NASA has significantly expanded its Centennial Challenges program to include $5 million worth of new competitions to develop robots, small satellites, and solar powered spacecraft.

NASA's Andy Petro said the challenges offer a pipeline of innovative technologies for NASA and that since 2005, the space agency has conducted 19 competition events in six challenge areas and awarded $4.5 million to 13 different teams. "NASA challenges are managed with significant partners such as the X Prize Foundation.

The new challenges include: 

  • The Sample Return Robot Challenge is to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrain without human control. This challenge has a prize purse of $1.5 million. The objectives are to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies.  
  • The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is to place a small satellite into Earth orbit, twice in one week, with a prize of $2 million. The goals of this challenge are to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology and encourage creation of 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 is to stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies of value in extreme space environments, such as the surface of the moon, or for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems on Earth.  

There are three ongoing Centennial Challenges: 

  1. The $2 million Strong Tether Challenge: Teams must demonstrate a material that is at least 50% stronger than the strongest commercially available. The challenge is scheduled for Aug. 13 in Seattle. 
  2. The Power Beaming Challenge: Teams must transmit power using laser beams to a device, so it can climb a vertical cable more than half a mile high. The challenge is planned for the fall of 2010. 
  3. The Green Flight Challenge: Teams will fly aircraft they designed to travel 200 miles in less than two hours using the energy equivalent of less than one gallon of gasoline per occupant. The challenge will be held in July 2011. It is expected to attract electric, hybrid and bio-fueled aircraft.