In contrast with the recent past, 20 teams have entered the competition, which is divided into two parts, a Climber Challenge to test climbing ability, and a Tether Challenge to test tether materials. Both events will take place at the Spaceward Games in Salt Lake City, October 19-21.
This year, however, the degree of difficulty has been raised.
It will take much more than last year's best effort to win the prize, however: The beam-powered climbers must rise an average of 2 meters per second for 50 seconds, compared with last year's 1-meter-per-second requirement. The test tethers will have to take at least 50 percent more stress than a "house tether" that represents the state of the art.
If there's one winner in a competition, the successful team gets the full $500,000 for that particular contest. But if multiple teams make the final cut, the performances will be ranked, and the purse will be divvied up among up to three teams.
NASA's Centennial Challenges program paid its first prize money earlier this year, in the $200,000 Astronaut Glove Challenge, and program manager Ken Davidian said he's looking forward to awarding another check.
The organizers have also created a Light-Racer Championship for kids.