Rumors say the $3 million Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge, funded by NASA and run by the Space Florida Small Satellite Research Center, is about to be canceled. The official announcement is said to be coming Monday. [Update: See It’s Dead, Jim.]
The goal of the Nano-satellite Launch Challenge was to encourage the development of new systems for low-cost, frequent launches of small payloads. Space Florida published draft rules for the competition back April. Since then, progress appears to have stalled. The following post appeared on the Space Florida blog on September 26:
The Competition has remained in a holding pattern. NASA has the revised Draft Rules for the Challenge. NASA made a decision to issue a RFI seeking additional information on the demand for a small satellite launch vehicle prior to approving the revised Draft Rules. Pending the analysis of the results of that RFI in September, we are still waiting on NASA to make a final determination on the revised Draft Rules. Until that is done, we cannot move forward.
NASA’s Request for Information can be found here.
Numerous individuals and organizations have commented on the need for a dedicated low-cost launch system for small satellites. The fact that the Nano-satellite Launch Challenge may be coming to an end is disappointing. It means the small-satellite launch gap will continue, but it also spells a setback for NASA’s Centennial Challenges program which has been drifting in recent years due to lack of funding and direction.
Of course, we understand why NASA would want to issue a Request For Information to seek further information on demand for small satellite launcher. $3 million is a huge chunk of taxpayer’s money, and it would be irresponsible to throw it away on a rocket for which there may be no need. This does make us wonder, though – did NASA issue an RFI seeking information on the demand for the $20-billion Space Launch System before going ahead with full-scale development?