Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Unreasonable Rocket Plans

Now that the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge is over, Unreasonable Rocket has a rough plan for what they need to do in the next year to be ready for the 2008 Lunar Lander Challenge. I like that many of the goals are near-term. It's best not to fill up the year's schedule, since surprises and delays are bound to happen along the way.

Some of the "Unreasonable" plans seem to be based on lessons learned not only during this year's development, but also at this year's X PRIZE Cup. What we see at this type of public event is that every team is able to learn from the others, during development if the teams are open (as they often are in these Challenges), and, if nothing else, during the actual competitions. Even if the prize isn't won in a competition event, the industry moves forward with lessons learned. The sponsor's goals are more likely to ultimately be reached because of this.

Looking Back at the 2007 Space Elevator Games

Here's more looking back ... this time to the Space Elevator Games.

LaserMotive is back from Utah, and recovering. They had some problems that sound more operational than involving their design or implementation of the climber. That's part of what makes a challenge like this so nail-biting.

Here are some posts by the Space Elevator Blog:

Kansas City Space Pirates tuning their mirrors - with a video

KC Space Pirates Wrap It Up - retrospective look at the games by the KC Space Pirates. This one also looks ahead at what we might see in the next Games ... but of course there will be surprises ...

Marc Boucher Appears on the Space Show - head of the Space Elevator Reference

Speaking of the Space Elevator Reference, there's a recent post there looking back at the Games, too:

Update on LaserMotive Efforts at the Spaceward Games - covers some of the operational difficulties that LaserMotive encountered

Looking Back at the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge

RLV News points to some articles that look back at what happened, good and bad, at the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge:

2007 Cup and NGLLC Recap - The X PRIZE Foundation's William Pomerantz reviews each of Armadillo's attempts at the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge, highlighting the impressive accomplishments and bitter disappointments of the attemps.

We Failed - Armadillo's John Carmack doesn't put any spin in that title. He reviews the recent preparations for the X PRIZE Cup, and notes that the FAA AST folks were working hard to make sure the event happened in a safe manner:

the people we are working with very much want to see us succeed. We noticed that we were trading permit related email with them on nights and weekends, which isn’t the normal image of a clock-punching federal employee.

They did have some difficulties to overcome with AST requirements, as John relates. There were also difficulties with backup parts. This type of work obviously involves a lot of supplier interactions. Facilities at Holloman Air Force Base were good. Unreasonable Rocket pitched in with some parts help during the competition. Now that it's all over, they have a number of paths and changes to investigate ... after a breather.

X PRIZE Cup 2007 media - lots of videos and photos of the event from Armadillo

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

DARPA Urban Challenge In Progress

As with the Space Elevator Games and Lunar Lander Challenge, I'm not able to do justice to the DARPA Urban Challenge - there's too much going on here while all these big prize events take place. I have a huge stack of Urban Challenge links I'll probably never get a chance to sort through. Fortunately, this one is also being covered in great detail. Cosmic Log points to the DARPA Urban Challenge coverage by Michael Belfiore for Wired Danger Room. You might want to start with his preview article. The latest news is that 6 teams have been eliminated during the National Qualification Event. More will be cut before the finals on November 3.

Michael explains the most important rule of the game (after all these are supposed to be logistics vehicles, not RoboCop tanks):

DARPA director Tony Tether outlined the basic rules for competing teams in a briefing last night, concluding with the most important rule of all: "Don't hit anyone!!!"

That's with three exclamation points, in about a 10,000-point font size, just so no one would miss it.

Yes, the exclamation points about about 4 feet tall.

tgdaily is also covering the event with a lot of posts, videos, and slide shows.

X PRIZE Cup Results - Lunar Lander Challenge and Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award

Well, after being away for a few days, I'm back at the computer, catching up on what happened at the X PRIZE Cup.

For the Lunar Lander Challenge, unfortunately, Armadillo wasn't able to win any prize money this year. On the bright side, that just gives all of the teams more shots next year. From the point of view of prize sponsors (in this case NASA), it gives even more benefit as more teams work on the problem over the next year, and the sponsor gets to observe the competitors try different approaches.

In fact, so many teams are already trying that I wonder if a 3rd, easier (with correspondingly smaller cash rewards) category of Lunar Lander Challenge prize might make sense? Such an easier prize could involve a shorter flight, no translation, or even tethered operations. Maybe a winner of the more difficult levels wouldn't be eligible to also win the easier level. This might get more competitors in the real competitions to make an even better spectator event.

I'm so far behind in covering the X PRIZE Cup events that I'm not even going to try to catch up. You can find the information you want, in many cases from people who were there, from the sites I recently mentioned at the beginning of this post. Another site that covered the events in detail is Cosmic Log. You can also see a photo gallery including vehicle pictures from several of the Lunar Lander Challenge competitors at CNet News.

Another Space Prize competition that was held at the X PRIZE Cup was the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award. You can learn about the innovative space business ideas that won the competition awards in this press release from the X PRIZE Foundation. You can also read an interview with one of the finalists in Smart Girls Rock. I didn't realize this prize is also sponsored by NASA, and specifically the Innovative Partnerships Program that includes Centennial Challenges. You can see the prize mentioned on the IPP events page:

Our newest competition, the "Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award" combines our unique Wirefly X PRIZE Cup event, the excitement of manned space exploration, and the unbounded ideas of youth to produce an educational experience like none before it. The award creates a new level of excitement and dynamic participation in all fields of science and technology. It also provides an unparalleled opportunity to connect the most innovative students directly with the cutting edge of space exploration.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

X PRIZE Cup and Lunar Lander Challenge About to Begin!

There's no way I can keep up with all of the activities surrounding the X PRIZE Cup. I'm already way behind with all of the news, even if I just concentrate on prizes. You should be able to get great updates and links to more updates from's X PRIZE Cup site, RLV News, Personal Spaceflight, Transterrestrial Musings, and Leonard David at LiveScience.

Also check the X PRIZE Cup site (see the new Rocket Racing League logo/link!) and the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge site.

Here are some brief updates the morning before the X PRIZE Cup.

Lunar Lander Challenge Plans - Personal Spaceflight - Armadillo's schedule, and representatives from other LLC teams

X PRIZE Cup Media Day Photos - Personal Spaceflight - Get a sneak previous of what some of the displays and vehicles look like.

Wired Blog on X PRIZE Cup - It's already full of posts and pictures from the events so far - a half dozen posts yesterday. The link is from RLV News.

The X PRIZE Foundation's William Pomerantz posts on the details of the Lunar Lander Challenge rules, and why they were made the way they were.

X PRIZE Cup Media Day Posting - RLV News - gives lots of links related to the upcoming X PRIZE Cup, the Rocket Racing League, and a Diamandis interview

X PRIZE Cup Press Conference - Part 1 - RLV News - this featured a lot of the players in the Lunar Lander Challenge, including a Northrop Grumman (sponsor) representative, Will Pomerantz from the X PRIZE Foundation Space area, and representatives from Armadillo, SpeedUp, Masten Space, and Unreasonable Rocket.

Tom Vander Ark Asks "Why Prizes"?

In an X PRIZE Foundation blog entry, Tom Vander Ark asks "why use prizes"? He also asks "when are prizes useful"? Of course he answers the questions, too. The short answer to the first question is

There are three primary benefits of well constructed prizes and media savvy global competitions; they are a high leverage and efficient investment, a powerful innovation strategy, and an effective change strategy.

He expands in detail on all 3 points. He also gives a detailed answer to the second question using various example prizes covered on this blog to make his points.

One interesting bit of information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE is used:

A prize attracts teams from around the world, across boundaries (e.g., more than 260 Google Lunar X PRIZE registration requests for GLXP from 35 countries).

