Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Prize List and More at KEI Online

Knowledge Ecology Online has an interesting and up to date survey paper Selected Innovation Prizes and Reward Programs. In spite of the word "selected", it's pretty comprehensive if you're just looking for the most prominent innovation prizes. It covers prizes, organized into categories like "Aviation and Outer Space" in the TOC and by date in the main matter, from hundreds of years ago up through today - or close enough. Here's their announcement of the paper.

To show how active they've been, especially in the area of medical prizes and patent debates, here are some other updates:

Feb 8 GWU & KEI Workshop on Medical Innovation Prize Fund

Jan 28/9 KEI & UNU-MERIT Medical Prize Fund Workshop

They also have some new papers and links to prize proposals, but I'll refrain from mentioning them individually until/unless I get a chance to read them. Check the site or their page Prizes to stimulate innovation if you're interested.

Laser Power Beaming Article

The Space Elevator Blog posts on an article in Laser Focus World by George Treusch of DILAS Diode Laser, which is supplying lasers for some of the beam power teams this year. It covers the 2007 games and the approaches that may be used by several teams in 2008.

Mission Virgin Galactic

I'm one of those people that thinks (let's be honest: wildly guesses) that suborbital space tourism isn't enough, and the suborbital rocket companies need to aggressively pursue other businesses like science experiments, remote sensing for commercial and government customers, smallsat launch, White Knight Two-type tourism flights (in the case of Virgin Galactic) for those who can't afford suborbital but still are really into it and want the next best thing, and more. RLV News lets us know about a Virgin Galactic contest called Mission Virgin Galactic for UK students that sounds like it might bring forth some ideas along those lines:

They will work in teams of four to design a marketable product that demonstrates one or more of the science, technology or engineering principles used in the Virgin Galactic programme.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


In his Stanford Entrepreneurs talk, Peter Diamandis briefly mentioned the idea of "Mega-Prizes". There's a line of thought that holds that the benefits of prizes wane at a certain point because the larger dollar amount implies a more difficult challenge that's beyond the reach of small entrepreneurial teams, and large corporations are not as interested in investing the efforts of large groups on such difficult challenges. There's another line of thought that says that's nonsense. Personally my guess is that there's a lot of truth to the skeptical perspective, and I'd probably be inclined if I were making prizes to stick with many smaller ones and see how that works out.

Anyway, Peter Diamandis had (or at least was scheduled for) a talk at the Pioneer Institute in November 2007 on mega-prizes:

Can mega-prizes inspire better solutions to social and political problems than governments? Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, thinks so. An MIT PhD and Harvard MD, he created the XPRIZE in 1995 to inspire radical innovations to benefit humanity. With $10 million in private funding, the first XPRIZE was awarded to a team led by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and aviation pioneer Bert Rutan, who launched SpaceShipOne to the edge of space twice in two weeks in 2004. Dr. Diamandis will deliver the 2007 Lovett C. Peters Lecture, offering his thoughts on how mega-prizes can help solve seemingly intractable problems. We in Massachusetts have our share of such problems. Could an XPRIZE or two help? *Invitation Only*

Medical Hypotheses - a blog from the editor of a journal of the same name, that has a post/paper/editorial on "Mega-cash prizes for revolutionary science". The recommendation to provide incentives for revolutionary science, which otherwise may be rejected as a career path in favor of high-volume incremental science because of the difficulty and risk of failure:

We suggest that mega-cash prizes (measured in tens of millions of dollars) are a suitable reward for those individuals (or institutions) whose work has triggered radically new directions in science.

Medical Hypotheses also has another editorial in academic paper form in response to the first recommendation. This response points out that smaller prizes have also been shown to be effective. The history of bigger prizes is also reviewed. Mega-prizes are thought to be beneficial, but some drawbacks are noted, such as the necessity to "climb the whole mountain" instead of taking steps - so perhaps partial credit might need to be awarded.

SCSG Meetings

Deborah Castleman of the Southern California Selene Group GLXP team discusses meetings, new members of all ages, and a lot of details on design work in some important subsystems. Also mentioned is a meeting photo album.

