Ohio/Indiana UAS test center to host NASA-backed contest.


The Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center & Test Complex reported yesterday that it will host the NASA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge in April.

The goal of the competition is to help pave the way for UAS in the national airspace by developing appropriate sense and avoid technology. It will take place April 28 to May 2 at the center’s Camp Atterbury site in Indiana and feature $500,000 in prizes.

Following a public review, NASA recently approved the rules for Phase 1 of the competition. According to the test center, NASA is working to provide an air traffic environment where UAS operators can “demonstrate the technologies necessary to operate safely in the same airspace as other aircraft, including civil, commercial and military aviation.”

A Phase 2 competition is expected to follow about a year after Phase 1 and feature up to $1 million in additional prize money. Early bird team registration, which runs through Nov. 15, is $5,000. More information and online registration is available at uasaoc.org.

Ohio and Indiana have also teamed to pursue designation as one of six federal test sites for research into unmanned aircraft systems. Those sites are scheduled to be announced before the end of the year.

[ image courtesy of the UAS Airspace Operations Challenge ]


The Challenge is On: Team Registration Open for NASA-DPI Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge



WASHINGTON, SEPT. 24, 2013 — /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA and Development Projects Inc. (DPI) of Dayton, Ohio, have opened registration for the 2014 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Airspace Operations Challenge. The $500,000 prize competition is scheduled for April 2014 in Indiana.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

Teams from across the nation will travel to Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center and compete to meet technology milestones, fostering development of technologies that may reduce the technical challenges of safely operating autonomous unmanned aircraft systems in commercial airspace.

“One way NASA can help with tough technology challenges is through prize competitions,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington. “This challenge can help to stimulate private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize and increase the number and diversity of individuals, organizations and teams that are addressing advancement of autonomous unmanned aircraft systems technology.”

NASA is providing the prize money to the winning team as part of the agency’s Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek inventive solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. Prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.

“NASA Aeronautics has recently rolled out an exciting new strategic vision to strengthen the benefits of our research for society and our nation’s economy,” said Thomas Irvine, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for aeronautics research in Washington. “One of the new elements of our vision will be to leverage technologies from other areas or disciplines, such as autonomy, and to bring solutions to the civil aviation arena. Through the UAS Airspace Operations Challenge, we seek to find out whether autonomy, and possibly other technologies, can aid in removing the barriers that exist to unmanned aircraft systems having full and ready access to the National Airspace System.”

Earlier this year NASA selected DPI as the allied organization to conduct the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge. While NASA provides the prize purse for Centennial Challenges, the competitions are managed by non-profit allied organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships.

“DPI is very pleased to partner with NASA to help demonstrate these critical technologies,” said Jeff Hoagland, president of DPI. “The Ohio-Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex will provide the ideal airspace and venue to support the flight competition.”

For more information, including how to register a team for the 2014 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge, visit:


The Centennial Challenges program is managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:


NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate works to solve the challenges that exist in our nation’s air transportation system: air traffic congestion, safety and environmental impacts. The directorate pursues the development of new flight operation concepts and new tools and technologies that can transition smoothly to industry. For more information about NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, visit:




NASA challenge offers prize money for new UAV safety technology



Artists conception of NASA Challenge. (image courtesy NASA)

NASA is challenging researchers to develop technology that will allow unmanned aircraft to fly safely in shared airspace, and a University of North Dakota team plans to compete for up to $1.5 million in prize money.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge will be held in two parts. The first competition is scheduled for next summer has a $500,000 prize.  Phase 2 of the competition will be held one year later with a $1,000,000 prize.

UND Associate Professor William Semke says the challenge is a perfect fit with the work faculty and students are already doing. “We feel we’d come into that opportunity in really good shape. I think we’d be a strong competitor in that. It is a significant undertaking but there is a significant prize money involved as well.”

The NASA challenge is expected to attract a lot of attention. Developing a ‘sense and avoid’ technology for drones is a critical step before the FAA will allow unmanned aircraft to fly in the national airspace with piloted planes.

Semke works with students to write software that can recognize potential aircraft collisions and prompt the drone to take evasive action. That software has been in development since 2007 and UND has been testing it in the air since 2009. NASA is testing the UND software in flights this week near Grand Forks.

Semke says some of the software developed by UND is patented. “Spinoff companies are trying to do some work with this algorithm to move this forward into the commercial airspace.”

A team of students, former students and faculty are already preparing to dive into the NASA challenge.