Bigelow Offers Incentives for Crew Launch

New Scientist reports that Bigelow Aerospace plans a $760M contract for 8 crew launches that meet specific criteria. They need crew launch capability to support the inflatable space stations they plan. Bigelow already offers an incentive for development of crew launch: $50M for America's Space Prize. However, it doesn't look like anyone is about to win that prize, which has some very high hurdles - no government funding (use of government test and launch sites is allowed), significant reusability, significant crew size, and so on - and needs to be won in January 10, 2010.

What isn't clear (at least to me) is what will happen with America's Space Prize when this contract is issued. Will America's Space Prize be extended, or modified in some way, but still be present as an additional incentive (to the contract winner or other competitors)? Will the $760M contract have similar rules to the prize, or will launchers like SpaceX's Falcon 9 or EELVs, which get government funding, be allowed? Will government funding be allowed, as long as there is no government ownership of the company? Will it be a U.S. contract (America's Space Prize requires that the contestant live and work in the U.S.)? Will reusability be a requirement? It would be interesting to see the prize continue (perhaps in modified form), since even if the $760M contract works, Bigelow should want a backup!

There's more on this in posts and comments at Transterrestrial Musings, Personal Spaceflight, and RLV News.

Friday, October 26, 2007

After the Space Elevator Games

After the 2007 Space Elevator Games, the Space Elevator Blog has a Thank You for the many readers of the site during the Games.

Meanwhile, USST has a parting photo, apparently right before they left Utah. They also have a number of news posts covering the time all the way up to their arrival back home.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

MicroSpace News

Lunar Lander Challenge competitor MicroSpace has filed a letter of intent to go for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. From the news release:

Our "Human Lunar Lander", with its split tank grouping, makes it easy to load a "Rover" unit, and we intend to display this as a full scale system at the 2007 "X PRIZE Cup" event. We also have in operation, and will display, an innovative Lunar Rover for this use.


Micro-Space continues to be a participant in the "Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Competition". Although we have made considerable progress with our Lander’s subsystems, we have not been able to focus as intensely as we had hoped on this project and we will not receive a FAA Launch License in 2007.

Unreasonable Rocket to the X PRIZE Cup

Unreasonable Rocket has several recent posts:

Unreasonable Ideas - a new site for posts not related to the rocket

Sand Diego fires - part of the news you've probably been seeing on TV if you're not in the area

Long night we are ok - the fire situation is looking better for them

Good Luck to Armadillo - they are off to the X PRIZE Cup Wednesday

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Registration Open for 2008 Great Moonbuggy Race

The Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium announces that it's time for competitors to register for the 2008 NASA Great Moonbuggy Race. This race is in its 15th year. It features human powered "Moonbuggies." (I don't know if that's how you spell the plural, but I like it that way). There are high school and college level competitions. I have more links on last year's Moonbuggy Race here.

Would it make sense to hold some kind of "lunar" human-powered or robotic race like this in conjunction with another space event like next year's X PRIZE Cup?

X PRIZE Cup posting starts

Check RLV News for a number of sources that can be expect to have good X PRIZE Cup and Lunar Lander Challenge coverage. Also check this overview from the X PRIZE Foundation.

Update: The posting is now in full swing. Unfortunately for me, as with the Space Elevator Games I won't be doing any on-the-spot posts. Alas, I'm working this week, and it's debatable whether I'll even have access to the computer this weekend. I'll see what I can do from afar while I can, though.

As with the main Space Elevator Games posters, RLV News is posting faster than I can keep up. Here's today's batch; check the link in the previous sentence to get the latest.

ISPS Introductory Comments - Peter Diamandis gives an introductory talk. This post also includes links to a a detailed overview of the X PRIZE Cup from that includes all sorts of details on what you'll see there, and other important information like maps and advise to wear sunscreen. The Las Cruces Sun also has a Spaceport section that's probably a good place to check on New Mexico Spaceport news, and that has an article on spaceport discussions at the ISPS.

ISPS Plenary Session - Valin Thorn reviews NASA's COTS program, Elon Musk covers "Why to invest in space", astronaut John Herrington discusses Rocketplane, and Alex Tai presents Virgin Galactic.

ISPS Track 1: Session 1 - progress in Vehicle Systems

ISPS Track 1: Session 2 - Synergy Between Government and Personal Spaceflight

ISPS Track 2: Session 1 - Developing Space Tourism - Since this is the Space Prizes blog I should mention that the panelists included Ansari X PRIZE sponsor Anousheh Ansari.

ISPS Track2: Session 2 - Interviews with Space Tourists by The Space Show host Dr. David Livingston - One question was To the future tourists, would you help fund grants for students to go? Anousheh Ansari's answer was that Her philanthropy [is] aimed at more longer term benefits than a single spaceflight.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing she has in mind, but here's an example of her fundraising efforts. The University of North Texas recently held a fundraiser at the Frontiers of Flight museum. The fundraiser was called Discover the Power of Ideas 2007: Privatization of Space. Proceeds of the event, with a presentation by Ansari, went to fund scholarships for the school. Ansari is also expected at the X PRIZE Cup, World Space Expo, and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space SpaceVision 2007 conference.

ISPS Session 3: Track 1 - Marketing the "New Space" Business

In addition to the big article mentioned above, Leonard David has a couple of shorter LiveScience blog posts on the New Mexico events:

X PRIZE Cup Lead Sponsor EX'd Out - Wirefly is reducing its sponsorship of the X PRIZE Cup. It's not clear how much the reduction is, whether or not the X PRIZE Cup title is changed, and when this happened (right before the Cup, or a while ago?). Didn't enough people by phone plans? Folks, you've got to make the sponsors happy! Anyway, Wirefly has an X PRIZE Cup blog, and it still says "Wirefly X PRIZE Cup", but the last update was September 20.

Lunar Lander Team Challenge: Armadillo to Fly Solo - Oh, well, I was hoping there would be a multi-competitor competition this year, but this challenge is difficult. That's why the winners get so much money, and why the challenge needed a prize in the first place. This also means that the other teams should be looking ahead to next year.

Transterrestrial Musings posts on the single competitor, too.

Cosmic Log has a thorough post on the recent Space Elevator Games and the upcoming Lunar Lander Challenge. It also presents a backdrop of other prizes like the DARPA Urban Challenge and the other Centennial Challenges.

Don't forget that NASA is funding the Lunar Lander Challenge prize money. They should be congratulated for sponsoring this easy-on-the-taxpayer and good-to-commercial-space competition.

The Google Earth Blogger is flying to the competition. There won't be any air photos of the X PRIZE Cup this time, though (it being at an Air Force Base and all). The post includes some good Google Earth links related to the X PRIZE Cup, as well as other New Mexico links of interest.

Personal Spaceflight posts on arriving for the ISPS and X PRIZE Cup and Rocketplane's uncertain future that is sure to be discussed at the ISPS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wirefly X PRIZE Cup and Northop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge

Well, the Space Elevator Games schedule is almost merging with the X PRIZE Cup schedule, if you count the Personal Spaceflight Symposium! Fortunately there are lots of others out there posting on these events.

Here's an article by the Las Cruces Sun-News on the Symposium and Cup. It mentions a local participant in the X PRIZE Cup:

One of those participating this year is Las Crucen Eric Yaryan whose group FLARE — Fellowship of Las Cruces Area Rocket Enthusiasts — will launch a high-powered rocket named Leatherneck to an altitude of more than 12,000 feet.

Here's more about FLARE.

I'd bet on plenty of reporting on the Lunar Lander Challenge, X PRIZE Cup, and International Symposium on Personal Spaceflight from RLV News, Transterrestrial Musings, and The Space Show, since they plan to attend. There will probably be a lot more coverage, too.

Check out the RLV News link above for more information about the remaining Lunar Lander Challenge competitors. It includes this video of an Armadillo FAA qualification flight.

Don't forget to check out coverage of the Cup!

The ISPS Blog got updated a few days ago with some new speakers; I'm not sure if it will be updated during the event.

Wirefly also has a Blog for the X PRIZE Cup, but again I don't know if it will be updated during the event.

