NASA launches $5 million contest to find CubeSats for deep space missions

Attention, scientists, hobbyists and anyone in between who can design a mean CubeSat, or a mini cube-like satellite, for space exploration: registration is now open for NASA’sCube Quest contest, and the agency’s giving out cash prizes worth a total of $5 million. NASA’s no stranger to holding competitions in an effort to tap into the brilliant minds of folks outside their roster of employees, but this one is a lot bigger than many of itsprevious events. See, contenders will compete not only for cash prizes, but also for a spot on the Orion spacecraft during its first integrated flight with the agency’s upcoming monster rocket called Space Launch System.

The SLS’ first flight isn’t scheduled to blast off until sometime before November 2018. Cube Quest contenders will need to participate in any of the four ground tournaments (the agency’s earmarking $500,000 to give out as prizes for these preliminary contests) to be held every four to six months before then. Those that excel at these ground tests are the ones that will be ferried to space by Orion and SLS, where they’ll go through even more rigorous testing.

The satellite(s) that can travel farther than 2.5 million miles (or 10 times the distance between Earth the moon) and can remain capable of communication from that distance will win $1.5 million. Meanwhile, the satellite(s) that can function while traveling along the lunar orbit will win $3 million. The agency’s hoping to find effective and affordable CubeSat designs through this competition for use in deep space missions. As NASA’s Eric Eberly says:

If we can produce capabilities usually associated with larger spacecraft in the much smaller platform of CubeSats, a dramatic improvement in the affordability of space missions will result, greatly increasing science and research possibilities.

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