NASA Funds Prize To Advance Drone Integration


NASA is providing a half-million-dollar prize for Phase 1 of a Centennial Challenge that aims to develop technology to help unmanned aircraft operate safely in the national airspace system, the agency has announced. The first phase of the UAS Airspace Operations Challenge will focus on safe airspace operations and robustness to system failures, NASA said. Competitors will need to demonstrate skills including separation from other aircraft using ADS-B, and respond to failures such as unreliable GPS or lost links. The first competition event is expected in May 2014. Phase 2 of the competition will focus on how to detect UAS that are not cooperating with the system.

The challenge is not expected to solve all the problems involved in integrating UAS into the NAS, but will take the technology “significantly closer to the goals … embodied in the Next Gen Airspace Concept,” NASA said. Prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated. Competitors in previous challenges have included private companies, student groups, and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. NASA provides the prize purse for the Centennial Challenge program, but the competitions are managed by nonprofit partners who seek commercial and private sponsors to cover the cost of operations. Development Projects, a nonprofit group based in Dayton, Ohio, will administer the Phase 1 UAS challenge. Since 2005, NASA has awarded almost $6 million to 15 winners.

NASA Partners With Ohio Non-Profit on Unmanned Air Challenge

NASA Partners With Ohio Non-Profit on Unmanned Air Challenge

WASHINGTON — NASA has selected Development Projects Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, to manage a new Centennial Challenge prize competition involving unmanned aircraft systems in 2014. 

NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Airspace Operations Challenge is focused on developing and demonstrating key technologies, particularly the ability to sense and avoid other air traffic. This will make it possible for these robotic aircraft to operate safely in the same airspace as piloted aircraft. NASA is providing a $500,000 prize purse. 

“Development Projects Inc. leads a technically diverse expert team to conduct this new NASA aeronautics-related challenge competition,” said Larry Cooper, program executive for NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program in Washington. “We look forward to working with Development Projects to see this challenge provide advanced technologies and new entrants who will assist in the development of our nation’s next generation airspace capabilities.” 

Unmanned aircraft systems have the potential to carry out a wide range of public service tasks that are too expensive, monotonous or dangerous for piloted aircraft. Robotic aircraft can carry instruments into violent hurricanes and monitor remote stretches of infrastructure, such as power lines and pipelines. First responders can use UAS platforms to assess flood damage and wildfire intensity. 

The NASA Aeronautics Research Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is coordinating agency participation in the challenge on behalf of NASA’s Space Technology and Aeronautics Research mission directorates. 

Development Projects Inc. was selected from proposals submitted in response to a NASA solicitation in fall 2012. The non-profit organization will finalize rules and begin detailed preparations for the challenge, eventually registering competitors. The first competition to demonstrate team entries is expected in May 2014. 

In the Centennial Challenges Program, NASA provides the prize purse, but the competitions are managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships. 

NASA’s Centennial Challenges seek unconventional solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation. Competitors have included private companies, student groups and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike contracts or grants, prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated. 

There have been 23 Centennial Challenges competition events since 2005. NASA has awarded almost $6 million to 15 challenge-winning teams. For more information about the Centennial Challenges program and descriptions of each of the challenge competitions, visit: 


For updates on the UAS Airspace Operations Challenge visit: 


NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the agency’s Centennial Challenges Program. Centennial Challenges is one of the nine space technology programs within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. For more information about NASA’s investment in space technology, visit: 


RIT picked as NASA challenge event site


Rochester Business Journal
March 28, 2013

Rochester Institute of Technology has been selected as one of 18 locations in the United States to host the NASA technology development challenge, a two-day event in April that features demonstrations of technology and a challenge for participants.

The second International Space Apps Challenge calls on citizens to work together to solve challenges related to improving life on earth and in space, RIT officials said.

During the event, participants with a broad variety of skills will work in teams to create open-source solutions for 50 software, hardware and visualization challenges, including robotics, citizen science platforms and applications of remote sensing data, organizers said.

Challenges include developing a mobile application that allows observers of a meteor shower to trace the location, color and size of a shooting star to creating a narrative and visualization of NASA data that explains space exploration.

“RIT and the Space Apps Rochester team have already shown themselves as leaders for the global event,” said Ali Llewellyn, project manager of the International Space Apps Challenge. “NASA is excited about collaborating with the Rochester community and we’re looking forward to big things coming out of the region.”

The Space Apps Challenge is open to anyone, and participants should bring computers and devices needed for development, RIT officials said.

The weekend event begins at 6 p.m. April 20 in RIT’s Student Innovation Hall, with a closing ceremony at 9 p.m. April 21.

