Friday, November 30, 2007

First Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Registered

One prize finishes registration, and another starts it. I originally saw the link on RLV News; the article by Leonard David is on LiveScience (and is also reachable from The article has a little bit of information about the team, Odyssey Moon, and it shows where and when you can expect to find out more about them.

Since there are hundreds of teams already that at least expressed interest in trying to win the prize, I don't think I'll be following all of them closely, even if only 10% register and make a serious effort ... hopefully a blogger or 2 just on this prize will appear if the activity builds up like it looks like it will.

Another thing I'd like to see, with so much interest in the prize, is more sponsors of prize money - for example, for the bonus prizes (the existing ones or new ones of interest to the sponsor). This could be from NASA, other space agencies interested in learning about the Moon, non-profits (National Geographic, Planetary Society, etc ...), and even corporations looking for some positive publicity. I could even see a Hollywood or Discovery Channel type of bonus prize sponsorship working ... even if it's not as big as the current bonus prizes. I could also see, as bizarre as it sounds and probably is, Microsoft stepping up. That could, if done the right way, cause a lot of good press coverage for both companies in a win-win sort of way, with such a twist on the usual Microsoft vs. Google story.

A built-up suite of bonus prizes could make the challenge more realistic for teams that think they'd get in 2nd or 3rd place to still make serious investments in the prize.

I'm also hoping the X PRIZE Foundation is able to bring in some more "Prefered Partners" (how do you spell Prefered? I don't know but I sure don't know why the GLXP spells it 2 different ways ...). Anyway, the GLXP site says:

"Forthcoming Partners

The X PRIZE Foundation is in talks with other future partners. Please watch this page for updates!

Interested in Becoming a Preferred Partner?

Is your company interested in becoming a Preferred Partner of the Google Lunar X PRIZE? To do so, you must be willing to offer a substantial discount and a standard pricing arrangement for all Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams. For more details, please use our contact form identifying your company, the service you can provide, and the discount you are willing to offer."

Again, with about 350 teams (that's how many people?) interested in actually trying to win it, and many times that watching it, it seems like a lot of potential good publicity for the partners. Let's make it like the Olympics with Official Sponsors of soda to keep the teams awake as they work all night, etc ...

Wearable Power Prize Registration Closed

Today is the registration deadline for teams trying to win the Wearable Power Prize.

Getting Closer to the Genomics X PRIZE Threshold

From the X PRIZE Foundation news links, VentureBeat covers Intelligent Bio-Systems and their efforts to make human genome sequencing easier.

Pomerantz on International Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams

The Pomerantz Report has a detailed report on the US and international teams signing up for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. He's been seeing a lot of interest from all over the world. The entrepreneurial space spirit in Europe is one interesting part of the discussion.

Student Launch Initiative Team

The Flint Journal covers a local team that did well in the Team America Rocketry Challenge and therefore gets to enter NASA's Student Launch Initiative.

CMU Moon Prize Team

ComputerWorld has an article on the CMU Moon Prize Team that wants to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE. There's not a lot of new news, but it gives you the background if you haven't already been following them.

Update on V-PRIZE

RLV News points to an update at Spaceports and the efforts to establish the V-PRIZE for point-to-point suborbital flight from Wallops Island to Europe. There's a link to a detailed interview of 2 of the people involved with the V-PRIZE on that particular prize, as well as historical prizes like the Orteig Prize and the Ansari X PRIZE.

Personal Air Vehicle Green Prize

The CAFE Foundation, the organization that runs NASA's Personal Air Vehicle Centennial Challenge, plans to start a Green Prize part of the 2008 PAV Challenge. Their announcement is currently at the top of their main page:

CAFE creating "Green Prize"

The CAFE Foundation, respecting the ever increasing concerns about energy and global warming, is planning to launch the "Green Prize" as a main part of the 2008 PAV Challenge. The Green Prize will seek a corporate name sponsor and will reward outstanding fuel economy and use of renewable fuel. Watch here for more news about it soon.

Anyone who has followed the airline industry news in the last couple years is aware that fuel economy and carbon emissions are major economic and regulatory issues for that industry. It makes sense for the PAV community to tackle them right from the beginning.

By the way, you can check the status of this (and other) Centennial Challenges at NASA's site here. You can see that the prize categories for 2008 are similar to the ones this year (with the addition of the Moon Regolith Oxygen Extraction Challenge), and the same allied organizations are running the prizes next year. Dates for the 2008 prizes are all TBD, though, including the PAV Challenge. The prize purses are, as planned, larger, as unwon and new amounts are combined.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Proposal to Reduce the ISS Gap and More

From an anonymous poster at Space Politics, here's a budget plan to reduce the ISS gap. Space prizes are one (although not central) feature of the proposal. There's some pain in the plan (Hubble servicing, JEM EF), but it's interesting to consider. See the link for the full, considerably longer (but worth reading) post.

1) Shut down the Space Shuttle program after the last major foreign ISS component is up in early 2008. Although most of the remaining 2008 Shuttle budget would have to go towards shutdown and contract termination costs, we should be able to salvage most of the 2009 and 2010 budgets, something on the order of $7-8 billion (call it $7.5 billion). And we avoid the unnecessary risks involved in flying the Shuttle longer.

2) Terminate Ares I now. It’s an unnecessary duplication of existing military/commercial launchers and commercial launchers under development. Worse, the underperforming design is suffering from major technical issues that are putting it and Orion into a spiral of dangerous cuts to safety systems to save mass, possibly to the point where the system cannot fly at all. Out of $10 billion or so total development pricetag for Ares I, we should be able to save the vast majority of the funding, roughly accounting for what’s been expended to date and contract termination costs. Call it another $7.5 billion in savings through 2015. Combined with the Shuttle savings, that’s $15 billion from 2008-2015 that can go towards other activities.

3) Reallocate some of the savings, say $5 billion, to human-rate EELVs and to acclerate/diversify/ensure COTS. $2.5 billion should be adequate to human-rate both EELVs given a reasonable re-examination of NASA’s human-rating requirements. We have not touched Orion’s funding, so Orion could still be ready to fly on those EELVs when its ready. (Although I would probably shrink Orion’s requirements to ensure that its safety systems can be bought back.) Another $2.5 billion to COTS should also be adequate to bring at least a couple new, cost-shared commercial systems online before 2013, presumably Falcon 9/Dragon and something else.

4) Use the remaining $10 billion to get some actual exploration programs and hardware underway. Assuming the near-term target is still the Moon, I’d probably restore and competitively restructure (e.g., prizes, Discovery-type AOs, etc.) the RLEP program for rapid results to get some momentum going on the robotic side. If the target is no longer the Moon, there’s also great robotic missions to be restored to Mars, the outer moons, and for extrasolar planet-hunting telescopes. On the human side, I’ll leave it up to others whether a heavy lift or in-space propellant servicing architecture makes the most sense for whatever human target is chosen (Moon, deep space telescope support, asteroids, Mars/Phobos, etc.). But the point would be to get the NASA workforce going on that (instead of reinventing the ETO wheel) and offer the new President and Congress in 2009 options all on the wonderful things that NASA can get started in exploration without asking for another dime — instead of asking for billions more to fix the same old ETO access problem that we’ve been fumbling with since Apollo.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Student Launch Initiative Teams

Here's news from NASA MSFC about 18 student teams that have been selected for the Student Launch Initiative.

