Planetary Unmanned Vehicle Challenge

by Chris Bergin

NASA’s Centennial Challenges program office, in collaboration with the California Space Education and Workforce Institute, Santa Maria, California, announced the Planetary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Challenge.

This new $250,000 competition may significantly affect how science is conducted on planets and moons with atmospheres.

‘This Challenge will promote the development of innovative solutions to the way NASA performs planetary science,’ said NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Scott Horowitz. ‘Outer space destinations, such as Mars and Saturn’s satellite, Titan, are prime candidates for the types of vehicles that will compete in this Challenge.’

The planetary challenge will award $250,000 to teams that can design and build an autonomously operating aerial vehicle to fly a roller-coaster flight path only using visual navigation systems. No Global Positioning System is allowed. Additional requirements include extending and retracting a probe to precisely hit multiple targets on the ground.

‘NASA is continuing to push innovative concepts and new technologies with this Challenge,’ said Brant Sponberg, NASA’s Centennial Challenges program manager. ‘Based on our experiences with the Beam Power and Tether Centennial Challenges, we anticipate a broad variety of participants, ideas and real hardware for this competition.’

NASA’s Centennial Challenges effort promotes technical innovation through a novel program of prize competitions. It is designed to tap the nation’s ingenuity and make revolutionary advances to support the Vision for Space Exploration and NASA goals.

‘The Institute is pleased to expand on our prior collaboration with NASA to conduct this Centennial Challenges Competition,’ said California Space Education and Workforce Institute Director Andrea Seastrand. ‘By stimulating greater awareness, understanding and appreciation for space research, we hope this Challenge will inspire industry, educators and students to engage in space-related education and enrichment activities.’

The Institute is a charitable, nonprofit corporation formed to create understanding, enthusiasm and appreciation for space enterprise and space technology; inspire parents, educators and students to engage in space-related education and enrichment activities; stimulate greater awareness and understanding of the space enterprise workforce and research needs throughout academia; and attract, integrate and retain a robust space workforce.

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