Space Elevator Games Day 3 (and now 4)

The Space Elevator Games continued Sunday, with attempts, but no wins, from all 4 climber teams. The games are extended to Monday (today) for those teams that can stay. All of the details, and some cool pictures of climbers against backdrops of snowy mountains and lasers firing at night are at The Space Elevator Blog and The Space Elevator Reference.

Update: More attempts have been made, but there haven't been any successes yet. One issue is that there may be problems with the ribbon itself. See the links above for more details.

There's a summary at Wired Science and TreeHugger.

Meanwhile, RLV News has links and comments on the games here and here. In addition to the posts, you should check out the comments, some of which are from NASA Centennial Challenge's Ken Davidian. One comment from RLV News that I agree with is the following:

One thing I would suggest, though, is that some preliminary events be arranged to help the competitors get some "practice" before the one big annual contest. Just going through the process of moving the apparatus, setting it up, seeing if everything is compatible with the rules, finding unexpected problems, etc. will help a team prepare for the real thing later. Such preliminary meets might offer only some minor prizes or even just some travel support for the contestants. The tether strength competition, in particular, doesn't involve a big hardware setup. I could imagine, for example, the National Space Society sponsoring a mini-competition of the tether pull at its annual meeting in May. A materials sciences conference of some sort might also be interested in such a contest.

This idea seems like a potential win-win-win-win for NASA, the Alliance Organization (in this case Spaceward), the event organizer (such as the National Space Society ISDC), and the competitor teams (and their sponsors). It applies to other similar Challenges, too.

For NASA: More good public relations, and more of a chance to get better technical results from the challenges. For example, a test Regolith Excavation run using good lunar simulant a half year early might teach a team something early, and get them producing results earlier. Misconceptions about the expectations (eg: mobility) might also be brought to light earlier this way. Similar scenarios could hold for Space Elevator competitors (although I suppose it's less likely after 3 years of Space Elevator games).

For the Alliance Organization (like Spaceward): This would allow them to iron out some problems early, making their main event more of a success. Possibly just as important, it would be a good chance for public attention to their event and cause, helping sponsorship, attendance, and more. In the case of a Washington DC event, they might even get some favorable political exposure. It would probably be a lot of work ... but maybe some volunteers at the event could help.

For the event organizer (let's pick the NSS ISDC): Such an event at, or near (in time/space) the ISDC would be a draw to the rest of the ISDC, both for the general public and for Space Elevator fans. As with Spaceward, it would bring more attention to their event and organization. Even if a full-fledged event can't be held because it's too difficult, it would be good to have some kind of dry run event like the qualification event at the Games, or at least a display of hardware. It would be interesting to see teams show up not only to compete in a mini-Games, but also to have a Space Elevator or Power Beaming/Tether track at the ISDC so the teams can show their stuff and so other elevator/power beaming/tether experts can present. Having some kind of associated competition, like the Light Racers, or a smaller power beaming, material strength, or related challenge (either for kids or grown-ups) would also fit in nicely. I wouldn't limit ideas for associated mini-challenges to the ones at the Space Elevator Games -- anything on the path to the Space Elevator, or perhaps other space-related advances that can be accomplished with improved power beaming or tether technologies, would work just as well. With such a "theme" as part of the ISDC, one can imagine a nice Ad Astra article with photos almost writing itself.

For Teams - One potentially nice thing about the timing of ISDC is that it might be convenient for university students who might be between Spring semester and a summer job at that time. Obviously the additional exposure and dry run would help them raise money and increase their chances of winning the prize. It would be a good networking opportunity, too. It should be a lot of fun, too.

Oh, I almost forgot the ISDC attendees - the dry run and any associated mini-games or lecture tracks would be a nice addition to their ISDC experience.

So ... there are a lot of advantages ... but clearly it would involve scarce money and time. It seems like a worthwhile thing to try, anyway.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Focus on Some of the Automotive X PRIZE Teams

As with the Genomics X PRIZE, I have some catching up to do with the Automotive X PRIZE. Again I'll take care of it in 1 big post.

Automotive X PRIZE Teams Rev Up to Compete - - This article overviews the 30 or so teams that have entered the Automotive X PRIZE competition to make and race an affordable and marketable 100 mpg low-emissions car. It focuses on 5 teams, and clearly shows the difference in the "personalities" of the teams' concepts. The teams are Zero Pollution Motors (The Air Car), Desert Fuel, Society for Sustainable Mobility (Open Source car development), The GreenIt! Project, and Kinetic Vehicles.

AutoblogGreen Q&A: Open Source Green Vehicle Project - AutoBlogGreen has the text of an interview of the Open Source Green Vehicle team.

Overview: teams competing in the Automotive X-Prize - AutoBlogGreen - The one also gives an overview of the Automotive X PRIZE, and how it differs from earlier high-mileage prizes in that it emphasizes characteristics that would make the vehicles marketable. It also covers some of the teams, like Tesla, Phoenix, Fuel Vapor, Zap, and Velozzi. Shiny photos or pictures of the vehicles are there, of course.

PM’s Auto X Prize Kids Zip Toward 100 MPG With a Plug-in Car - Popular Mechanics - This article showcases the Cornell Automotive X PRIZE Team. They're assembling team members and going with a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). They determined that the alternative Automotive X PRIZE category was more suitable for the strengths of a research institution like Cornell University, but the consumer market fit of the mainstream vehicle category is so compelling that they're going with a mainstream vehicle (ie features like 4 passenger capability). Note: Popular Mechanics is sponsoring this team. There's more about the team here and of course here.

Urey and Whipple Prizes for Planetary Science

The UC Santa Cruz site issued a press release about one of their professors, Francis Nimmo, winning the Urey Prize in Planetary Science presented by the American Astronomical Society by younger scientists. Dr. Nimmo has a diverse set of planetary science work covering subjects like heat flow on Mercury, plate tectonics on Venus, magma and crust on Mars, and magnetism in the Earth's core, as well as work on outer planet icy moons like Enceladus and Triton.

Meanwhile the American Geophysical Union, and specifically the Planetary Sciences section of the AGU, has selected the next winner of the Whipple Award for an outstanding contribution in the field of planetary science. The winner will give a lecture at the Fall AGU meeting. This meeting will be held in San Francisco, and is expected to draw 15,000 people. The mass notification I got included the name of the 2007 winner, so it's not exactly a secret, but I couldn't find a single reference to who the 2007 winner is on the the Web, so I'll let them make a public/media announcement at the meeting.

Google Lunar X PRIZE Coverage

Waziwazi Robotics Today covers the CMU Lunar X PRIZE robot entry. The video in the article is of their current lunar-oriented robot Scarab.

Extra Technology News, meanwhile, describes the The X PRIZE Lunar Rover Botball Design Challenge for students to make a web site on a Lunar X PRIZE proposal.

Marc Hodosh and the Archon Genomics X PRIZE

Here are a bunch of articles (many care of the X PRIZE Foundation news scroller) on the Archon Genomics X PRIZE:

The X factor: Innovator leading charge in genetic competition - from Wicked Local Brookline, about Marc Hodosh, executive director of the Genomics X PRIZE. The article suggests that several more competitor teams may be announced. Marc's job as executive director of the prize includes recruiting teams, managing ethical and legal issues, and raising money ... and creating buzz around the competition. Marc has also been involved with entrepreneurial businesses, facial recognition software, the Boston chapter of the FIRST robotics competition, and medical school. Along the way he's also made contacts with many top innovators. All of this should help him with the Genomics X PRIZE.

Entrepreneur Segways Toward Medical Revolution Directing Genomics X PRIZE - by Xconomy - This one also features Marc Hodosh. It goes into a lot of details on his entrepreneurial and other experiences before signing up for the prize. Here's a hint at something we might see: Sometime next year, the foundation will launch a major public awareness campaign to promote the prize and raise awareness of the promise of genomics.

The PRIZE is Right - also by Xconomy - This one is by Marc himself. He covers the history of innovation prizes, their recent resurgence, and where the Genomics PRIZE fits into the X PRIZE Foundation's efforts.