 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.

NASA Touts Successes Of Centennial Challenges


March 04, 2013 
Credit: NASA

Graham Warwick Washington

With its budget under pressure and its future under debate, prize challenges and competitions have a unique appeal to NASA. To the financial leverage of paying only for success and the intellectual outreach of looking beyond traditional contractors is added the publicity boost of being seen to encourage innovation.

Not a bad return on a small investment for a space agency struggling to stay in manned spaceflight, and keep its aeronautics research relevant. And NASA’s success with challenges is catching the eye of other government agencies.

NASA’s flagship is its Centennial Challenges, which since 2005 have ranged from designing an astronaut’s glove to flying a lunar lander. “We have done nine challenges, and 24 competitions within those nine,” says Larry Cooper, Centennial Challenges program executive. “We have awarded over $6 million to 15 teams, and had more than 100 teams compete.”

Past events have seen technology breakthroughs, winners of 2011’s Green Flight Challenge more than doubling the targeted fuel efficiency and boosting interest in electric aircraft. Others have kick-started new entrants in fields from laser power-beaming to reusable suborbital spaceflight.

Three Centennial Challenges are active. In June, Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will host the $1.5 million Sample-Return Robot Challenge. First staged in June 2012, when no one won the prize, this contest is for a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from varied terrain without human control.

Also space-related, the $1.5 million Night Rover Challenge is expected to be launched shortly, with the first competition to take place at NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio early in 2014. The goal is to stimulate innovations in high energy-density storage enabling a Moon rover to operate through the lunar night, but also benefitting terrestrial vehicles and renewable-energy generation systems.

Next is expected to be the $1.5 million Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Operations Challenge (UAS AOC). To be conducted in two stages of increasing difficulty, with the first competition planned for spring 2014, this challenge will tackle the thorny problem of the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into national airspace.

In the $500,000 Level 1 challenge, contestants will have to demonstrate their UAS can fly reliably and accurately, stay well clear of other aircraft, obey the same rules as other air traffic and continue to operate safely even after the command-and-control link or GPS navigation is lost.

A year after the Level 1 prize is won, NASA plans to stage the $1 million Level 2 challenge, which will require competing UAS to maintain safe separation from non-cooperative air traffic not fitted with automatic dependent surveillance broadcast systems. The unmanned aircraft will also be required to “be able to communicate verbally with the air traffic control system under lost link conditions,” says NASA.

Compared with grants and contracts, traditional ways of doing business with NASA, prize challenges “offer a way to engage competitors not within our normal reach,” says Cooper. “And it’s appealing to them because of the low burden of reporting to the government.” For the agency, “it’s an opportunity to encourage development of a whole range of solutions, rather than NASA having to pick one and award a contract.”

Then there is the fiscal argument. “We only pay out if they succeed, so there’s a lot of financial leverage for NASA,” he says. In Green Flight, teams spent a total of $7.6 million in pursuit of the $1.47 million purse. And there is the opportunity to pick up technology. “If we are interested in the IP [intellectual property], we can license it. But they retain the IP and can license it to other people. It’s a win-win.”

In the case of UAS Airspace Operations Challenge, “it’s an innovative way to cast a wider net,” says Daryl Davidson, executive director of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Foundation. The $1 million prize for the second challenge, meanwhile, “is enough to get companies involved,” and not just student teams, he says.

NASA has a set of precepts to identify ideas suitable for Centennial Challenges, one of which is that the problem “is open to many possible solutions,” says Cooper. “The problem with having problems to solve is not having enough money to explore the entire space of solutions,” he says. “If you know the answer, go buy it. If you’re not certain, then use a prize challenge to let lots of people have a go at it.”

Another requirement is that there is “an objective way to determine the winner, otherwise that’s one way to get the competitors annoyed,” Cooper says. A challenge that will capture the public’s attention, as did the Lunar Lander and Green Flight competitions, is a further requirement.

NASA also wants to identify problems requiring solutions that go beyond its own needs, Cooper says. “We do not want to put any more money in than we absolutely need to. So if there is a life after the challenge, an opportunity to make a business or commercialize a technology, we can put more emphasis on that and less on the purse.”

At any time, the agency is looking at hundreds of ideas for all of its mission directorates, he says. The agency issues requests for information (RFI) to gauge competitor interest in a challenge, as it did late last year for the UAS AOC.