Saltire Marine Energy Prize

Gizmag has an article on the Saltire Prize for "renewable marine-based energy". I described this in an earlier post, but I thought the article had a cool picture.

Plans for Energy and Environment X PRIZEs

Business Week has an article on the X PRIZE Foundation's goals for its Energy & Environment X PRIZE Suite. The plans for the Biofuels Prize, the next one planned after the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, are described:

... foundation President Tom Vander Ark said the biofuels prize would be launched late this year, followed by the other categories over the coming two years. The biofuels prize will be worth at least $10 million, he said. ... Among the rules are that contestants must produce a biofuels plant that uses nonagricultural fuel. The plant must also be small-scale and easily shipped, thus making the technology applicable anywhere in the world.

There are also more hints about later energy and environment prizes, with a goal of $100M in prizes:

He says one prize will be for innovation in providing water, broadband, and clean electricity to villages in the developing world. Other energy categories will be for innovation in energy transmission and the construction of energy-efficient houses and commercial facilities.

Monday, April 28, 2008

New Japanese Beam Power Team

The Space Elevator Blog interviews a new beam power competitor. The interviewee notes that, on top of all the other hurdles inherent in the Beam Power Challenge, it's going to be especially difficult for overseas teams this year to transport the equipment needed to win the difficult challenge to the competition site. They're still going for it, though, which shows the spirit of these prize teams.

The Moon on a Shoestring

Hometown Annapolis has an article on local space entrepreneur Liam Sarsfield of Google Lunar X PRIZE team Quantum3. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Mr. Sarsfield's work for the Rand Corp. entitled, "The Cosmos on a Shoestring," is widely considered the primer on smaller scale space exploration.

Mr. Sarsfield and his two prime partners, Paul Carliner and Courtney Stadd, both veterans of the U.S. space program, said putting a much smaller craft on the surface is easier to do than the larger craft in the Apollo program, and they don't have to bring anyone home.

The 30-person American team hopes to take home the prize with a launch some time next year.

Their ambitions go beyond the prize:

In addition to rising to the challenge of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, Quantum 3 is developing plans to move well beyond the prize mission. He said the goal is to be able to continue missions that are reliable.

"We will be able to do this quickly, effectively and repeatedly," he said. "We have a mission planned to land on Mars. We also are aiming to land a craft on an asteroid."

They want to get the public involved, with a mission control glassed in a public area, and with a lot of types of student participation.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

More X PRIZE Foundation Insights From Diamandis Talk

I took some notes on the Peter Diamandis podcast from the Stanford Entrepreneurs program, but am only now getting a chance to post them. It was a wide-ranging interview, and I only noted things that were new to me, or at least a different perspective on something old ... and also I only noted things about prizes. In other words, the notes are quite selective, and barely give an idea of the content of the talk. Your interests or background may be different, in which case you might want to listen to the podcast. Here are my notes:

They're working on various new X PRIZEs:

- a series of deep ocean prizes, for example, to map the ocean floor

- a cancer prize with Lance Armstrong

- a human longevity prize, with a goal to double or triple the healthy human lifespan

For those interested, they do have summer internships.

They're investigating an idea on "Mega-Prizes" for things that seem almost impossible now.

In the Q/A session, someone asked Peter to expand on the undersea X PRIZEs. His response:

They're working with various people, including advisory board members like James Cameron, on the prize. Only 3% of the ocean floor has been mapped, and even with that small fraction we've found the biggest "waterfalls", underground lakes, and mountain ranges. Deep ocean thermal vents are of special interest. Over the next year they'll decide what the ocean prizes should be. Possibilities:

- design of robotic technology to swarm and cooperatively map the ocean floor

- new human exploration technology (we're still using the MIR submersibles from 30 years ago for deep ocean exploration)

- ocean health

The deep ocean exploration community is stuck in the same way that the space community was stuck.