Genome maps to the stars - from GlobeLife - In this case the stars are meant in the Hollywood sense. The article covers the rich and famous who are signing up to have their genomes mapped by the winners of the Genomics X PRIZE, and the kind of medical advances that may happen once genome mapping is cheap enough to populate a genomics database of many people to allow statistical analysis and interpretation of the data.

Upstate New York Laboratory Robotics Interest Group (LRIG) to Host Symposium on Future of Genotyping - by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News - The symposium features Marc Hodosh, who will be talking about the Genomics X PRIZE. One of the competitors will also be there, as well as at least 1 more expert in genomics. Here's more about the LRIG and the symposium.

They feel the need for DNA speed - by - This article goes into details about the technology and motivations of Genomics X PRIZE competitor 454 Life Sciences.

base4 innovaton joins $10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE - This was announced earlier, but the article gives a brief description of all of the teams' approaches in the process of announcing the new team. The article also describes the big stakes for the rest of us: The stated purpose of the Archon X Prize, to dramatically reduce the time and cost of sequencing genomes, is the key to a health care system that is preventative and proactive.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

2007 Feynman Prizes

Responsible Nanotechnology reports on the 2007 Feynman Prizes in nanotechnology.

Day 2 of Main Space Elevator Games

As usual you can get (huge waves of) the latest news from The Space Elevator Blog and The Space Elevator Reference. The tether challenge will come to the spotlight (I guess I shouldn't use that wording in these games) today.

One additional item I didn't notice in the 2 big sources is a pair of posts by one of the 4 climber competitors still going for the money. Technology Tycoons posted yesterday about day 1 of the challenge. There are lots of photos included.

End of day update: The 2 sites listed above recount the results from both the Tether Challenge and the Light Racers competition. There were no climber events today because of weather, but tomorrow looks good. I urge you to see the 2 sites for the many fun but in some cases frustrating details.

Slashdot has a (mostly rather silly) conversation about the games.

USST has a group photo on their site with the caption The USST Team in front of the "Seacan" laser power source right after an interview with the documentary film crew, October 20, 2007.

The Technology Tycoons site I linked above now has another post summarizing Day 2 of the games, and their plans for the competition tomorrow.

The Kansas City Space Pirates hear reports that they won the Light Racer competition.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Catching Up on X PRIZE Cup Posting

I've been focused on the Space Elevator Games lately, so it's time I caught up on some other posts - especially on the X PRIZE Cup. After all, it's also in just a few days!

Fortunately, just posted a review of the Lunar Lander Challenge, including the latest status of the competitors. The competition is down to Acuity and Armadillo Aerospace:

Armadillo still hopes to bring their two different vehicles, Pixel in Level Two, and "the MOD" in Level One. Acuity is building two substantially similar vehicles, called "Tiger" and "Cardinal".

You can see a picture of a Lunar Landing Landscape for the challenge here.

RLV News has a post with a link to the Holloman Air and Space Expo site that includes the air show by the Holloman Air Force Base and the X PRIZE Cup. This site includes an overview of the whole event. You can also get directions there. Be careful about what gate you go to so you don't have to get turned around.

Another RLV News post links to the FAA Final X PRIZE Cup Environmental Assessment. It's one huge document, with a "Finding of No Significant Impact". From my brief overview, it looks like, in the context of a working Air Force base, the quick suborbital rockets should have negligible impact to the various environmental factors they investigated (noise, wildlife, air, and many others).

There's also a post about LLC competitors Armadillo and Acuity. Check out Acuity's Hovering Rocket Vehicle.

2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge a Step Closer

The California Space Authority posts that a new draft of the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge rules have been sent to NASA. Also, they are building a FAQ based on common questions during the draft phase.

Meanwhile, Technology Ranch, a competitor in the Regolith Challenge, posts about NASA SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants. He compares a SBIR solicitation for "Lunar Regolith Excavation and Material Handling" to the Regolith Challenge.

The 2007 Space Elevator Games Begin!

The 2007 Space Elevator Games are scheduled to start this morning. A lot has happened in the qualification rounds. You can read (and watch) all about it at the Space Elevator Blog (already up to on-site post #45 on the games!) and Space Elevator Reference.

The latest news is that the original pre-qualification rounds for the Beam Power Challenge were followed by a final qualification round. This allowed more complete tests. At first it wasn't clear from the reports I'd read that this phase would happen because of weather. The outdoor qualifications are on a big crane, where wind and (for some teams) cloud cover are factors. It turns out that this phase happened. Although 8 Beam Power teams qualified in the first round, only 4 made it through the full qualifications. Check the SE Blog and Reference to see which ones made it, and view the photos, webcams, and videos showing the details.

Those are the main sites to check, but if that's not enough, I thought I'd post some additional links.

LaserMotive posts on getting set up for testing and a bit of confusion about what the pre-qualification runs meant. It sounds like they had a lot of laser work to do for that second qualification that they may have been counting on doing over the course of 2 days.

The Kansas City Space Pirates made a short We're Here post when they arrived at the games. They had a flat tire problem (without the right spare) in the middle of Wyoming. It seems a lot of teams have trouble during the long trips (and shipments) to these games.

USST has a number of news updates and pictures of their climber and cells.

McGill Space Elevator has updates and pictures from their car accident during the trip, debugging problems, and pre-qualification success.

MIT Space Elevator has a photo gallery I hadn't noticed before.

Although not competing, Andromeda Connection is heading for the games and bringing their climber with them. That's the spirit! A photo is included.

I gave a pointer to the pictures in an earlier post, and the Space Elevator Blog already posted the media advisory text a few days ago, but it's nice to see that the UBC Space Elevator Team got a public writeup (with those pictures) in the University of British Columbia news yesterday.

Pomerantz Against Murphy

The X PRIZE Foundation's Pomerantz Report shows how they're tackling Murphy's Law. Here's how that "law" was conquored during the Ansari X PRIZE competition:

In 1996, people knew that spaceflight was expensive, and that human spaceflight especially could only be undertaken by massive efforts by the world's leading superpowers. In fact, it was beyond obvious--it was tautological, universally acknowledged. But when the X PRIZE was announced in 1996, this small idea worked its way into some people's heads:
Whatever can be done (better) will be done (better).

... Each of them absorbed this idea and decided that they could play a role in making the law's prediction prove true. The next eight years were, in essence, a battle between these creative minds, fueled by this simple law, and tireless Murphy.

He also shows how Murphy has fought back in the Lunar Lander Challenge and Space Elevator Games.

Murphy will win some battles, probably more than his fair share ... But, when all is said and done, some team will catch enough good luck and avoid enough bad luck

to beat Murphy and win the prize.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wearable Power Prize Registration Approaches

The registration start date for the Wearable Power Prize is October 29; there are just a few days to go. The deadline is November 30.

This slide presentation on the prize has a schedule for the whole competition on page 18 of the 53 slide package.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Space Elevator Games Qualifications Continue

Both the Space Elevator Reference and the Space Elevator Blog are continuing a steady flow of posts on the qualifying runs for the Space Elevator Games. The Space Elevator Blog is up to post 29 as I write. Both sites have lots of text, photo, and video updates. Several teams have passed the qualification runs. You'll have to go to the sites to find out which ones, what's been happening that wasn't in the original plans, and how it went, because you'll be glad you saw all the good stuff on those 2 sites.

All this, and the real games, and the full public event, haven't even started yet!

Tom Vander Ark on Future X PRIZE Ideas

Tom Vander Ark of the X PRIZE Foundation asks Can prizes change behavior? He compared the 3 X PRIZEs to date - Ansari, Genomics, and Lunar Lander - to future prizes they may start in areas like education that may be less easily improved for large populations (which is their goal) by technology or by single impressive and perception-changing feats like the Space Ship One flights. In these challenging domains, they may have to design the prizes even more carefully to be able to influence broad populations and policy makers to act differently.