“We take one or two [challenge ideas] a year to senior management,” Cooper says. The Centennial Challenges program has a budget of $5 million a year, which NASA can use to launch a prize then hold for up to 10 years. “That’s unique,” he says. “We are not stuck in a ‘use it or lose it’ situation.”

NASA has learned a few lessons along the way to becoming among the most adept of government agencies at using prize challenges—one or two from its failures.

Cooper cites the MoonROx Challenge, which expired in 2009 with its $1 million purse unclaimed. The goal was to generate oxygen from simulated lunar regolith. “We misjudged the interest, the size of the prize, difficulty of the challenge and its commercial potential, and never got anyone to register.”

NASA now takes “a lot more time up front to understand the lay of the land, to announce potential challenges and gauge the interest, so when we are ready to launch, we have the rules and can start registering contestants immediately,” he says.

NASA has also learned to work with outside organizations to conduct the challenges, as the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation did for Green Flight, bringing in Google to sponsor the event, for which NASA offered its biggest aviation prize ever—$1.35 million.

Partnering “saves us money, allows greater flexibility, brings in outside technical experts and broadens the base of support,” Cooper says. Sample-Return Robot, being staged with WPI, lists 14 teams as active, including one from Canada and one from Estonia. Night Rover will be staged with Cleantech Open, a non-profit organization that acts as a business accelerator for “clean technology” entrepreneurs.

NASA received more than 40 responses to its October 2012 RFI on the UAS AOC. “We are evaluating proposals for the management organization and should be underway in the spring,” he says. Partnering comes at a price. One organization that holds its own contests lost interest in hosting the airspace challenge when it realized NASA would only fund the prize purse and there would be no money to support running the competition, unless sponsors could be found.

Cooper cites the Google-backed Green Flight as among the most successful of NASA’s recent challenges. “We saw a significant advancement in the state of the art for energy efficiency in that size of aircraft. It captured public interest, the winner was nominated for the 2012 Collier trophy, and there was a commercial follow-on,” he says, with winner Pipistrel planning to produce hybrid- and electric-powered aircraft.

The Astronaut Glove and Lunar Lander challenges, meanwhile, spurred the formation of new businesses. Peter Homer, the Maine-based engineer who won the 2007 and 2009 glove design challenges, formed Flagsuit to develop space-suit gloves and is now a NASA contractor. Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace, first and second in the 2009 Lunar Lander contest, were selected to provide commercial suborbital launches under NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.

“The challenges have helped build a pool of potential competitors for procurements down the road,” says Cooper. But there is no guarantee. LaserMotive received some NASA study contracts after winning the Power Beaming Challenge, only to see the agency’s interest in laser propulsion wane (see page 54).

Typically, Cooper says, NASA will run a challenge “till someone wins, or until it looks unlikely to be won in any reasonable timescale.” The $2 million Power Beaming Challenge, to demonstrate wireless power transmission to a space-elevator “climber,” was staged four times between 2005 and 2009, when LaserMotive won the $900,000 second-level prize for powering a climber up a 1-km cable with a laser.

“The winner did not get the top prize, but they came so close it was not worth repeating the competition just to give the money away,” he says—a decision that disappointed LaserMotive. The companion Strong Tether Challenge to demonstrate materials for space-elevator cables never produced a winner.

There have been challenges that have proved too hard, such as MoonROx, says Cooper, “but we have never had one that was too easy.” Even though Green Flight was won the first time, “when we put the rules together, we thought no one would win it for years. But two teams came close to doubling the requirement.”

Following a successful competition can be a challenge in itself. “Thrilled” with the results of Green Flight, for which he drafted the first rules, NASA Langley engineer Mark Moore came up with the idea for a university-focused “eVSTOL” prize for a sub-scale electric-powered vertical/short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft. But the Centennial Challenges program decided not to fund it.

The CAFE Foundation, meanwhile, has had a “tremendous response” to its proposal to follow Green Flight with not one, but five challenges, to be run over five years with a prize purse totalling $13.5 million, says President Brien Seeley. The CAFE Green Flight Challenge Program would culminate in demonstration of a quiet, fast, autonomous “sky taxi.”

Challenges are becoming part of the way NASA operates. “Centennial Challenges is our flagship program, but we have experience with other prize types—not just big technology demonstrations where teams bring hardware and compete with others,” says Jennifer Gustetic, NASA program executive for challenges and competitions.

Individual NASA programs can fund prizes, and the volume of challenges is growing. “It’s another tool in their toolkit” to solve problems, she says.

Tap on the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST for more on NASA’s nine Centennial Challenges, or go toAviationWeek.com/innovation