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Space Object Taxonomy Sought in $50K Challenge

Space debris in orbit

Computer-generated image of space debris in orbit around the earth (

22 May 2015. A new challenge on InnoCentive seeks a scientifically-based method for describing orbiting space objects with the fewest characteristics possible, but still predicts the objects’ behavior. The competition has a total purse of $50,000 and a deadline for submissions of 20 July 2015.

InnoCentive in Waltham, Massachusetts conducts open-innovation, crowdsourcing competitions for corporate and organization sponsors. The sponsor, in this case, is Wright Brothers Institute in Dayton, Ohio that runs occasional challenges on InnoCentive to support its work for the U.S. Air Force. Free registration is required to see details of the competition.

Wright Brothers Institute is seeking a technique for classifying and describing space objects that are growing in number and becoming an increasing hazard for collisions in space. Current methods, says the sponsor, do not allow objects to be accurately tracked in space because they do not fully represent the objects’ physical characteristics or models of behavior.

The goal of the competition is to generate a taxonomy that can uniquely describe any space object with a minimum number of descriptive, but realistic, characteristics. In addition, the variables making up the taxonomy need to accurately predict behavior of the objects in space, as verified through sensor measurements.

InnoCentive calls this type of competition a theoretical challenge requiring a written proposal that fleshes out an idea before it becomes a proven concept. Proposals submitted in a theoretical challenge usually offer detailed descriptions and specifications showing how the idea can become an actual product or service.

The challenge has a total purse of $50,000 although neither the sponsor nor InnoCentive indicate the number of awards planned or value of individual awards.  The sponsor asks competitors receiving awards to grant a non-exclusive license to their intellectual property. Entrants not receiving awards will retain all intellectual property rights after the evaluation period.

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