NASA’s latest Centennial Challenge, called Cube Quest, will give competitors a chance to see their own CubeSat (a small low-cost satellite) fly to the moon or into deep space. Participants will also be in the running for a piece of $5 million in prize money–the challenge’s largest pot ever.
Money isn’t the only difference between this and other NASA competitions. Cube Quest will also be the first time non-governmental spacecraft will explore deep space. Competitors’ inventions will vie for coveted spots aboard the Orion spacecraft, part of NASA’s new Space Launch System, which will allow astronauts to explore deep-space destinations like near-Earth asteroids and Mars.
The competition will begin on Earth, with on-the-ground tournaments where entries will be evaluated for mission safety and probability of success. The winner will receive $500,000. The tournament finalists’ satellites will then be placed on the Orion in 2018 for further testing in space. A $1.5 million prize will be awarded to the CubeSat(s) that can communicate in deep space from 2.5 million miles away, while another $3 million will go to the CubeSat(s) that can maintain communication while propelling through the lunar orbit.
If you aren’t a rocket scientist but still want to explore space, you can try to book a seat on a Boeing space shuttle in 2017.