NASA competition could net you $1.5M for next great airship

NASA exploring Centennial Challenge for airship concepts

Credit: Reuters

NASA this week said it was considering a new Centennial Challenge: Build and airship capable of long duration flight for scientific missions.

The agency issued a Request For information to see if there was enough industry interest in the challenge and to further develop rules for the competition. You may recall that NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program sets up challenging contests for the public, academia, and industry with an eye towards developing innovative technologies.

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In this case the so-called 20-20-20 Airship Challenge would award seed money to the first 10 Teams to present and pass an Airship scalability review (~$20K per team). The Challenge would award prizes for successful demonstration of a stratospheric airship that would be required to accomplish the following:

• Reach a minimum altitude of 20 km.

• Maintain the altitude for 20 hours (200 hours for Tier 2 competition)

• Remain within a 20 km diameter station area (and navigate between two designated points for Tier 2)

• Successfully return the 20 kg payload (200 kg for Tier 2 competition) and payload data.

• Show Airship scalability for longer duration flights with larger payloads through a scalability review.

“There are few opportunities for space missions in astronomy and Earth science. Airships (powered, maneuverable, lighter-than-air vehicles that can navigate a designated course) could offer significant gains in observational persistence over local and regional areas, sky and ground coverage, data downlink capability, payload flexibility, and over existing suborbital options at competitive prices. We seek to spur a demonstration of the capability for sustained airship flights as astronomy and Earth science platforms in a way that is complementary with broad industry interests,” NASA stated.

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The proposed prize structure for this competition is: Award 1-- A proposed $1.0M will be split between teams successfully completing Tier 1 within 3 years of the challenge initiation. A possible scenario for splitting the Tier 1 prize money is 4 prizes of $500k, $250k, $125k and $125k, starting from the first to demonstrate to the fourth.

Award 2: A proposed $1.5M will be awarded to the first successful demonstration of Tier 2 within four years of challenge initiation.

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