Tom's blog post gives some hints about where they may be going with these types of prizes. He says:

Another design that we’re considering in health, education, energy, and global entrepreneurship is a prize for dramatically improved outcomes in a defined population.

I agree that some areas like health, energy, and education require improvements in lots of areas beyond technology. In fact, I think space is like that too, even though it's seen as mainly a technology area. In fact the main influences in space are social, like law, economics, policy, and public perception. Still the technology prize approach was able to accomplish a great deal in that arena besides the actual technology improvement itself. Because it's so much easier to manage than a less easily measured population prize, I might be inclined to stick with technology innovation prizes if at all possible. It certainly seems that there are plenty of technology roadblocks to overcome in areas like health and energy. It's also easier to sustain an improvement once a technology roadblock has been overcome, whereas a social improvement may easily be lost.

Tom's blog post makes it sound like they aren't losing the technology innovation aspect, but that the prizes may add to that facet:

Well constructed media savvy prizes can do both—promote technology innovation and demonstrating its impact at scale by changing perceptions and public systems/policy. ... Imagine thousands of households reducing their energy consumption; imagine thousands of people around the world participating in a math competition; imagine thousands of people living longer as a result of longevity challenge.

Hmmm ... longevity competition ... are they talking to the Methuselah Mouse Prize folks?

I can imagine incentive prizes that include lots of participants, such as an education prize that involves a competition, say, of 20 high school classes without a lot of advantages to excel in academics (perhaps with space-related or similar competitions like some of the student prize competions described on this blog as part of the rankings). Perhaps every student in the winning school class would get a scholarship (maybe in special cases teachers and students would even get a Teachers in Space type of suborbital ride - or perhaps a Zero-G ride if anyone at the X PRIZE Foundation knows someone who can arrange such a thing - as an extra reward if the vehicles get built), and presumably all of the students in all of the schools would be better off for having entered the challenge. I could also see such a challenge offering lots of publicity (and therefore potentially prize funding so it can be repeated the following year) through events like reality TV show episodes.

Still, I hope the technology innovation aspect doesn't go away.

It will be interesting to see what they come up with. The post leaves a lot to the imagination. I find it difficult to evaluate ideas like this one way or another without a specific concrete proposal.

Tom also posts on a new theory based on prizes that turns the traditional philanthropy model on its head. This post seems to be closely related to the other one.

Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award Finalists

The X PRIZE Foundation announces the 10 finalists in the 2007 Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award. The linked article lists the finalists and describes the business ideas they had. The winner will be chosen by popular vote during the X PRIZE Cup.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Space Elevator Games Start

The Space Elevator Reference has arrived at the games and has started posting - with some nice pictures. The post I linked is on the first day of qualification runs and setups. Check the main page - I'm sure there will be more posts as the games progress.

I'm not even going to try to keep up with the Space Elevator Blog for now - it's up to post 13 at the games already. Just go to the main page, which I linked, and you'll find the latest. I'll try to set up links to the individual posts for easy searching 6 months down the road later.

Update (Tues, Oct 16 evening): Now the Space Elevator Blog is up to post 19, and the Space Elevator Reference is also posting. Check them out for countless videos, pictures, and updates. The main news today is that weather is becoming a factor in the prelude to the games, and may be a factor in the games themselves.

The Space Elevator Reference is now linked on the right of this blog in the Space Elevator Games section.

The SpaceWard site also is linking the Space Elevator Blog and Space Elevator Reference prominently, so that may be your best one stop shop. However, there seems to be something wrong - at the moment - with the "Up-to-the-minute Blog" link there. I imagine it will probably get fixed soon.

The site also announces a presentation about the space elevator by Ben Shelef in the (Salt Lake City?) Main City Library.

The USST Team has a brief post about their trip. Their main page also has a photo of their recent trip - showing a serious convoy of several big vehicles in the rolling hills and big sky of Montana.

One of the Snowstar members posts about the trip and subsequent setup work in Snowstarring, Part 1. Pictures are expected on the site later.

Ever-active poster LaserMotive has a welcome and a brief note about preparations they're doing now in Utah.

Monday, October 15, 2007

More on Prize Philanthropy

RLV News and Transterrestrial Musings post on an analysis of a speech on prizes and charity. The analysis addresses some prizes covered here like the Google Lunar X PRIZE for a private lunar rover and the Methuselah Mouse anti-aging prize. The comments section is also revealing. One of the links in the comments section refers to an article in The Chronicles of Philanthropy analysing the recent prize article by Peter Diamandis.

The actual speech is about 50 minutes, and compares the pros and cons of prizes and grants from an economic perspective. You can find a lot more of this type of analysis (but sometimes not in such an easily-digested format) in the Papers section of this blog (and of course in the references that these papers use) on the right.

For more on this subject, follow the links in my recent post about Prize Philanthropy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Google Lunar Hopper

Ambivalent Engineer has some thoughts on a Lunar Hopper to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE here and here.

Mountain of Space Elevator Games News

As the Space Elevator Games approach, there's more and more news about them. First, from the Space Elevator Reference:

Two Weeks to go Before Spaceward Games 2007 AKA The Space Elevator Games - gives an overview of the upcoming games

Ben Shelef of the Spaceward Foundation on The Space Show - as announced earlier

Sir Arthur C. Clarke Looks Back at 50 Years in Space - this mentions the Games that were held last year at the X PRIZE Cup

Heading to the Spaceward Games with Webcams for Broadcasting - this is more good news for anyone who can't make it to the event

Five Days Until the Space Elevator Games - Dr. Brad Edwards gives the details on how the games have advanced this year, both in terms of the technology that the teams are bringing to the competition, as well as in terms of the complete festival atmosphere of the event. A lot of attention, in terms of how compelling the event is for a spectator to watch, is on the Climbers, but he shows that the tether challenge has its spectator appeal:

If one of the teams comes in with a winning tether they clearly will be making history because the event is precisely designed to only allow for a new high-strength material to win ... And though this event appears less flamboyant than its sibling climber competition, each year it has turned into an exciting event in its own right. The exploding tethers, the breaking of the pulling machine due to an unexpected tether strength, the issues and failure have all made this event one that we look forward to with a sense of unknowing. It has also been a more up-close and personal event so those attending may want to go early to get up-front.

If you want to be able to say you were there when it happened, don't miss the tethers!

Meanwhile, it's also been busy at the Space Elevator Blog, which has been giving us lots of news about the individual teams:

More Team News... - The Kansas City Pirates head out to the Games to compete, while Team Zero G won't be able to compete, but will be represented at the Games.

Still More Team News... - The McGill Space Elevator Team is definitely in the competition, and they'll be using microwave power beaming. The post includes some pictures of the team at work.
Videos from the Kansas City Space Pirates - There are 2 videos, 1 of "testing going badly" and 1 of the team's qualifying run, which includes a lot of setup and teardown as well as what look to me like pretty fast climbs.

2007 Space Elevator Games - 14OCT07 - Entry 1 - To me this is like the unofficial start of the games. Several teams are already there. The post includes a video of the grounds. Update (Mon Oct 15): I don't have a chance to do anything but skim the posts at the moment, but they are already up to Entry 8, and there are lots of videos and pictures. From earlier posts there I'd expect a lot more posts each day. Check them out here.

LaserMotive also had a couple recent posts - one asking which is more valuable, a high-tech CPU or the heat sink for the CPU. It all depends on the circumstances. The other is a thank you from the team members to their families and their support. Here's another thank you to them from the Space Prizes blog.

Here, a SnowStar member gets ready to leave for the games. The Vancouver Sun also has an article on the team. Here's a look at what they've been doing:

Damir Hot, Snowstar's captain, said their prototype this year is slightly more advanced - with better solar cells, for example. But the team's main focus this year has been relentless testing - making sure every element of the device works as expected. That hasn't always been easy. Most of the cranes capable of holding a 120-metre tether are booked out months in advance by the city's movie industry. And, as Vancouverites know, sunlight here is in short supply.

