NASA has been working on innovative energy technologies virtually since its inception. After all, you can’t run electrical systems in space using the types of power generation devices common on earth. Consequently, NASA has been a major contributor to the advancement of fuel cells, batteries and photovoltaic systems into the products available today. Indeed, for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, given its expertise in aerodynamics, NASA was also responsible for the U.S. wind energy research program.
For the past several years, several groups within NASA have been exploring how to get more involved in energy technology commercialization, in the wake of diminished clarity on NASA’s space mission and the rise of energy as a global imperative. A new thrust being pursued is the announcement of the LAUNCH: Energy Challenge, whos goal is “to identify 10 ‘game-changing’ innovations that have the potential to transform current energy systems, and help support a more sustainable future.”
Managed by the open innovation group Nine Sigma, and sponsored by NASA in conjunction with USAID, the Department of State and — for reasons unclear to me — Nike (NYSE: NKE), the LAUNCH: Energy Challenge is seeking proposals from innovators in three categories: energy generation, energy harvesting and storage, and industrial applications. Proposals are due by September 9, and representatives from the 10 most promising that are selected will convene at Kennedy Space Center in November to brainstorm with industry leaders on how to accelerate their path forward in/to the marketplace.
It’s an unorthodox collaboration and format, so the jury is out on the effectiveness of this approach. Let’s hope that this program surfaces some promising solutions — and more importantly, boosts them into higher orbit.