Bigger prizes to come?

The entrepreneurial space industry has been big supporters—and beneficiaries—of prizes, from the Ansari X PRIZE and the Google Lunar X PRIZE to NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize program. Now it looks the latter is going to get a lot more robust. After several years of not getting any funding, Centennial Challenges got $4 million in NASA fiscal year 2010 budget. And in detailed budget documents released yesterday, Centennial Challenges, now part of the Space Technology portion of the budget would get $10 million a year in fiscal years 2011 through 2015. Here’s how NASA describes it will use the money, if Congress goes along with the budget request:

The $10 million per year FY 2011 request for Centennial Challenges will allow NASA to pursue new and more ambitious prize competitions. Topics for future challenges that are under consideration include revolutionary energy storage systems, solar and other renewable energy technologies, laser communications, demonstrating near-Earth object survey and deflection strategies, innovative approaches to improving the safety and efficiency of aviation systems including Next Generation Aeronautics efforts, closed-loop life support and other resource recycling techniques, and low-cost access to space. Annual funding for Centennial Challenges allows new prizes to be announced, addressing additional technology challenges that can benefit from the innovation of the Citizen inventor.

In addition, NASA is planning a one-day technical symposium this Thursday featuring winners of several of the recent Centennial Challenges. That will be followed Friday by a recognition ceremony for the winners, featuring NASA administrator Charles Bolden. There’s also talk that NASA will use the event to announce one or more new prizes.

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