NASA ESMD Systems Engineering Paper Competition

For students who were involved with certain space-related competitions (like the PISCES Lunar Outpost Student Design Competition, Great Moonbuggy Race, ...) or other projects (see the link for more details on what qualifies), there's an opportunity to compete in the ESMD Systems Engineering Paper Competition.

The prizes:

First Prize: $3500 cash scholarship PLUS tickets for VIP seating at an upcoming launch for the team
Second Prize: $2500 cash scholarship PLUS tickets for VIP seating at an upcoming launch for the team
Third Prize: $1500 cash scholarship PLUS tickets for VIP seating at an upcoming launch for the team

Monday, November 26, 2007

2008 Heinlein Award; Winter 2008 Ad Astra

If you're a National Space Society member, it's time to vote for the 2008 Heinlein Award, to be presented at the 2008 International Space Development Conference.

I got my notice by email; voting is easy from there. Page 8 of the current Ad Astra has the details if you didn't get the email.

There are a lot of other features in the Winter 2008 Ad Astra magazine related to prizes and awards. You'll have to get the magazine (easiest way: become an NSS member) to see all the glossy pictures and read the interesting articles, but for now here's my dry summary of the parts most related to this blog:

Pages 19-21 have a detailed report from Leonard David on the X PRIZE Cup.

The cover story - The Top 20 Space Visionaries - includes several visionaries who have been involved with prizes. These include Burt Rutan, Peter Diamandis, Robert Bigelow, and Anousheh Ansari. You could easily make a case that some of the other visionaries have contributed to space prizes, too. Jeff Foust, Clark Lindsey, and Laura Woodmansee contributed to the cover story.

The Activities Update section covers the Baen's Universe Science Fiction Contest. This was held by the science fiction magazine and the NSS. It looks like there will be another contest in 2008. It looks like all of the 2008 rules (eg: end date) aren't settled yet, but here's more information about the contest.

The Activities Update section also covers the NSS Banner Design Contest.

Finally, the inside back cover gives details on applying for the 2008 NSS Scholarship to the International Space University.

Photos from the EuroSpaceward Workhop

The Space Elevator blog posts a lot of photos from the EuroSpaceward workshop that was recently held to help teams prepare for the Space Elevator Games.

Prizes as Part of the Future of Commercial Space

From RLV News comes a link to a Space News article on the state and possible near future of the commercial space industry. Peter Diamandis considers some possible developments, many of which are related to prizes:

"We need some wins," said Peter Diamandis, chairman and chief executive officer of the X Prize Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.

Those wins next year, he said, might constitute a successful flight of the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 1 booster; possible rollout of Virgin Galactic spaceliner hardware; demonstration flights of the Rocket Racing League's X-Racer; first flight to orbital altitude of Armadillo Aerospace gear; and a couple-dozen fully registered teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize — a robotic race to the Moon for a $30 million purse.

Although I often post about NewSpace space access prizes on this blog, I also find the space-related communications gear companies mentioned at the beginning of the article to also be incredibly interesting.

Filling in the Prize Middle Ground

Here's another post from the same site I referenced in the previous post. This one advocates a middle ground between big prizes like the X PRIZEs and Centennial Challenges and the smaller ones like some of the student competitions. In the aerospace world even the well-off university and large private teams are tiny in comparision with government projects, so in a sense these "big" ones are really "small", but I see what he means and I do agree that there's a "middle ground" in the prize world that could be filled.

Of course, the "Google Android" software challenge I posted about yesterday could be a "middle ground" prize that a lot of small but very serious and hard working teams could win ...

Ham Radio for Lunar X PRIZE?

Could amateur radio help teams trying to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE? Not knowing much about it, I don't know whether or not it's practical, but it's an interesting idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

$10M Google Cell Phone Application Prize

The KEI Policy Blog has an article on the $10,000,000 Android Developer Challenge. Android is Google's new Linux-based software environment for cell phones. In the Linux spirit, Android is open-source. It includes a lot of programmer tools.

Here's more from CNN and Salon.

The prize isn't going to go to one winner. Instead:

The $10 million in awards will be given out as cash awards -- no strings attached. The total will be distributed equally between the Android Developer Challenge I and II. In the Android Developer Challenge I, the 50 most promising entries will each receive a $25,000 award to fund further development. These 50 entries will then be eligible for even greater recognition via ten awards worth $275,000 each and and another ten worth $100,000 each.

This is followed by a Phase II prize round.

The challenge is open to everyone not affiliated with the prize, with some exceptions due to U.S. and local laws.

There's an Android Developer's Blog with information for Android programmers, including those competing in the Challenge. Of course one of the examples to help programmers get familiar with the environment is a Lunar Lander Challenge game.

Will any of the prize winners be applications related to space? We know that Google is into Lunar Landers, GPS location services, maps (in the spirit of Google Earth), astronomy, and similar topics, based on their Android SDK and past Google business moves. Maybe this is a niche that would be looked on favorably in the competition ...?

This is yet another example where businesses are starting to turn to prizes to solve business problems (in this case applications for a new phone platform to help it compete with existing ones).

Another Angle at the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge

Here's an article from the Denver Post from a few weeks ago on the Lunar Lander Challenge. The reason I'm posting this one is that it has a lot on local competitors Micro-Space and Paragon Labs. I don't post much on them, mainly because they're not prolific bloggers, so this is a good opportunity to.

X PRIZE Foundation Hints on Future Health and Energy Prizes

The Huffington Post recently published a couple of articles by people at the X PRIZE Foundation. Actually they published more than a couple, but these are 2 I haven't mentioned before.

First, Jesse Berst, Executive Director, Energy and Environment Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation, answers a few quick questions. Here's the part that hints about the types of energy and environment X PRIZEs they'd like to make in the future:

You'll see a wide range of energy and environment prizes over the next four years--alternative energy production, storage, transmission, household efficiency, and commercial efficiency. We'll target areas that are stuck and in need of breakthrough. I think we can help shift the whole world to a new era of possibility and prosperity.

One thing I'd like to see them try is a combination energy/environment and space prize. There are all sorts of possible ways to do this. Some ideas that come to mind include:

- monitoring of Earth's environment from suborbital vehicles or high-altitude/long duration vehicles
- advanced instruments or other components for Earth observation satellites
- smallsat to monitor Earth's environment
- demonstrate solar power satellite or power relay satellite technologies on Earth or in space
- Earth Observation demo bonus prize for Google Lunar X PRIZE
- high efficiency closed-loop environment for astronauts (ie improved recycling)
- (Google-sponsored?) Google Earth content prize

In another article from X PRIZE Foundation staff, Tom Vander Ark discusses his career as influenced by his Dad. This is in the context of Health and Medicine prizes and an X PRIZE Foundation health care summit. It gives some ideas where the X PRIZE Foundation might be heading in those areas.

Again this is an area where the X PRIZE Foundation could address 2 needs at the same time (space and health/medicine) if it chooses a prize that addresses both. I wouldn't restrict prizes to do that, but I'd at least look for opportunities where such "dual-purpose" prizes could work. Perhaps a space prize sponsor and a health/medicine prize sponsor, neither of which is especially concerned with the other's field, could be brought together to sponsor a larger prize than either could fund by themselves if the prize addresses both fields.

DeltaX Tether Challenge Pictures

Here are some pictures of the 2007 Tether Challenge featuring DeltaX.

Small Automotive X PRIZE Team Thinks Big

From the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker comes an article in the Jamestown NY Post-Journal on a small, local Automotive X PRIZE Cup competitor that hopes to not only win the prize, but also to win a lot more business.