Peter also described an idea called "My X PRIZE". This is for people to join together to form prize concepts for their local community, or perhaps for a "thin community" around the world like those interested in curing a rare disease. They would make a set of prize rules. It's meant for lower prize amounts like $1,000 to $1M. The idea is to make efficient marketplaces for problems and problem solvers. (My comment: That sounds a bit like an Innocentive for communities).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Slate on Prizes

In my earlier post on the PETA chicken meat prize, I noticed another Slate article that asks the question Should the government start handing out prizes for science breakthroughs? The discussion is framed in the classic economic political and academic controversy over inefficiencies in the existing patent system in encouraging certain types of socially beneficial innovations. (See the articles in the "Papers" section - and their references - on the right for much more of this). The article mentions the Sanders bill to replace patents with prizes, a wholesale change that I think would be very risky and have a lot of obvious drawbacks.

Prizes have great advantages in particular situations, especially, as we've seen, prizes targeted towards specific, well-defined and well-chosen innovation objectives. I think they'd lose most of their benefits in a wholesale replacement like the Sanders proposal.

The Slate article's author seems to have a similar opinion:

The successful prizes—that is, those that found a winner—tended to have a few features in common. They were usually for solutions to specific, clearly defined problems, rather than being part of a blanket system to reward all innovations. They also allotted a generous amount of time for the feat to be accomplished before the prize expired (if it expired at all); they offered high rewards that presumably outweighed the costs of research as well as the profits that could be earned from diverting resources into alternate endeavors; and they were high-profile, guaranteeing the prizewinner fame as well as fortune.

I doubt that the rewards outweighed the costs of research and opportunity costs if you're just considering the monetary prize, but combined with other parts of the reward (the fame, the move towards a business, the fun etc), that must have been true, or at least expected by the competitors. I agree with the rest of the excerpt above without similar qualifications.

The Slate article concludes with a recommendation that doesn't try to kill the patent system, but rather that gives the innovator a choice to go for the patent (with the resulting monopoly that has a cost for society) or accept a prizes in exchange:

The good news is we don't need to punt the whole patent system to promote research for neglected diseases or other worthy causes. Instead of setting up an industrywide prize system, a few reputable charities (or a government agency with a brilliant PR team and an ironclad escrow account) should offer attractive prizes for solutions to carefully chosen problems. After all, if a malaria-vaccine prize could match or even surpass the expected profits for a weight-loss/hair-growth/allergy drug, companies would follow the money. And if the prize were given on condition of forgoing a patent, the drugs could still be manufactured royalty-free.

N-Prize Team?

RLV News has more on the N-Prize, including a team that may try to win it, CU Spaceflight. "CU" is for Cambridge University. They have a lot of other activities. The comments include a clarification by the sponsor. (As usual I assume no impostors - I can't check up on every poster).

Popular Mechanics DNA Day X PRIZE Article

Inside the Forgotten X Prize—the One That Can Save Your Life - From the title, it seems like Popular Mechanics doesn't think the Archon X PRIZE gets enough attention. This article lets you know some of the potential benefits of the prize for the general public, and features some pictures and descriptions of one of the teams' sequencers, the Polonator.

Local Team American Rocketry Articles Continue; MSFC Student Launch Initiative

More on TARC finalist teams:

Team from Air Force's national museum qualifies for world's largest rocket contest
- This is about a team from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which features the team on their front web page. The team's rocket's name is "Falcon 1". The article also has a few pictures.

TIGARD-TUALATIN SCHOOL NOTES - This is from The Oregonian. One of the brief notes is on a TARC team.

Rocket team blasts off to finals - This one is from DelmarvaNow!.com. It not only features the team, but mentions the demographic problem the aerospace industry faces, and how TARC is trying to let students know about the opportunities in the space industry.

Note entirely unrelated, MSFC has an article about the Student Launch Initiative happening right now.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Big KC Space Pirates Sponsorship and Media News

The Space Elevator Blog has some important news from the KC Space Pirates. Better yet, it's a 2-for-1 news update. First, KC Space Pirate Brian Turner tells us:

I am going to be interviewed about the Space Elevator on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Date Friday May 2nd

Time: Very late. After the Tonight Show - Around 11:30 in Kansas City

I have read repots estimating 2 million viewers.

That's a cool way to get the news out about the Challenge. You never know how something like this is going to turn out, of course. Hopefully the audience will get a sense not just of the potential of these games and the technologies (for example power beaming not just for space elevators but for all sorts of other applications, including space and Earth applications) but also of the fun involved. This could bring a lot more fans to the Games.

The other news, again straight from the SE Blog post:

We have landed National Instruments as a sponsor. For those of you who don’t know them, they make the coolest automation software out there (LabView) and all the hardware to go with it.

It would be good if the media attention results in more sponsorships all around.

Another Space Elevator Blog post links to video from the 2008 Space Elevator Games from Bitter Jester Creative. The KC Space Pirates also have a post with the video links. Bitter Jester is making a documentary on the Games.

Meanwhile, USST's main page has an April 15 note on the end of the semester, and there's also a note from the new President of the team I haven't seen before (I'm not sure how old it is, though).

GLXP Teams on Lunar Zoning and Hot Fire Testing

Loretta Whitesides of Odyssey Moon discusses Lunar Zoning Laws, not just in the sense of property on the lunar surface, but also for satellites and facilities that can have effects over large spaces. It could be a real problem that needs to be dealt with - but it's the kind of problem we hope to have.

Meanwhile, Micro-Space is pleased with the results of their hot fire test. Although the post is on the GLXP Teams site, the immediate application is the Lunar Lander Challenge. Expect YouTube videos soon ... presumably here.

Regolith Excavation Rules Update

The California Space Authority has posted a rules update for the Regolith Excavation Challenge.

Pomerantz on Hawking Lecture ... and a Pomerantz Lecture

The Pomerantz Report has a post Stephen Hawking Lecture - NASA's 50th Anniversary. I haven't listened to the lecture itself yet, but Will gives the impression that it's a good one.

Update (April 25): Will has another post on an article he wrote for ASK NASA, and a recent talk based on the article, about lessons NASA can learn from teams like those in the Lunar Lander Challenge. You can get to his earlier post on the ASK Magazine article, and also the article itself, here.

X PRIZE Foundation at FIRST Robotics Competition

I just posted about the FIRST Robotic Championship, but I didn't know some of the X PRIZE folks were there. Here's the picture caption:

(Marc Mathieu, Peter Diamandis, Erik Lindbergh (back), Larry Page, Anousheh Ansari, Hamid Ansari)

From the linked YouTube video, which shows the XPF folks and the challenge excitement:

The X PRIZE Foundation's bi-annual Board of Trustees Meeting took place in Atlanta, Georgia on Apr 19-20, 2008. Vision Circle members and guests were also in attendance to help the Foundation map out future X PRIZES. One of the treats organized was a visit to the FIRST Championship, brain-child of Board Trustee, Dean Kamen. Over 10,000 school children from around 30 countries competed in 3 robotics competitions held in the Georgia Dome.

Model Astrobotic Rover on Display

At MarsScope, we learn about some Arizona Space Grant activities, and also some activities with the University of Arizona part of GLXP team Astrobotic. The author is currently working on Phoenix but plans to switch to GLXP.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Peter Diamandis in Stanford Entrepreneur Podcast

Here's a Podcast from Peter Diamandis's blog on a talk he had about Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders about Zero-G, the X PRIZE Foundation, and many more ventures.

For more entrepreneur podcasts, here's the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders lecture series.

ZS Genetics goes for Genomics Prize

From the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker, here's a press release about ZS Genetics going after the Archon Genomics X PRIZE.

I should mention that, although it's not about the prize, Cosmic Log has an article about National DNA Day that covers similar terrain. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, the Archon prize is celebrating with the St. Louis Science Center.

Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability

Cosmic Log links to a press release from the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability. This year the award is for human-powered irrigation pumps to help African farmers get out of poverty through a combination of an innovative technology and entrepreneurial effort on all sides.

Cal Poly Going For Regolith Excavation Challenge

The Cal Poly College of Engineering and SLObotics are forming a team to try to win the Regolith Excavation Challenge. It looks like SLObotics was a FIRST team in that area - maybe the same folks? Here's more, apparently from a member's blog:

A team of Cal Poly engineers (alum), including myself, are officially forming SLObotics as a company to develop and market new technologies relating to the fast-evolving field of robotics. Right now we’re focused on our design for the upcoming NASA Centennial Challenge this summer, but we’re also well into the development of our first product.

I don't know anything about the team (I hope I capitalized it correctly - the press release and blog post did it differently), but they should have an advantage in not having as many transportation issues to worry about, because the competition is supposed to be held on the Caly Poly campus.

I think a team with that kind of advantage should be obliged in the official rules to take the other teams out to the local pub. I guess with 20 teams already registered this year that could get expensive, though ...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lunar Lander Work Ethic

Unreasonable Rocket makes progress on vanes, and shows the dedication and hard work you need to make a project like this happen.

Space Experiment Competition Finalists

Space for All has a post on the Space Experiment Competition that features an article on the 6 finalist teams. The BBC article describes the projects the teams are working on; here's a bit about a couple of the teams:

UK High Altitude Society - an umbrella organisation linking different high altitude projects together in an attempt to provide a forum to share infomation. This involves balloons, airships, rockets and any other projects for exploring the edge of space. Although we are UK based, we welcome people worldwide.

Langton Satellite Team reach the final - a blog post from the Langton Star Centre on their team and the directional cosmic ray detector they're working on. Here's something that should be interesting to the entrepreneurial space people:

we hope to develop our contacts with Virgin Galactic to see how the new detector may be helpful as a safety feature for Space Tourism.

Tasty Chicken Nugget Prize

Ok, I'm not sure how to classify this one ... I'll put it under "health and medicine prizes" rather than making a new tag. PETA is offering a $1M prize for

the contest participant able to make the first in vitro chicken meat and sell it to the public by June 30, 2012.

Slate supports the goal of the prize - citing a lot of advantages (beyond PETA's animal cruelty concern) to being able to "skip the bird part", as they phrase it - but in another article on the prize has a criticism of the structure of the prize.

The prize requires the winner to demonstrate actually selling large amounts of the meat (implying FDA approval) across 10 states, by which time, according to their argument, the $1M would be somewhat irrelevant.

Slate uses the X PRIZE Foundation prizes as a comparison model. In these prizes, the technical demonstration is needed, and, although some regulatory hurdles may also have to be overcome in the process, the heavy lifting of commercialization is left for later after the technical demonstration has changed the landscape. Even a production-oriented prize like the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE doesn't require thousands of cars to be rolling into dealerships - just that a convincing business and cost-effective manufacturing plan be demonstrated.

More on Top 100 TARC Teams

A couple weekends ago I had a post linking to Rocketry Planet about the top 100 teams being selected in the Team America Rocketry Challenge. The Rocketry Planet link has the TARC press release and the list of teams. Check it out; it's always cool to see how the local teams are doing.

The news is still coming in on TARC. RLV News has a video along with the press release. The video emphasizes not only the fun of the contest and the prizes, but also the advantage team nenbers will have when applying for college, and if they continue in an aerospace field and employment predictions based on demographics hold (always a bit iffy there), when applying for jobs.

The Mankato Free Press features a local winning team, and also has a number of TARC photos. I wonder if the team had a chance to go to the somewhat nearby National Association of Rocketry National Convention "NARCON 2008" or the associated sport launch?

Kansas also features a local winning team, and they're looking for a better spot to do their testing in preparation for the big TARC finals on May 17 in The Plains, Virginia.

OC Rocketry, another one of the finalists, has a recently loaded YouTube video.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nanosatellite Prize

RLV News is skeptical about the size of the prize described by this New Scientist article:

The challenge: put a tiny satellite that weighs less than 19.99 grams - the weight of about two British pound coins or four US quarters - into orbit on a budget of only 999.99 pounds (about $2000). The satellite must complete nine orbits around the Earth, and this must somehow be verifiable from the ground.

The prize: 9,999.99 pounds (about $20,000).

