Sunday, November 26, 2006

Prize discussion on The Space Show

Dr. Jeff Bell was the guest on a recent Space Show radio broadcast. An important part of the interview concerned prizes, including the Wirefly X Prize Cup Centennial Challenges prize attempts and NASA's Centennial Challenges in general. Dr. Bell is critical of Centennial Challenges, but he doesn't seem to have an objection to the concept of these space prizes or how they are managed. Instead, his main criticism is that the prize award for Centennial Challenges is too low, which is more of a political criticism than a management one. As a result of the low prize value (compared to other space projects), the prizes are not ambitious enough to make the essential advances the space community needs. Dr. Bell also thinks the larger NASA COTS contracts with mandatory milestones rather than a cost-plus approach are too small to achieve their objective (commercial ISS resupply), even with associated private investments. It's true Centennial Challenges is a tiny part of the government space budget, and larger, more ambitious space prize competitions would be welcome by prize supporters. This year's X Prize Cup happened not long after the Lunar Lander Challenge was started (by space industry project standards), so it will also be interesting to see how much progress the competitors have made by next year's event.