$10,000,000 Silver Extraction Prize

The KEI Policy Blog notes that, as the New York Times reported, Barrick Gold is offering a $10M Prize to a team that can help it find a way to extract significantly more silver from its Veladero gold and silver mine that it currently has been getting. The solution needs to be economical for this mine and environmentally friendly.

This link describes why such a low percentage of the mined silver has been successfully extracted so far, and what techniques have been tried so far to solve the problem.

The actual process that the competitors would go through includes an earlier judging phase to ensure that proposals are credible, and a phase where qualifying research efforts would be funded. As such, this is a combination of traditional research grant and innovation prize, just as the DARPA Urban Challenge is. The $10M prize would be awarded when a solution has been implemented at the mine at production scale.

It's interesting to see the prize model used by private industry trying to solve real-world commercial problems. Prizes have their place in private industry, government, and non-profits.

Space Solar Power Prize

Space Solar Power, a national security blog that covers SPSs, discusses one of the Google Lunar X PRIZE videos that features lunar resources helping in the construction of solar power satellites. Some older (and perhaps newer; I haven't kept up) solar power satellite concepts included launching bulk material from the moon using magnetic launchers, which would then be caught and processed into huge solar panels by orbiting factories. Other, less bulky components would be launched from Earth.

The Space Solar Power site asks:

Please take a look at the video. Think about it. What type of incentives do you think are appropriate and effective stimuli to promote private sector investment in space-based solar power and its supporting infrastructure? Who might offer such prizes?

There are a lot of possible answers to these questions which I won't attempt to address.

It's interesting, though, to imagine where the Space Elevator Games might fit into a prize for demonstrating the power beaming part of the SPS infrastructure. Would a new prize for beaming lots of power, high accuracy beaming, or some such criteria (without the climber aspects, which of course already have a prize) be useful for both concepts? Could such a challenge be held at the Space Elevator Games, allowing both organizations to help each other?

Strong Tether Challenger DeltaX

Tether Challenge competitor DeltaX has a web page that I haven't noticed or linked before. It looks like it's fairly new, and up until now I've been (whether correctly or not) using the MIT Space Elevator Team link for them. There's a lot of information on the team on the site, and already a bunch of news updates. Some highlights:

photo gallery
high-powered team members

news posts on:

- their carbon nanotube tether
- media coverage
- 8-minute video of the 2007 tether challenge event
- links on the recent nanotube news, and, perhaps most interestingly, comments on where DeltaX stands in their similar quest (including speculation that "parachutes for space divers" may be helped with the technology).

The DeltaX link should appear on the right in the Space Elevator section in a few minutes.

Friday, November 23, 2007

New York Times on Innovation Prizes

The New York Times recently had an article on innovation prizes, including the ones managed by the X PRIZE Foundation (past, present, and many in the future, if current plans hold), as well as others managed by Innocentive,, and others.

The article contains a couple of critiques of innovation prizes. Here's one:

But its approach has raised questions in the nonprofit and foundation worlds.

These prizes tend to attract those people who have resources to begin with,” said Mr. Burns, the consultant, referring to space exploration contests and the like. “It doesn’t serve everyone, nor does it solve social ills. I’m not as excited about these prizes that seem to be nothing more than the pursuit of awards for capitalist happiness."

Give me a break.

If the prizes tend to attract people who have resources to begin with, so what? Maybe they'd be using those resources to buy a boat or something else a non-profit consultant would find particularly unattractive for someone else to have. Anyway, smart competitors without a lot of money have been finding a way to win innovation prizes - by going the cheap innovation route, or by getting sponsors, or by forming teams.

As far as "serving everyone and solving social ills", some innovation prizes actually for all practical purposes do one or both of these (and we may very well find, looking back 20 years from now, that the ones that did this the most dramatically were not the ones a socially-minded consultant would have expected to). Some don't, but so what? Does, or should, every traditional non-profit initiative serve everyone and solve social ills? No. Do the ones that try do it effectively? Not always, by a long stretch.

Does it matter if a non-profit consultant is "as excited" by innovation prizes, as long as the prize sponsors, teams, their sponsors, and the public are? I don't think so.

Is there something wrong with "the pursuit of awards for capitalist happiness"? I can't think of anything wrong with it. In fact it strikes me as being a positive spirit to inject into non-profit work. I'll also bet that it's a lot more useful, productive, efficient, and fun than a lot of other approaches.

Innovation prizes definitely have their limits. They aren't useful for solving a lot of problems, and even when they are, it's easy enough to design or manage them poorly. There are many cases where, even though an innovation prize would be successful and useful, other approaches would be even better. However, innovation prizes do have a lot of uses, potentially in a lot more applications than they appear in now. Let's face up to the real opportunities and limitations of innovation prizes, and not make up reasons to shy away from them.

LaserMotive and USST Beam Power Posts

Beam Power team USST has a link to a recent team interview by the Discovery Channel (although I wasn't able to see the interview from here).

Meanwhile, LaserMotive gives thanks. They also present a link to the Spaceward Foundation's ambitious plans for next year's competition. I've posted on this before, too, but it's ambitious enough that I'm doing it again. If you haven't already, take a look at the pictures that profile the balloon-based tether setup dimensions they're considering, and the comparision to this year's dimensions.

They'd like to plan the games for early September 2008. They list a number of interesting potential locations for the games.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving from William Pomerantz

I haven't posted in a while, and I wasn't going to post today either, but I thought it would be worthwhile and in the holiday spirit to link to this Happy Thanksgiving post from William Pomerantz. In addition to that sentiment, there's a link to a new Lunar Lander Challenge video at that includes representatives from sponsor Northrop Grumman (Bob Davis), the FAA (Patricia Grace Smith), the X PRIZE Foundation (Peter Diamandis), and the competitor teams (John Carmack).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Marine Renewable Energy Horizon Prize

From the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker comes news of a £10m prize in renewable energy. The details of the prize aren't pinned down, but the following gives the basic outlines:

With the Horizon Prize to be worth double the X-series, the Scottish Government hopes to attract international entries and stimulate a breakthrough in harnessing energy from the waters around the country.

Energy Minister Jim Mather said: "The Scottish Government will award one of the biggest international innovation prizes in history. The Saltire Prize will be an annual prize fund of £2m, with a £10m Horizon Prize attracting the cream of the world's scientists to make Scotland a leading centre for renewable energy.

SpeedUp and Unreasonable Rocket Full Steam Ahead

SpeedUp has a couple of new posts that sum up the presentation at the X PRIZE Cup and lessons learned there that will help with next year's effort, as well as an offer to sponsors to put their short message on the rocket for $25.

This short blog post might be from an old SpeedUp classmate.

Meanwhile, Unreasonable Rocket is adding to the "to do" list. They also mention some helicopter testing, and I think this post from Randy's Rocketry might have pictures of the testing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two Space Elevator Team Updates

The Space Elevator Blog reports on some Kansas City Space Pirates media exposure (when you go to the site you have to select the Space Pirates video from a list of videos). Also, there's a post from E-T-C with a BBC video link to articles on the 20 GPa carbon nanotube fibers recently announced.

A Big Prize List; Kavli Prizes

Site Big Fat Prize (apparently in beta test) keeps, well, a big fat list of prizes, including prize value, links, and short prize descriptions. A lot of the prizes covered are the ones typically covered here - space prizes and technology innovation prizes. There are plenty of others.