I hope the beam power teams are keeping their eyes on non-elevator developments like the news about possible solar power satellite interest. There are a lot of applications of power beaming and strong tethers (SPSs might be a pretty tough one, but there are some near-term ones for sure) that hopefully will give a market to these technologies to allow them to grow to be able to support the space elevator concept.

Prize Philanthropy

The blog Tactical Philanthropy has 2 posts on using prizes in philanthropy to increase innovation and to simulate market forces in problem domains where these forces don't necessarily come naturally. The posts are here and here. Although the blog is not space-centric or prize-centric, there is a lot there in the posts and comments about space prizes like those run by the X PRIZE Foundation and Bigelow Aerospace.

Google Earth Blog on 2007 Wirefly X PRIZE Cup

The Google Earth Blog has a review of the X PRIZE Cup plans, including a number of links related to Google Earth and the event. Some of the links are from the 2006 event, so you may have already seen them, but check them out if not.

For the 2007 event, I liked the link that takes you (assuming you've installed Google Earth) to the Holloman Air Force Base where the event will be held, even though you probably could find that yourself. You can take GE for a spin up the road to Alamogordo, and check out the pictures of the rocket garden at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, or go towards White Sands and check photos of that.

Then, check out the depiction of a Space Ship One flight.

There are a lot of other interesting and related links there.

Rationale for the Regolith Excavation Challenge

In an article that was probably inspired by the 2008 Regolith Challenge draft rules release, Astroprof's Page describes the difficulties of the Challenge. It also explains why NASA wants to have regolith excavation capabilities for its Moon Base and Moon operations. The advantages for NASA in its use of prizes to bring out the best features from the various competitors are also reviewed.

More Methuselah Foundation supporters

The anti-aging Methuselah Mouse Prize and the associated research foundation again honors several new supporters.

2007 Nobel Peace Prize

Even if you haven't been keeping up with mainstream news, you probably still already know that former Vice President Al Gore, along with the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

The point I'll make is that a good (should I say predominant?) amount of what we know about global warming, climate change, and Earth Science in general comes from data gathered from satellites. This data is stored in places like the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which Al Gore visited a few days ago.

Any approach to seriously understand the Earth on a global level, or to monitor changes to the environment and any attempts to adjust such change, is going to need the global view that would have to come from a lot of satellite hardware. It would also be very useful to have a better understanding of the Sun and how it affects the Earth, as well as the environments of other planets and moons so we can scientifically compare them to the Earth's environment.

That's going to take advances in cheap, reliable access to space, and cheap, reliable space infrastructure. We haven't been doing so well in these areas, so one hopes that innovative approaches like space prizes will help.

If we can get to this point, space also has a lot more to offer. A near-term possibility that could be helped with the prize approach is suborbital Earth monitoring, space hardware testing, and satellite instrument calibration platforms. Of course there are many more ambitious space goals - I'm sure you've heard of at least a dozen of them - that would help the Earth's environment. These tend to not be just science-oriented, but business-oriented (i.e., clean energy utilities, moving industry out of the biosphere, etc). Unfortunately they are all out of reach until we at least solve the access and LEO infrastructure problems.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pomerantz Report on Lunar Lander Challenge Early Returns

The Pomerantz Report has a detailed look at the early results of the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge. We don't know who will win the prize, but we know there are winners all over the place when it comes to the business and technology of space.

NASA is already a big winner, whether the prizes are won or not this year. As the post notes:

NASA pays nothing to the X PRIZE Foundation for administering this prize. All of the expenses associated with producing therules, registering teams, coordinating the event, assuring safety, promoting the competition, and providing educational programs relevant to the prize came at zero expense to NASA.

Indeed, the only real expenses to NASA were some staff time and a small amount of travel and supplies (the big foam-core checks, et cetera). In terms of staff time, it’s fairly astounding to realize that NASA’s prize program, Centennial Challenges—one of NASA’s most exciting and interesting programs in years—is for the most part run by one person. And it’s not only his full-time project.

The post continues by noting all of the significant benefits that NASA has gotten out of the LLC for this small price, plus possibly some or all of the $2M prize. In summary:

So, although we can yet say who will walk home with a prize check at the end of this year’s Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, we can already identify several winners: NASA, the US Government, US tax-payers, and the space industry as a whole.

Space Elevator Competitor Status and Unveiling Snowstar

More on the competitors from the Space Elevator Blog:

Winnow, winnow, winnow - Gives a team-by-team breakdown of what the status of each team is. There are still a lot of teams that are definitely in the game this year, and several more possibilities.

UBC SnowStar Gives Us a Look - This team of students is going to present their entry to the public. There's a photo of a team, and you can download several photos of their machine and team. The photos, credited to UBC Snowstar, are titled "chassis drive train", "climber ascends ribbon", "transporting climber", and "UBC Snowstar Team".

Unreasonable Rocket Expected at X PRIZE Cup

RLV News notes that Unreasonable Rocket, although not competing in the Lunar Lander Challenge (this year!), expects to have a display there.

First International Genomics X PRIZE Competitor Registered

The X PRIZE Foundation recently announced the first non-U.S. competitor in the international Genomics X PRIZE competition. The competitor, from the United Kingdom, is Base4innovation:

With the support from the University of Warwick and Warwick Ventures, base4innovation is developing a new high-speed, low-cost method of DNA sequencing which combines well-known techniques such as photon detection and fluorescent labeling with nanostructures and cutting edge methods of nanofabrication. The team consists of physicists and biologists from Oxford, Cambridge and the University of Warwick. Cameron Frayling, team leader and base4innovation founder, is a researcher at the University of Warwick and the inventor of the innovative method behind this sequencing technology.

The X PRIZE Foundation news ticker also provides the following link, but it looks like you need to have a login at GenomeWeb Daily News: UK Sequencing Startup Becomes First International Competitor for Archon X Prize for Genomics.

2006 Lunar Lander Challenge Judges Return in 2007

The X PRIZE Foundation announced that the 6 esteemed judges from the 2006 X PRIZE Cup LLC competition will be returning this year to judge again. Most or all of the judges names may be familiar to you if you follow space activities. They are Ed Bock, Richard C. Dunne, Bill Gaubatz, John Herrington, Pete Worden, and Jeff Zweber. Check the link for more details on their impressive backgrounds.

X PRIZE Cup VIP Tickets on Sale

The X PRIZE Foundation has VIP tickets to the X PRIZE Cup on sale. If the sale is still on, you'll see the link at the X PRIZE Foundation web site - it's that huge red thing at the top of the page. Here's the link to the store. There are 2 types of these VIP tickets - $150 for 1 day, and $250 for 2 days. From the ticket page:

VIP ticket includes the following:

· Exclusive flightline viewing in the comfort of shaded seating
· Patio and theatre style seating
· Continental breakfast, gourmet lunch and cold beverages throughout the day
· VIP / private port-a-lets
· Convenient parking

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Prize4Life Dollars4Life Against ALS

Prize4Life has a post about the founder of that organization, Avi Kremer, and his fight against ALS. He's asking for $1 donations to the prize foundation, a

non-profit organization that seeks to create breakthroughs in effective ALS/MND (Lou Gehrig's disease) treatments using the leverage of large inducement prizes. Inspired by the success of other inducement prizes, Prize4Life recently launched a $1 Million ALS/MND Biomarker Challenge to stimulate scientific breakthroughs in ALS/MND. The organization will be launching several other multi-million dollar challenges in the near future.

Here's there Dollar4Life site, and you can see portraits of people who are fighting ALS here. Each dollar donated lights up another pixel in the portraits.

DARPA Urban Challenge Approaching

Yes, October is a big month for several innovation competitions. The DARPA Urban Challenge has the following events soon:

October 24-25: Teams Arrive
October 26-31: National Qualification Event
November 3: Urban Challenge Final Event

It's all at Victorville, CA. Here's the full schedule, and here are details like directions and what's happening at the events for spectators.

