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Centennial Challenges, Spaceport Infrastructure Grants, and Suborbital Science to Receive Funds from NASA and FAA

NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize program, FAA’s Spaceports Infrastructure Grants initiative, and the new NASA Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program (CRuSR) gained momentum after receiving funding in the NASA and FAA appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2010, passed by Congress and signed by the President last week. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation conducted advocacy efforts for these NASA and FAA programs as part of the CSF’s legislative agenda for this year.

NASA Centennial Challenges: $4 million in funding is being appropriated for new NASA prizes to promote technology innovation, the first time in 5 years that Centennial Challenges has received new funding. This new funding, at the full level requested by NASA in Fiscal Year 2010, builds on the success of Centennial Challenges throughout this year, in which NASA awarded a total of $3.65 million for innovation successes, including $1.65 million for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge which was won by Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace. Prizes are an innovative mechanism for technology advancement that is supported by the commercial spaceflight sector, and the funds will allow NASA to develop and announce more new prizes in the coming year.

FAA Space Transportation Infrastructure Matching Grants (STIM-Grants): An initial amount of $500,000 in Fiscal Year 2010 will be competitively awarded to spaceports nationwide through FAA’s spaceport grant program, the first time the grant program has been funded since being created in 1993. The grants will be awarded by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) under Dr. George Nield to allow spaceports to support operations and protect public safety. Existing and proposed spaceports in California, Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia / Maryland, Alaska, Wisconsin, Indiana, and other states, will be eligible for these competitively-awarded grants. In addition to promoting safety, the STIM-Grants program is expected to increase the competitiveness of U.S. launch facilities and create new jobs.

NASA Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program (CRuSR): The CRuSR program will fly science, technology, and education payloads aboard next-generation commercial suborbital spacecraft. In addition to funds for the CRuSR program that are expected to come from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD), NASA received $1 million of new funding in Fiscal Year 2010 for the Innovative Partnership Program’s “Innovation Incubator” account, which includes the FAST program for flights on zero-g parabolic aircraft and funding for the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program. Funding for FAST, formally known as the Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training Program, had been zeroed out in the previous year.