I see a lot of business plan competitions, for example (including space business plans like Lunar Ventures or the Space Frontier Foundation's Business Plan Competition).

There are categories for space and science prizes, but those are empty. Since the link I gave at the beginning of the post has plenty of space prizes, I imagine they'll fill in these categories at some point. They do have a lot in the lists for invention and technology, and they even have a separate section for The X PRIZE Foundation's prizes.

I don't know exactly where they're going with the site, but it has potential. I hope they can fill in the missing spots, get the blog going, and add some more database lookup capabilities (for example, searches based on not just prize category but amounts, past and future events like prize registration timeframes, and other useful criteria). I have all sorts of other ideas that might work for the site ... who knows how much work it would be to implement, though.

One prize they list that I should mention is the Kavli Prize, which is like the Nobel Prize in that it looks back at past achievements rather than giving an incentive for a future achievement. It includes three $1,000,000 prizes every 2 years (starting in 2008). The fields are Astrophysics, Nanoscience, and Neuroscience. The way they bring together those 3 diverse fields is "The prizes focus on the science of the greatest physical dimensions of space and time, the science of the smallest dimensions of systems of atoms and molecules, and the science of the most complex systems, especially living organisms." It sounds pretty symmetric now!

I'll give the Astrophysics prize a bit of special attention by adding their description of its scope:

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics will be awarded for outstanding achievement in advancing our knowledge and understanding of the origin, evolution, and properties of the universe, including the fields of cosmology, astrophysics, astronomy, planetary science, solar physics, space science, astrobiology, astronomical and astrophysical instrumentation, and particle astrophysics.

Friday, November 16, 2007

New Work for Astronaut Glove Challenge Winner

From comes news that Peter Homer, winner of the 2007 Astronaut Glove Centennial Challenge, is now working with Orbital Outfitters.

2008/2009 AAS ISU Scholarships

Since I'm covering ISU scholarships, I should also note that the American Astronautical Society, like the NSS, offers ISU Scholarships. For the 2008/2009 school year, they started taking applications on September 1. The link on the right of the page has been there a while, and is still good for this year.

National Space Society ISU Scholarships

As it did last year, the NSS is offering scholarships to the International Space University for 2008.

In the same spirit as my last post, I'm going to provide the entire NSS text below.

NSS Offers ISU Scholarships for 2008 -- deadline January 31, 2008

(November 9, 2007)

Each year the National Space Society awards one or more individuals a scholarship to attend the International Space University (ISU). Click for additional information and to apply. Deadline for application is January 31, 2008.

Student Space Settlement Design Contest

The National Space Society has a post that oddly enough is dated November 28, 2007, on the NSS/NASA Ames Student Space Settlement Design Contest. Here's a link to a post I made on last year's contest. Since the NSS article will eventually scroll off the end of their page (so presumably my link above will eventually no longer point to the right place), I'll make a copy of it here:

NSS and NASA wants you to design your best space settlement -- a place in space for you, your friends, and family to live, play and work. Space settlement is excellent thematic and many teachers have used the contest we great success (see for lesson plans). In accordance with a new Space Act Agreement, NSS and NASA will jointly sponsor the long-running annual NASA Ames Student Space Settlement Design Contest. Sixth to twelfth grade students should create their space settlement design, or short story, or artwork, and send it to NASA Ames Research Center by March 31st. The grand prize winner will have their work hosted on a NASA web server and NASA will nominate a contestant to receive the NSS Annual Student Space Settlement of the Year Award at the ISDC conference in Dallas this spring. For more information:

Will Wright and Arianna Huffington at X PRIZE Foundation

From the X PRIZE Foundation news scroller comes news that Sims videogame creator Will Wright and editor of The Huffington Post Arianna Huffington have joined the Board of Directors of the X PRIZE Foundation.

Here's some more news from one of those articles:

Even prior to joining the Board, Huffington had been a champion of the Foundation. On September 20, she hosted a reception at her Los Angeles home in honor of the X PRIZE Foundation. She was also present to lend her support when the Foundation made its Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 27.

In fact the X PRIZE Foundation photo gallery currently shows a lot of (77) pictures of the reception. You can see it at Picasa, too.

2009 Space Settlement Calendar Art Contest

I recently posted about the National Space Society 2009 Space Settlement Calendar Art Contest. I thought I would post it again because I noticed that a couple days ago the NSS wrote a news item for the contest. The NSS site also have prominent image links to the 2008 Calendar (to buy ... again holiday gifts come to mind) and the 2009 contest (to compete in - it ends Dec 31, 2007).

One link I don't remember seeing before (maybe it's new - I don't know) is one showing the gallery of art accepted into the contest.

The NSS also has a number of other recent news items. Some of them will be covered here ASAP. Others don't belong on this blog, but they nonetheless deserve to be read, so check out the recent items at NSS.

Google Lunar X PRIZE Lunar Legacy

There were recently several blog posts pointing out the Lunar Legacy opportunity associated with the Lunar X PRIZE:

Space Fellowship - describes the idea, which is that you have a chance to get your Lunar Legacy (a digitally stored photo) on a rover that makes it to the Moon for a donation of $10. This of course depends on the competitors in the Lunar X PRIZE getting to the Moon's surface. Maybe some photos will be beamed back to Earth, too (TBD). Not only that, but you'll be helping the competitors and the X PRIZE Foundation compete in, and manage, the competition. It's suggested as a good Christmas gift for space fans.

Genealogy Insider - also describes the Lunar Legacy idea (which is put in the "family heirlooms" and "Genealogy fun" categories). When I see some positive space news in a non-space publication like this, first of all it makes me like the publication, but it also makes me think the space project in question must be doing something right. I'm convinced that space activities of interest or use to the space-indifferent majority have a much better chance to succeed.

Space for All - in addition to the above information, provides easy links to see the photo gallery of Lunar Legacies, and to get your Lunar Legacy uploaded.

Tech Ranch enters 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge

The title says it all; here's the Tech Ranch post.

Compilation of Space Elevator Posts

The Space Elevator Blog notes that the Space Elevator Reference is offering a calendar with pictures from the 2007 Space Elevator Games. My favorite is the picture with the scenic mountains in the background.

The Space Elevator Reference covers the support that Andrews Space is giving to Beam Power team LaserMotive. Spaceref has the press release.

The Space Elevator Reference also has a detailed post on the recent Eurospaceward Space Elevator Games workshop. There's a lot in the post that you should check out, but the most interesting part to me was this information on the plans for the 2008 games:

In discussions of the SE Games for 2008 Ben Shelef announced that Spaceward is seriously considering a climber height for next year of 1 km - ten times what it was this year. ... Shelef stated an interest in Spaceward providing lasers for teams to use in 2008. This would greatly reduce the expenses on the teams and allow more to compete. Other changes for next year include the ribbon being replaced by a cable, the crane being replaced by a balloon and the prize money going up to $900k for both the tether and climber competitions. ... Spaceward has released that it is considering raising the prize purse to $2M for each competition if higher performance is accomplished.

The Spaceward Foundation has updated the Elevator:2010 site to reflect the beginning of the shift in attention to the 2008 games. Here's some information about the 2008 Climber Competition, including a draft competition handbook and a request for comments document. A "request for comments" document ... doesn't sound too exciting, huh? Go read it, because it has some pretty impressive-sounding ideas (and visuals) on what the competition might be like next year. It would be quite an amazing site to see in person if they can pull it off. There's also a page for the $900,000 2008 Strong Tether Challenge. Surf around the site; maybe you'll find some more new material.

The McGill team has an update (also, if you prefer, in French) with a brief look to the 2008 games and some photos.

The Space Elevator Blog now has Part 5 of the Light Racer posts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

X PRIZE Cup Photos

RLV News posts some links on the X PRIZE Cup. I liked the XPC photos taken by Jason. You get a good view of the Lunar Lander Challenge teams' hardware, and a lot of the displays at the Cup. It sounds like he would have been happier to see more Lunar Landers flying in the LLC, and some Rocket Racers as well ... I have to agree with that, but I would have liked to have been there anyway.

Surfin' English on Centennial Challenges

Surfin' English ... it doesn't sound like the title of a space-related blog, but a lot of the posts there actually are about space. The post I linked is an overview of NASA's Centennial Challenges, with an emphasis on the Canadian Beam Power Competition teams.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The View from the Outside

Here's a piece on the X PRIZE Cup from El Paso, Inc, from the point of view of someone who, it at least seems, hasn't been indoctrinated in the history and assumptions of the either the new or old space industries ... in other words 99+% of the world.

News Related to Tether Challenge?

This word of mouth (or email?) news on carbon nanotubes isn't directly related to space prizes, but it's on the Space Elevator Blog that covers the Space Elevator Games in such detail, it's relevant to the Tether Challenge, and it from the EuroSpaceward Space Elevator workshop to focus European teams on the (U.S. and possibly German) Space Elevator Games.

Update (morning November 14): There's more here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Valves at Unreasonable Rocket

An earlier Unreasonable Rocket post was on The Agony of the Valves. The latest post is titled simply Valves, Valves,Valves and Valves...

Somehow, taking the word "Agony" out of the title doesn't seem to have made it sound any more joyous. After testings some off the shelf valves, the current plan seems to involve a custom-made valve idea.

Update (evening November 13): There's more rocket work going on at Unreasonable Rocket.

Lessons from the 2007 "Prize Season"

Advanced Nanotechnology summarizes the recent big prize competitions (specifically the Lunar Lander Challenge, Space Elevator Games, and DARPA Urban Challenge), and proposes a few lessons learned from these events.

The post also suggests some principles for space projects, whether the project is winning the Lunar X PRIZE or NASA's manned return to the Moon program.

Light Racers

The Space Elevator Blog has 2 detailed posts with videos on the 2007 Light Racers Competition held at the Space Elevator Games here and here.

Update (evening, November 13): The Light Racers posts continue; here's part 3 and part 4.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Automotive X PRIZE Blog on Teams and Media

The Automotive X PRIZE blog notes that they are up to 43 teams signed up for their upcoming 100 mpg car race, and gives a few examples of the media coverage the teams are getting:

Aptera Motors: StartUp Beat, 8/2007
Cornell University:
PopularMechanics, 8/2007
FuelVapor Technologies:
gizmag, 7/2007
AutoblogGreen, 8/2007
Michigan Vision:
Ann Arbor Business Review, 9/2007
Phoenix Motorcars:
Fast Company, 11/2007
Porteon Electric Vehicles, Inc.:
CNET, 10/2007
Society for Sustainable Mobility:
Red Hat Magazine, 8/2007
Tesla Motors:
Newsweek, 10/2007
engadget, 4/2007
Visionary Vehicles:
Washington Post, 9/2007

An article in The Economist describes a meeting and discussions held by Google's Larry Page and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to work on the Automotive X PRIZE and related goals.

Links Posted at BonNova

BonNova has posted a few links recently to articles that feature their Lunar Lander entry (as well as other entries in some cases).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Space Access '08 Dates Set

The dates have been set for the Space Access '08 conference:

Space Access '08 will take place Thursday afternoon March 27 through Saturday evening March 29th, 2008, once again at the Best Western Grace Inn in Phoenix Arizona. Same rates as last year, both for conference registration ($100 advance, $120 at the door) and hotel rooms ($99 a night, tax and breakfast included). Phone 800 843-6010 for hotel room reservations and mention "space access" for our discount room rate. Mail checks (sorry, no credit cards) for advance conference registration to "Space Access '08", 5555 N 7th st #134-348, Phoenix AZ 85014.

I'm sure there will be plenty of prize-related discussions (eg: Lunar Lander Challenge) at the conference.

Friday, November 09, 2007

2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge Registration Opens; MoonROx Challenge Announced

As I recently posted, the California Space Authority hinted (on Matt's Blog) that they'd be presenting the official rules to the Transforming Space Conference (which they are hosting, or just finished hosting). As I mentioned in the same post, Ken Davidian, representing NASA Centennial Challenges, also presented at the conference.

What I didn't guess from this news is the following (another post at Matt's Blog):

Team Registration Open!

During the Transforming Space 2007 Conference today, following a keynote address by the Honorable Shana Dale, Ken Davidian announced the opening of team registration for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge and also the opening of a $1M prize for the 2008 MoonROx Challenge. The 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge will take place during the Summer of 2008. CSEWI is currently in negotiations with California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo in order to conduct the competition on campus.

That's one densely packed nugget of space prize news!

Check out the Regolith Excavation Site main page (which includes a cool flyer I haven't seen before that emphasizes the mobility requirements for the excavators this year, but that also gives nice pictures from last year's excavators). Don't overlook the registration page, and the frequently asked questions. Actually the one thing I don't see is the official rules, but I could have missed them, or they could be posted soon. I'd keep checking the next few days if I were a competitor (or use the contact list to find out).

Meanwhile the rules are available for the $1 Million MoonROx Challenge to extract breathable oxygen from lunar regolith simulant. Check out the MoonROx flyer, which has a similar look to the regolith excavation flyer. As expected, this prize is a bit different from the other Centennial Challenges so far in that it's a "first to demonstrate the capability" type of challenge, rather than an annual competition. You'd better be serious when you try to demonstrate your capability, because there's a hefty demonstration fee and other expenses to consider.

Here's a little background information, mostly beyond my technical abilities, on ISRU as conceived in 1993, including detailed discussions of the chemistry of extracting oxygen from lunar regolith.

I also got the following mailing from the California Space Authority that has even more details. Normally I'd give a link to something like this, but I can't find one (I assume it will appear on search engines soon ...?), and I think the whole thing is worth passing along and is intended for a public audience, so here it is:

November 8, 2007

California Space Authority
Matthew Everingham


2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge and 2008 MoonROx Challenge Begin as NASA Celebrates its Fiftieth Year

LOS ANGELES – The Honorable Shana Dale, Deputy Administrator of NASA, started the day off at the Transforming Space 2007 Conference this morning by extolling NASA’s fifty years of accomplishments. In so doing, she set the stage for the announcement of the $1.75 million in NASA prize money for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge and the 2008 MoonROx Challenge (Moon Regolith Oxygen), both designed to learn how to sustain prolonged lunar operations.

“Californians have played a major role in space exploration since the very beginning,” stated Shana Dale. “Since its founding, California has always been a place of promise, a place where people are inspired to reach high, to work hard and to dream big. Today, California is still the place of dreamers and discoverers.”

California hosts a large number of industrial, entrepreneurial, academic and government entities that contribute to space exploration and discovery. The Golden State hosts a robust space enterprise, including three NASA Centers – Ames Research Center, Dryden Flight Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In the spirit of Shana Dale’s California Dreamin’ comments, Ken Davidian, Program Director for NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program announced, “It is a pleasure to be working with the California Space Education and Workforce Institute and the California Space Authority in helping make NASA’s exploration goals a reality. The 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge and the 'new and improved' MoonROx Challenge will push innovation in technologies that will be required if we are to accomplish the nation's civil and commercial space goals.

”The Regolith Excavation Challenge offers a $750,000 purse to contestants who meet the requirements in new technologies designed to excavate lunar regolith. Excavation is a necessary first step towards lunar resource utilization, and the unique physical properties of lunar regolith make excavation a difficult technical challenge. Advances in lunar regolith excavation have the potential to contribute significantly to the nation's space exploration operations.

The MoonROx Challenge will tempt contestants with a $1 million purse. This challenge is designed to promote the development of technologies and processes to extract breathable oxygen from lunar regolith on the scale of a pilot plant. Efficient production of breathable oxygen from in-situ lunar resources has the potential to contribute significantly to NASA’s exploration mission and space operations.

“NASA’s contributions to science have had transformational affects on our everyday lives,” noted Andrea Seastrand, Executive Director of the California Space Authority (CSA). “In planning for the next fifty years of space exploration, we are excited to be working with NASA to offer $1.75 million in prize money for programs that will find ways to prolong life on the lunar surface. We are proud to be involved in an effort that could potentially transform man’s relationship with the moon far into the future.”

“We are reaching towards the future of space exploration, and we are calling on students and innovators to bring success a few steps closer,” continued Dr. Jack Gregg, Executive Director of the California Space Education and Workforce Institute, the organization responsible for putting on the challenges. “We are proud to support the NASA Centennial Challenges program and its development of space exploration."

For more information about NASA’s fiftieth year anniversary, go to:

For more information about the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge, go to:

For more information about the 2008 MoonROx Challenge, go to:

X PRIZE Cup Reference

RLV News has put together a comprehensive reference to the 2007 X PRIZE Cup and associated Lunar Lander Challenge and International Symposium on Personal Spaceflight.

Not only that, but here's a post with a link to a Wired Science interview of Peter Diamandis that's gives the background on lots of the space prizes covered here, as well as some similar prizes.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

X PRIZE Cup Action

RLV News links to 2 cool videos from on the X PRIZE Cup - one an action-packed zoom through different visual thrills at the event, and another by Will Pomerantz summarizing, with videos of the Armadillo attempts, what happened at the Lunar Lander Challenge.

Lots of LaserMotive

The Space Elevator Blog shows some missing videos and pictures of the LaserMotive qualification run. Meanwhile, LaserMotive shows us a video of a system they made to focus the laser optics while the target is moving up the ribbon.

Unreasonable Rocket Physics

Unreasonable Rocket has a rocket physics discussion with commenters. Part 2 is here.

NASA Student Essay Contest

NASA's Innovative Partnership Program (the same area that has the Centennial Challenges) and its Education Program are holding an essay contest for students associated with the NASA 50th Anniversary. This was noted at both Space for All and NASA Watch.

I was one of the people that NASA Watch mentions as having to accidentally stumble across the announcement to know about it (when I was checking out some other things at the IPP program about a week ago). Unfortunately, I didn't post about it when I should have (I consider such contests as in the scope of this blog, although the blog is mainly about hardware-related contests), and in my concentration on some other post I even forgot to add it to my "catch up real soon" list. Thanks to the 2 sites above for doing a much better job.

KC Space Pirates Press Release on 2007 Games

From the Space Elevator Blog, here's a press release from the Kansas City Space Pirates beam power team.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ken Davidian on 2007 Beam Power and Tether Games

Here, care of the Space Elevator Blog, is a detailed look back at the 2007 Space Elevator Games (with a few glances ahead to 2008) by NASA's Ken Davidian.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Another University Google Lunar X PRIZE Team?

Is San Jose State University going to try to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE?

LaserMotive Makes a Big Bang

LaserMotive posts a video of a test at the Space Elevator Games where they had a bit of a smash on the way down. Following that, there's (understandably) a lot of brake testing.

Unreasonable Rocket Design Thoughts; Masten Progress

RLV News (and here) posts on an Unreasonable design decision that needs to be made, and on a month's worth of progress that's been made at Masten Space Systems. Hopefully MSS will decide to enter the Lunar Lander Challenge this year, too ... or if they don't, it's because they're too busy meeting dates for customers.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Prizes for Technological Innovation Paper and Lunar Rovers

Last Spring I mentioned a paper called Prizes for Technological Innovation that I admitted I'd only skimmed. This paper addresses prizes for any technological industry, but it does have a lot to say about space in particular. For example:

NASA has been very imaginative in its use of prizes. I propose that it now also move forward with some more ambitious competitions that are under discussion, such as an Earth-Moon solar sailcraft race and a lunar lander-rover. Under this plan, NASA would devote at least one hundred million dollars of its $16.8 billion annual budget to prizes.

Interestingly, one of the specific prizes then "under discussion" that it advocated NASA fund is:

Lunar lander-rover: A twenty million dollar prize would be established for the first team to land a robotic rover on the lunar surface that is able to travel ten kilometers and send a video signal back to Earth. It has been more than thirty years since the United States conducted exploration on the surface of the moon, and such a competition could provide NASA with innovative, low-cost technology options for renewed exploration.

As we know, this general idea was eventually picked up as the Google Lunar X PRIZE. However, it's not too late for NASA to get into the action and participate in this prize. I doubt that Google or the X PRIZE Foundation would object to NASA co-sponsoring some bonus Lunar X PRIZEs, for example.

The paper also goes into detail in other industries, such as educational software, energy efficiency, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture.

Thoughts from E-T-C after Space Elevator Games

The Space Elevator Blog has a retrospective look at the games from climber competitor E-T-C. The post has some pictures of their team and entry. It also has a preliminary analysis of the troubles their entry had.

They also have some thoughts on improving the Space Elevator Games. One thought is to have multiple Games with a unified theme (the Space Elevator), but different technical goals that fit into the theme. The results from one Game could be input to the next. The Games could be held by different groups with different sponsors (eg: from U.S., Europe, and Japan). It's pretty tough to see the drawback of that idea, but it might be difficult to convince sponsors to fund it. It would certainly be useful, though, and there are a lot of reasons why a government, corporate, or non-profit sponsor might agree to do this.

They are also worried about the continuously increasing difficulty of the technical challenge in the Beam Power competition. I sympathize with this, too, but I also understand why Spaceward wants to keep raising the bar (in this case almost literally) to encourage improvements. A compromise might be to have some smaller value, but easier to win, incremental prizes. I've mentioned this idea in relation to the Lunar Lander Challenge, too (and the LLC already has 2 levels). This might be the sustanence that keeps some teams striving, and keeps public interest in the games when the main prizes aren't quite won. As usual, though, it's a matter of limited money available and priorities that have to be managed.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Gravity Loss on 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge

Gravity Loss has a retrospective look at this year's Lunar Lander Challenge. There's also analysis of where things will go from here in the competition, as well as comparisons with DARPA's challenges and the Ansari X PRIZE.

Diamandis on Lunar Lander Challenge

Popular Science had an interview with Peter Diamandis that gives some insight into what they're thinking about next for the Lunar Lander Challenge:

PS So if Armadillo wins the Lunar Lander Challenge today, what will be the centerpiece challenge next year? [Editor’s note: Armadillo didn’t win, so the Lunar Lander Challenge is still up for grabs. Still, something has to come after the Lunar Lander Challenge is finally claimed.]

PD That’s a good question. We don’t know yet. We have ideas. We’ll be talking to NASA, we’ll be talking to the Air Force about other prize purses. There will be prizes that move technology forward, that are valuable to the team, valuable to the sponsors, and make great theater. We’re thinking about, say, Lunar Lander Level Three. We’ve talked about the idea of what we call a Rock and Rove—a small rocket that might go up to 5 or 10,000 feet and then land a robotic rover out in the distance that has to then rove back to the starting line.

I missed this during the X PRIZE Cup media tidal wave. I haven't tried to catch up (since I was away from the computer that weekend) with everything, but I thought this particular comment with Google Lunar X PRIZE overtones was pretty interesting, just to show how they're thinking.

Of course my first reaction is "why wait until the current Lunar Lander Challenge is won to start a new prize, or to add on to the Lunar Lander Challenge?" Having 2 big competitions in the same event would be better for both challenges, in terms of generating a lot of public interest in seeing the events. The same goes for a Lunar Lander Challenge that's been augmented with an even bigger goal (in addition to, not replacing, the current goals). In fact, I also like the idea of adding more modest goals as stepping stones to the big prizes, or modest 3rd-place prizes to encourage a broader industry.

I wonder if the Air Force would be interested in contributing to such a prize to make their Air Show even more successful? There are a lot of other prize ideas that would be useful to the Air Force in their own right, quite aside from helping generate buzz for the Air Show, too.

Google Earth Photos of X PRIZE Cup

The Google Earth Blog has a set of photos from the X PRIZE Cup, including prize-related photos on the Lunar Lander Challenge and the Google Lunar X PRIZE, displayed in several different ways:

- in a Picasa photo album
- in a Google Maps display showing where each photo was taken
- in a Google Earth display, also showing where each photo was taken
- in a slide show

I won't go into the details on this prize-specific blog, but you can also see a lot of other space-related content on the Google Earth blog. Recent posts cover Google Earth layers for the Moon and planets, MODIS overlays (MODIS is an Earth remote sensing instrument on 2 NASA satellites), finding comet Holmes using GE, and disaster management imagery of the California fires from various satellites.

LaserMotive Recovered and Posting

Beam Power team LaserMotive posts a picture of them testing a photovoltaic array, and the good part of their qualifying video before the games.

New Bill to Replace Pharmaceutical Patents With Prizes

James Love reports that Senator Sanders has submitted the "Medical Innovation Prize Act of 2007". This bill would replace the current U.S. patent system for pharmaceuticals with an $80 Billion prize incentive system. This isn't a space prize, but it deserves attention here both because the prize aspects of the bill relate to the politics of space prizes, and because many future space business hopes feature research or manufacturing for pharmaceutical companies.

Here's more about the bill from KEI Online. One key aspect of the bill is described here:

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of prizes to stimulate innovation in fields as diverse as movie preferences, space travel, mining, energy and the environment, and medical science.

Unlike many of these prizes, the Medical Innovation Prize Fund is not a winner-take-all contest based upon success in achieving a specific technological outcome. Instead, every new prescription drug or biologic product registered by the FDA would "win" something from the prize fund, but the amount given to a developer would vary, according to the evidence, obtained over a ten year period, that the product improved healthcare outcomes.

The FDA Law Blog has more.

Senator Sanders includes comments about the bill in his week in review. The text of the bill is here.

The bill sets up a Board of Trustees to manage the fund, and to judge how much money each FDA-approved drug or process that goes through the equivalent of a patent award will win in lieu of a temporary patent monopoly on the drug. The Board of Trustees would be made up of health-related government officials, as well as consumer advocates and business representatives.

I'm skeptical of the various academic attempts to design a prize system to replace the patent system. I was also skeptical of the John Edwards Patent Replacement Prize System, although in that case I didn't have the details, and could only speculate that the proposed prize system would be similar to the various academic patent-replacing prize systems that attempt to carve out a slice of the supply-demand curve by changing innovation incentives. In the case of the Sanders bill, the details are there in the bill text for everyone to evaluate.

I have to say that all of the issues I mentioned in the Edwards bill post apply in this case, so you can check there for the details. The exception is that with this bill, the prize amount ($80 Billion) isn't too small. In fact, it's so big that I can't see it being seriously considered in a real vote, in spite of the bill claim that government savings from removing patent prices (eg: for Medicare) would more than pay for the prize money.

In addition to all of the issues with the bill, I also think it isn't realistic in the sense that, if we can't even get a harmless tiny Centennial Challenges prize program funded, how can we get a huge medical prize program funded that would step on a lot of big business toes that have evolved to work in the patent regime?

Also, the government Board of Trustees to decide how much prize money to award sounds dangerous. Imagine a Space Prize Board of Trustees made up of, say, the NASA Administrator, NASA representatives of the Shuttle, ISS, and ESAS, representatives of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, ATK, United Space Alliance, United Launch Alliance, and a couple science representatives from NOAA or academia. Do you think the board would make fair and productive decisions on space prize awards? Do you think this government board would be immune from political interference or conflict of interest?

I also don't agree with the criteria the Board is supposed to use to judge the merit of the drugs. The claim is that the patent system leads pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that aren't beneficial. I assume they mean drugs that don't cure life-threatening illnesses, but rather address problems like cold symptoms and bedroom performance. Such is the way of the free market (or what passes for a free market in the heavily government-dominated area of health care), which tends to address problems that people are willing to pay money to solve, rather than those the pure and virtuous Board of Trustees wants to solve. The factors the Board is supposed to consider are important, but I would also have them consider economic aspects (days off work, health care costs, etc), age of beneficiaries (solving a long-term health problem that I have is less important than one someone 25 years younger has, since they will probably be affected by it for much longer), as well as giving consideration to what people really want (especially those that have contributed enough to society to be able to pay for what they want).

I'm also curious about how the bill would handle international issues. Would it award billions of U.S. government dollars to foreign companies? Would Congress go for a bill that allows that? How would foreign governments react if the U.S. removed its patents? Companies may invest in innovations in the hope of winning patent monopolies in multiple countries. If foreign governments remove their patent protections because the U.S. has in the prize regime, the prize money may need to be a lot bigger to offset this effect.

Instead of such a huge, potentially disruptive prize system that may have a lot of unintended consequences (or intended consequences that a lot of us wouldn't agree with), I'd recommend a small prize regime targeted to specific health problems. It could focus on a limited set of health problems, allowing the excitement, publicity, competition, and education of something like the X PRIZEs and similar targeted innovation prizes. This is the prize mechanism that has worked in the past, so why start such a big program with a new, untested approach?

Like X PRIZEs, it could be directed at specific health problems that the current drug market hasn't addressed well.

It could be presented in a way where the winner has the option of taking the prize money or taking a patent, so that existing business interests are not threatened. If you are serious about increasing the incentive for productive innovation (rather than taking a swipe at capitalism or at least big business), there is no reason to REPLACE the patent system that currently brings about so much productive innovation, when you could instead SUPPLEMENT the existing patent system or give innovative companies the OPTION to exchange their patent (or some years of it) for big cash prizes. Such an OPTIONAL prize system would have the virtue of allowing calibration of prize amounts. If noone is taking the prizes, perhaps they are too small to provide the innovations you want, and vice versa, if everyone takes them but you're not getting much more innovation, perhaps they are too big and you're wasting money.

It could even have a component that is directed at solving health problems using space microgravity research and development, which would give it another happy constituency (that's us space folks!) and help solve other problems at the same time (what to do with the ISS, space access incentives, incentives to develop Bigelow-style space stations, etc).

After we have a chance to evaluate this "trial run" smaller and less disruptive prize regime, we could then take incremental steps to expand the program to the extent that its performance shows it deserves it.

In spite of my criticism of this bill, it's good to see political interest in innovation prizes from a diverse set of political figures, and this bill is no exception. Although I see problems with the details of the bill, I'm in favor of the idea of prizes for innovations in pharmaceuticals. Hopefully the bill will generate discussion and different political interests will carry the idea forward through compromises and negotiations in such a way that the problems and costs are minimized and the productive innovation incentive is maximized.

Steve Wozniak and Mark Hodosh Interviewed about Archon Genomics X PRIZE

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and Mark Hodosh, Senior Director of the Archon Genomics X PRIZE, appear in a radio interview on NPR's Tech Nation. The interview is about the Genomics X PRIZE, but there's a lot of discussion about other things like Segways and early computing.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Two Beam Power Competitors

The Space Elevator Blog posts on 2 beam power teams, Team Zero-G and The Andromeda Connection, that weren't quite ready to compete this year, but were close enough to make it all the way to Utah to show their climbers. There are pictures of both climbers, and descriptions of their innovative designs. Michael Laine has a comment in the post.

William Pomerantz at World Space Expo

The X PRIZE Foundation's William Pomerantz relates his experience representing the Foundation at the World Space Expo. He also mentions the X PRIZE Lunar Rover Botball Challenge for students that's based on the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

He also has an article in the Huffington Post titled Coat-Tail Riding for Experts. Here he discusses his time at the X PRIZE Foundation working on the Lunar Lander Challenge and the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

DARPA Urban Challenge Over; Winners to be Announced

The main event of the DARPA Urban Challenge is over, and the winners will be announced tomorrow. Michael Belfiore has related all of the events of the qualification rounds and the main event in a series of Wired posts. As you might imagine, there were a lot of amusing, interesting, sometimes surprising events during the challenge, as the robot cars are not quite ready for real urban driving situations, but are making a lot of progress. The fact that the progress differs from team to team makes for some interesting situation.

The Wired posts chronicle the events as team after team was eliminated from the challege. Six teams were able to finish the race, but from the posts it sounds like the teams from CMU, Stanford, and Virginia Tech are the front-runners. The Ben Franklin Racing Team, Cornell, and MIT also finished.

I have to say that given the difficulty of the challenge, it's amazing that any of the teams finished. I wonder when we'll be seeing parts of this technology - perhaps not full-fledged robot cars at first, but starting with more advanced vehicle safety measures, or robot cars in partly controlled environments - appear on the road?

Update (November 4, 2007): The winners have been announced ... I don't see them at Wired or TG Daily yet, so check here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Car Equation

You've heard of the rocket equation, right? Some of you probably live and breathe it. Well, the Automotive X PRIZE has a blog post on The Car Equation. I'm not a rocket (or any other type of) engineer, but I do vaguely recall some school problems dealing with basic rocket/airplane/satellite equations (not "THE" rocket equation) that had a lot of the same factors (force, mass, coefficient of drag, cross section, velocity, etc ... just about everything except for coefficient of rolling resitance). That shouldn't be too surprising, I suppose, given the similar (at a high level) situation being modeled - cars, rockets, planes, or satellites moving through the (thin, in the case of LEO satellites) air.

The Automotive X PRIZE post uses the "car equation" to illustrate the engineering tradeoffs that the competitors in the Automotive X PRIZE will have to deal with.

2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge Rules; Transforming Space Conference

The California Space Authority hopes to release the official rules for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge on the week of November 5 (that's next week). There's a note about the Transforming Space conference, which the California Space Authority is also hosting, but it's not clear to me, even though the conference is November 5-8, if the rules will be presented at that conference.

While I'm posting about the Transforming Space conference, I'll note that there are some space prizes and awards featured there:

The conference holds the 2007 California Space Authority SpotBeam Awards Dinner. The link takes you to the diverse set of awards, which includes winners from across the space industry, with an emphasis on California.

One of the speakers at the conference is Congressman Ken Calvert. The link I gave is to his "Space Issues" page. Not every Congressperson has a "Space" section in their "Issues" page. Here's an excerpt from that page dealing with space prizes:

I also believe in the entrepreneurial spirit of America. The recent efforts surrounding the awarding of the Ansari X Prize to the American team led by Burt Rutan of California indicates a strong drive among private citizens to reach into space. I will support incentives to stimulate creativity and new initiatives in the space industry. Clearly, it is no longer impossible to imagine a time when some of us will have the opportunity to travel into space as tourists. NASA’s early pioneers have laid the foundation for the future of space travel for all.

Check the "Ads for Centennial Challenges" tag below to see some discussions on Calvert's somewhat controversial (at least in the discussions) proposal for NASA ads to help fund the NASA Centennial Challenges program.

Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder of the X PRIZE Foundation, is also on the speaker list.

Finally, Ken Davidian will represent the NASA Centennial Challenges during a keynote address.

National Space Society 2009 Space Settlement Art Contest

During a bit of web surfing done while writing my previous post, I noticed that the National Space Society is holding the Space Settlement 2009 Calendar Art Contest. That link is just the flyer; here are the rules and prizes. Hopefully this becomes a long-term annual contest.

The rules sound similar to what I remember from last year's contest. There will be 12 winners whose artwork will appear in the 2009 calendar. The contest is divided by subject matter: orbital, asteroid, Moon, and Mars settlements. In addition to the main prize, which is having their artwork appear in the calendar and on the NSS website, the winners get cash, copies of the calendar, and other space and art prizes like software, paid memberships, and signed books.

The contest deadline is December 31, 2007!

National Space Society Downlink Email

The National Space Society periodically sends out news updates in an email collection called NSS Downlink. Today's version, Issue #81, has a lot of prize-related content. The prize-related topics include:

- availability of the NSS 2008 Space Settlement Calendar, which contains space settlement artwork that won a contest. Here's more on the 2007 contest.

- application information for 2008 International Space University scholarships

- a summary of the 2007 Space Elevator Games

- a summary of the 2007 X PRIZE Cup and Lunar Lander Challenge

There are a lot of other space topics, links, and pictures there, but I won't go into any details since they aren't prize-related. Even the ads are interesting.

Check out the NSS site if you're interested in getting the details. Maybe you'll have to get a membership - I'm not sure.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Lunar Lander Challenge Competitor Armadillo Gets Some NASA Work

Spaceref presents a press release by the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program Seed Fund about 38 "cost-shared, joint-development" initiatives where both NASA and other partners contribute funds (presumably to address goals shared by NASA and the external partners that otherwise might not have been addressed).

On the partners list, you can find a wide variety of partners, including Lunar Lander Competitor Armadillo Aerospace:

Project: Flight Demonstration Of A Lander Using Lox/Methane
Mission Directorate: Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
Lead Center: Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 77058-3696
Partners: Glenn Research Center, 21000 Brookpark Rd, Cleveland, OH 44135-3191;
and Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL 35812-0001;
and Armadillo Aerospace 18601 LBJ Fwy Ste 460 Mesquite, TX 75160