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NASA Pledges $5 Million in Prizes for ‘Cube Quest’ Space Challenge

NASA has announced a new "Centennial Challenge," in which teams from the public compete to create new space-age technology, and this one is the biggest yet. "Cube Quest," as NASA calls it, tasks participants with developing ways to put tiny CubeSats — small, cube-shaped satellites — to work in lunar orbit and beyond. Some $1.5 million will be split among the teams that best demonstrate deep-space CubeSat communication and durability, while $3 million is for those that achieve stable, safe orbit around the moon. Teams wouldn't have to make their own rockets — four preliminary qualifying tournaments will award $500,000 and payload space on a future spacecraft launch. Dozens of Centennial Challenge events have taken place since 2005, exploring everything from new astronaut gear to automated rover systems. "Prize competitions like this engage the general public and directly contribute to NASA's goals while serving as a tool for open innovation," said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. Dates for the contest are not yet announced, but don't expect any launches for at least a year or two while teams design and test their satellites.

Tiny satellites launch with big ambitions 1:34

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—Devin Coldewey