth observation instruments also planned for the ISS
- the ISS-CREAM (Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass) astrophysics instrument