The event guidelines with a number of updates were also recently posted. DARPA isn't forgetting important aspects of prize competitions, such as giving an area for team sponsors, and setting aside time for a "military robotics session" that lets the teams show their technologies to "user communities, acquisition agents, and other Government organizations tracking progress in the field".

This should be interesting to those who can't make it to the event. DARPA plans to "produce a live video webcast of the UCE at a site linked to This site will also have tracking maps and a progress board to monitor each autonomous vehicle. A 3-D option may be available after the event that will allow individual vehicles to be tracked and viewed in a rendered landscape. A generic representation will be provided for each vehicle, or teams may optionally submit more realistic models including sponsor names and team name".

LaserMotive En-Lightening-Ment

LaserMotive posts a picture full of aluminum shavings demonstrating all the work they're doing as the games approach.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Look at InnoCentive

InnoCentive, the company that serves as a meeting place for organizations that offer prize money for solutions to technical problems and innovators who solve the problems, has a new look. One change is that they have an expanded list of categories of prizes:

Physical Sciences


Math/Computer Science

Life Sciences



These sound like great project lists for university students to consider when they have a big science or engineering R&D assignment or thesis.

Here's a list of prizes that have already been won. Hey, is that 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge winner Peter Homer in the list as the winner of the prize for a "Novel Method to Resist Snack Chip Breakage"? That one was awarded on May 30, 2007 - the same month he won the Glove Challenge! What a busy month. Hopefully he will be continuing his innovative efforts, whether in the space field or another one.

Space Elevator Blog Plans During the Games

Be sure to check the Space Elevator Blog during the Space Elevator Games, whether you're there or not. From the blog:

you can expect at least 8-10 posts per day from me during the event, as well as a nightly summary.

In the meantime, the SE Blog has some more updates:

Another way to skin the cat? - hoping the the University of Michigan gets into both the beam power and tether competitions next year

Update: Unfortunately, as the Space Elevator Blog just posted, the University of Michigan team won't make it this year.

Associates and competitors - on the Space Elevator concept and Laser Launch, from a researcher involved with laser launch and also a competitor in the Space Elevator games. It sounds to me like we need to have some "Laser Launch Games" to keep they playing field level.

Kansas City Space Pirates' Brian Turner to be interviewed tomorrow - the title says it all. The post was before the interview; the hour long interview is now up. You might want to skip some of the beginning part with technical difficulties.

Update: The Space Elevator Blog also has a post-interview update.

2008 Lunar Ventures Competition

The 2008 Lunar Ventures university competition held by the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines is running. This is a business plan competition for students (mainly, but not exclusively, graduate students in business and engineering, and science) that have space-related business plans. Typically the business plans have current applicability to the Earth, too, quite aside from any space application. I probably repeat it too often, but space businesses (or even government programs) with near-term applicability to people on Earth tend to have a much better chance of success. From the Guidelines:

Each Lunar Ventures business plan proposal is to identify business opportunities that either (a) employ existing space technology in products with near-term terrestrial market potential, or (b) provide solutions for near-term terrestrial markets by employing technology which, when developed further, will lead to products with space applications.

The prizes are significant:

The Lunar Ventures 2008 Grand Champion will receive a $25,000 cash award, in-kind services, and an invitation to compete in the Global MOOT CORP Competition for $100,000 in prizes. The other three Finalists will receive cash awards of $2,000 each.

I have a couple of old posts on the 2007 competition here and here.

Most of it is on other subjects altogether, but I originally developed this article from a hint at a guest Selenian Boondocks post.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Technology Ranch on the New Regolith Excavation Challenge Rules

Regolith Excavation Challenger Technology Ranch has been analyzing, and commenting on, the 2008 draft rules that require mobility and "visual" identification of a target, among other changes. The challenge is significantly different this year. There's a discussion in the comments that emphasizes this point. The comment discussion also shows the exacting level of detail needed in the definition of rules for this type of competition.

The comment discussion on possible teamwork, rules clarification, and so on brings to mind the potential usefulness of a central discussion forum for Excavation Challenge teams, so that, if they want to engage in a public discussion about the rules, suppliers, teams, and so on, there's an obvious place for them to go. The Automotive X PRIZE has a forum for this type of communication. I'm not sure how difficult it would be to start such a forum, but it would be nice if an off-the-shelf software package would allow the California Space Authority to set up a similar forum for the Regolith Excavation Challenge.

More New Blogs at the X PRIZE Foundation

Following quickly on the heels of the Pomerantz Report, the X PRIZE Foundation has started 2 new blogs:

Dr. Peter Diamandis's Blog - this one starts off with a post on the anniversary of Sputnik and SpaceShipOne's winning flight. You can also see this one at the Huffington Post (I provide the somewhat redundant link in case an interesting discussion develops in the comments there).

The Tomologue - this is Tom Vander Ark's blog, and it starts with a post called Chasing the Dream that's an analysis of where the X PRIZE Foundation fits in the world of businesses, governments, and non-profits. The post contrasts the X PRIZE Foundation's approach from that of traditional non-profits, and gives an assessment of the factors that go into choosing the appropriate size for a prize.

Friday, October 05, 2007

North Dakota Student Rocket Payload Contest

RLV News posts on the North Dakota Student Rocket Initiative Project. This is for North Dakota students, and half of the team members must be undergraduate students. The students

will be chosen to actively engage in (1) building a high powered rocket, (2) building a component of their proposed payload and, (3) then compete in a rocket fly-off in April 2008.

Prizes for 8 winning teams include:

A commercial rocket kit.
A commercial motor casing and three (3) solid fuel re-loadable motors. (This is only to be handled by the faculty advisor).
Payload supplies (between $300-$500).
Facilities for launching the student rockets will be made accessible.
A chance to develop and fly a full scale payload in a rocket that can reach 100,000 feet. Three teams will be chosen from the April fly-off. Rules will be distributed to the eight competing teams once they are chosen.

The site also describes the rocket that will be used for the fly-off here:

The first component is building a large reusable launch vehicle to launch experimental student projects to high altitudes ... The avionics bay will have telemetry and video components. The telemetry will be used to give 3-D tracking and digitized visualization of the flight and the video will supplement the data with recorded high resolution movies

Here's some video of the rocket.

The world of space prizes is a small one still ... you can see here that Astronaut Glove Challenge contestant Pablo de Leon is also involved with the rocket.

University Rover

Space for All presents an announcement from the Mars Society on the "Call for Entrants" for their University Rover Challenge for 2008. Check out the flyer for pictures of past challenges, as well as the picture of the winning team in 2007, from the University of Nevada, Reno, with Buzz Aldrin.

Another item about the University Rover Challenge that I haven't seen before: The Discovery Channel Canada's Daily Planet featured the Rover Challenge.

Hillary Clinton Science Policy and Prizes

Space Politics has analysis and comment discussions about Hillary Clinton's science policy speech that included a number of points related to space. Prizes were mentioned in both the policy speech and the blog discussions and debates on it. There are 2 Space Politics discussions on the speech here and here.

X PRIZE Cup Details from gives a lot of details on what you can expect to see at this year's X PRIZE Cup. I've mentioned a lot of it before (especially the LLC and student prizes, rocket racing league presence, and Air Force air show), but here are some more things you can expect to see:

On the sightseeing manifest for expo visitors are displays and exhibits by key, leading-edge enterprises, such as Rocketplane Kistler, XCOR Aerospace and Starchaser, alongside Northrop Grumman and NASA.

Space advocacy groups such as the National Space Society, the Space Frontier Foundation's Teachers in Space initiative and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space are to be on-hand. So too are several space-oriented museums and institutes, including the Robotics Society of America and experts from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

At the expo, those taking part will be treated to a full-scale replica of SpaceShipOne – the pioneering vessel that was the first private piloted spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within a 14-day period in 2004, claiming the $10 million dollar Ansari X Prize purse.

Moon and Mars rovers and landers are to be featured. Mock-up hardware related to NASA's post-space shuttle Constellation program are to be on hand too.

