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March 14, 2011

NASA Looking for Lunar Satellite, Nano-Satellite Prize Managers

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

If your science-based organization is looking for some work, give NASA a call. The agency has recently issued calls for a non-profit organization to manage the International Space Station (ISS) as a national laboratory, plus it is looking for partners to manage its lunar Night Rover and Nano-Satellite Launcher Centennial Challenges.

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The Night Rover and Nano-Satellite Launcher Centennial Challenges are prize competitions for technological achievements by independent teams who work without government funding. The challenges are for individuals, groups and companies working outside of the traditional aerospace industry, with awards made only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.

Under the Night Rover Challenge, teams will need to demonstrate a solar-powered exploration vehicle that can operate in darkness using its stored energy. NASA hopes to stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies in space environments so probes can operate during the long lunar “night” or at night on Mars, with spin-off benefits applicable to renewable energy systems and electrical vehicles on Earth. Winners of the challenge would get a prize of $1.5 million.

The $2 million Nano-Satellite Launcher Challenge requires an organization to place a small satellite into Earth orbit two times in one week. NASA hopes to stimulate innovation in low-cost launch technologies for frequent access to Earth orbit while encouraging creation of commercial nano-satellite delivery services. Driving down the cost of reliably sending small payloads in a timely manner could create “entirely new markets for U.S. businesses,” according to the NASA press release, as well as provide more opportunities for students and researchers to work with space to develop technologies and solve problems.

 NASA plans to choose U.S. non-profit organizations to manage the contest from proposals in response to proposals issued by the organization. The organizations managing the challenges are also expected to seek sponsors and teams, and conduct publicity and administration of the actual contests. Once selected, the organizations will work with NASA to announce challenge rules and details on how teams may enter.

Organizations “generally seek sponsors of all monetary sizes,” says NASA, plus in-kind contributions while providing public recognition (i.e. logos, naming rights). Details of the arrangements are left to be directly negotiated between the non-profits and the sponsors, who may be for-profits, universities, other non-profits, and individuals with some money to burn.

In addition to collecting sponsorship money, organizations are expected to get exposure on NASA TV, NASA’s agency website, media coverage and interest from the public.

NASA is also looking for private and corporate sponsors for its other existing technology Challenges programs, including Strong Tether, Power Beaming, Green Flight and Sample Return Robot Challenges.


Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee