Speaking this morning at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Orlando, George Nield, the FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, announced that the FAA’s 2012 budget request includes $5 million for a space access prize. “I’m a big proponent of the value of prizes to stimulate innovation, so I’m pleased to announce that in the president’s 2012 budget request, he recommended that we receive $5 million for a Low Cost Access to Space Prize,” Nield said during a speech in the conference’s opening plenary. “We plan to work with both NASA and the DOD to discuss how best to implement this program, but I think our initiative has a lot of potential to benefit this crowd, so please stay tuned.”
The FAA budget request does indeed include a passage about this proposed prize (turn to page 144 of the PDF):
In addition, $5 million is requested to establish a program for incentivizing advancements in space transportation by non-governmental organizations. The Low Cost Access to Space Incentive would provide a $5 million award designed to jump-start the creation of an entirely new market segment, with immediate benefits to private industry, NASA, the Department of Defense, and academia. Consistent with the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, FAA shall consult widely both within and outside the Federal Government, in defining the scope and criteria for the competition. This program also supports the President’s Directive for “agencies to increase their ability to promote and harness innovation by using policy tools such as prizes and challenges.”
It wasn’t clear from Nield’s talk or the language in the budget request whether this prize will be orbital spaceflight, suborbital spaceflight, or both.