... Sure to attract a cue of onlookers is the engineering model of the Dragon spacecraft

There's more, so find out by checking the article.

SpaceDev anad SEI Apophis Mission Design Contest Entry

RLV News has an article on the Planetary Society's Apophis Mission Design Contest to come up with a plan to tag asteroid Apophis to be able to better track it as its orbit crosses uncomfortably close to Earth's path.

According to the Planetary Society, there have been over 100 people and teams signing up for the contest. What we don't know if what kinds of people and teams are working on the problem? It would be great to hear more about some of the teams' designs. I'm sure there are some engineering school teams, for example, but really that's just a guess. The RLV News article lets us know that there is commercial interest in the competition - SpaceDev and SEI. From the beginning SpaceDev has had an interest in asteroid missions.

Hree's a link to their announcement, and here are some details about their proposed mission:

The 220 kg Foresight spacecraft is attached to 1400 kg chemical propulsion, in-space transfer stage, which is envisioned to be launched on an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur IV launch vehicle. Foresight main instruments, a multi-spectral imager and laser altimeter, are utilized in combination with NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) to increase the accuracy of the orbit of Apophis. Multiple launch windows from the Earth have been identified, spanning from 2012 to 2014. For the nominal mission, the spacecraft is launched on May 2012 and arrives at Apophis on March 2013, operating for one year. The all encompassing total cost (including launch) for the mission is US$137 M.

That sounds like it offers even more than the basic "transponder" capability of the contest - but in just the areas the Planetary Society likes. I can't really judge the engineering with my limited background in spacecraft mechanisms, but it seems like with those instruments it offers potential for science return that something like the NASA Discovery program would want. If so, that goes back to something I say a lot about prize competitions - often the big reward isn't the prize itself, it's the other business that's enabled by the capabilities grown while competing for a prize.

There are more details about their proposed mission here in a nice slick presentation. The details include the mission concept, the expect results in the accuracy of the asteroid orbit determination, design of the spacecraft with pictures and mass tables, orbits, launch vehicle, cost analysis, and reliability simulation results.

Let's see more of these Apophis mission design contest entries!

Value of NASA Debated

Cnet news has an article on NASA with the loaded title "Do we need NASA?". I think it's a silly question - the question should be "What should NASA be Doing?"

Prizes are featured in some of the article. Peter Diamandis, famous in part because of X PRIZE competitions, says:

NASA can remain relevant--but only by focusing on what for-profit companies won't do. "NASA should be in focusing on breakthroughs in propulsion systems. They should be taking very high risks, funding things that are likely to fail because that's what government should be doing, pushing the envelope.

NASA's Centennial Challenges prize manager Ken Davidian says:

We're trying to get out of this low Earth orbit business ... If there are commercial suppliers of space capabilities like launch vehicles for cargo delivery, we're required by law to use them. We want to use them. The premise is that those services will be cheaper to buy than to use ourselves.

I agree, and that would free NASA to do some amazing things that no commercial company will have any interest in. Space trucking - especially launch - should be commercial by now. However, it's a difficult business, so it probably needs significantly more NASA commitments (like COTS, prizes, and more assurance that the market will be there if the commercial service is built to address that market).

Ken continues:

We're going to be relevant in the things that commercial can't do--all the exploration stuff ... We're going to push the boundaries out and hopefully commercial industry will be NASA can keep pushing out further." Another area would be sending signals to the investment community, he added.

Surprisingly, the article didn't quote these 2 prize-related personalities saying anything specific about prizes, but I'll say it - one little thing that NASA should be doing is increasing its funding of that little Centennial Challenges prize program. The small side of the commercial space industry is ready to take up all sorts of these challenges if they're offered.

Another Space Elevator Games Interview

It's good to see the local media getting into the Space Elevator Games. The Space Elevator Blog points to another interview (which I haven't listened to yet - I will today - but I trust the SE Blog and I've heard other interviews by interviewee Ben Shelef, so I'm confident the link's worth following).

Pomerantz Report on X PRIZE Foundation's Moon 2.0

The Pomerantz Report discusses their space challenges, and especially the Lunar X PRIZE, and how the public can participate in these challenges. The phrase that they are using, Moon 2.0, is in part derived from this emphasis:

If Web 1.0 was about portals and "push" technology--content produced by a central body and served up for the public--Web 2.0 is about public participation, sharing, and, increasingly often, user generated content. If Web 1.0 was a unprecedented and useful window to an enormous library, Web 2.0 is a new sort of town hall, where all users can participate.

The main prize gets public participation going through the teams, which are typically "the public" (which to me means not only the established aerospace companies and agencies will be involved).

A lot of the participation comes from the teams themselves, though. Using the Lunar Lander Challenge as an analogy for what they (or at least I) hope to see with the Lunar X PRIZE, we've seen that the teams can enhance participation by letting us know what's going on (ups and downs) in straightforward blog discussions, getting local businesses into the sponsorship aspects, presenting at public events like conferences and the X PRIZE Cup, and hopefully eventually taking personal items to space. As the Report says:

Not only can any person from any country take part by forming or joining a team, but they will also be able to virtually 'ride along' with the lunar probes in new kind of way. I expect that each of our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams will find a new and unique way to do this...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Getting Closer to the Space Elevator Games

As we get closer to the 2007 Space Elevator Games (to be started in 15 days), a lot has been happening. The Space Elevator Blog has been keeping on top of it all:

LaserMotive runs into a Problem - a tear in the ribbon, with shops closing and testing needing to be done. Follow the comments on the Space Elevator Blog and the LaserMotive posts. Here's where LaserMotive posts about the problem and their solution.

LaserMotive also has a look at how far they've come in 1 year.

Interview with Spaceward Foundation's Ben Shelef - I think this is the interview I posted about here linked by the Spaceward site. It's a good interview so check it either way.

The field narrows - as happened with the Lunar Lander Challenge, as the date approaches, some of the teams aren't able to make it. The challenges got a lot tougher this year, so that's not surprising - as the post mentions. Here's the announcement from The Andromeda Connection - and they plan to be at the games anyway to show their progress. Also, check out the new technologies and patents page for the Andromeda Connection - they're in good shape with or without the prize.

Still, there are plenty of teams left, and a lot is expected this year given what we've already seen on the web sites of some of the teams.

As for the European workshop on the Space Elevator Games, the date has changed.

Update: RLV News also has a reminder about the games, including a local view of the games from the Salt Lake Tribune that gives the basics. I'm glad to see local media showing the event so the non-space folks hear about it and get a chance to become interested and involved, so I clicked the "Is this article worthwhile" vote button.

The Davis County Events Center has the event listed on their calendar, along with the "RAD Canyon BMX Race" nearby those days.

X PRIZE Cup Press Release

NASA Watch posts a press release by the X PRIZE Foundation on the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup. There isn't much news in the press release if you've been following it, but for those who don't it gives a good overview of the event.

I wonder what we can expect at the "press conference with several announcements by aerospace and space-related companies"?

I read that Teachers in Space will have an announcement there, but don't recall any others, so I guess they'll be surprises (for me, anyway).

NASA Wins Adobe Award for ISS Document

NASA Watch has a post about NASA winning an Adobe MAX Award for a NASA document on the ISS that was made using Adobe software. Check out the NASA Watch document for links to the Adobe press release and a slide show on the ISS document.

I highly recommend checking out the document itself, too: International Space Station: An Interactive Reference Guide. All sorts of slick animations, sounds, and videos are integrated into the document. My favorite is the ISS 360 (degrees, presumably) Tour, which lets you see what it will be like to move around inside the Station when Harmony, Columbus, JEM, and the Cupola are installed. A lot of the "fun" (to me, anyway) parts of the ISS are scheduled to be deployed soon, so it's going to be interesting to watch.

The "How It Works" part is good, too - it lets you bring up separate slick documents on the different components, and the "How It's Supported" section doesn't forget to mention the "future commercially available orbital transporation services".