Here's the official site. Instead of the N-Prize of 9,999.99 pounds for the basic case, there's an "N-Plus" prize for 10.000.00 pounds (that's, if I did my financial math right, uh, still about $20,000) if part of the satellite is also brought back to Earth.

For perspective, the CATS (Cheap Access to Space) Prize was for $250,000 for a 2kg payload that reached 200 km or higher using private industry.
Not long after the earlier update to the BonNova News page, a BonNova press release appeared on

an innovative lightweight, long-duration, multiple start engine

as part of their Lunar Lander Challenge efforts. You can see it at RLV News.

LaserMotive Commercial Plans

The Space Elevator Blog notes a LaserMotive post on Jordin Kare's Space Access talk on LaserMotive that emphasizes that the team has more plans after the Space Elevator Games. Jordin hinted at some of the possible applications of lasers and power beaming at the conference, but we'll have to wait to hear what those plans are.

Genomics Prize Progress

TMC Net has an article has gathered a news article that shows some of the progress by teams working to win the Archon Genomics X PRIZE. It seems like quite a competition:

In February 2008, Illumina claimed to sequence a human genome in four weeks for $100,000, only to be outdone five weeks later by its competitor, Applied Biosystems (ABI), who announced the sequencing of a whole human genome for less than $60,000. ABI also mentioned that their next-generation DNA sequencer is capable of generating up to nine gigabases per run, which is the highest throughput reported to date. Also in February 2008, Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) presented a revolutionary technology that within 5-years could produce a three-minute raw sequence, and a complete, high-quality sequence in 15 minutes - all for under $1,000. PacBio plans to introduce a sequencing machine in 2010, but an instrument capable of performing the $1,000 whole genome sequencing will not be available until 2013.

Combine this with advances in computing to store and analyze the genomics data that you can pretty much count on, and you have the potential for a profound change on the horizon.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Robot Prizes

Parity Error has a post that speculates on improvements we might anticipate in robot capabilities in coming years. One of the proposed reasons for the expected improvements is the incentives for improvements brought about by competitions with prizes. The post mentions some robot competitions I've covered here, like the DARPA Challenges, the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and some of the various military-flavored student unmanned vehicle competitions. It also mentioned a couple I hadn't heard of before:

RoboCup - Robot Soccer, including competitions, scholarly papers, and more

Fire Fighting Home Robot Contest - including a Robot Hide and Seek competition:

The goal of Robot Hide and Seek is to develop robots capable of finding a child with autism or intellectual disabilities who panics in a fire and hides in a burning house.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wearable Power Prize Team List Announced

The Department of Defense has release a press release on the teams that have registered and passed the first hurdle of the Wearable Power Prize - submitting a safe fuel and battery chemistry plan. Here's the list of 107 teams. A number of them will be familiar to people interested in space. Others seem to be specialists in batteries, power, embedded systems, or defense contracting. Some scattered examples:

Adaptive Materials, Inc. - Adaptive Materials, Inc (AMI) portable power products deliver on the promise of fuel cells ...

Arkansas Power Electronics International, Inc.

ATK Launch Systems

Lockheed Martin

UltraCell - UltraCell Corporation (Livermore, CA) was founded in 2002 to commercialize an advanced Reformed Methanol Micro Fuel Cell (RMFC) technology invented at the U. S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Possible MoonROx Meeting

This one is out of date because I just ran across it. The California Space Authority is considering having a Technical Interchange Meeting in June with MoonROx teams. The deadline has already passed for expressing interest in such a meeting.

FIRST Robotics Championship

Here are the results of the 2008 FIRST Robotics Championship.

Multi-Team Lunar Lander Challenge Update

RLV News has been keeping up with the X PRIZE Cup and Lunar Lander Challenge. Here are a number of posts, some with news on multiple teams:

Briefs: Speedup testing; BonNova engine test; Unreasonable stainless steel - This one includes a BonNova hot-fire test video (here's the BonNova YouTube Channel and BonNova News), a Wyoming Tribune-Eagle Online article on a SpeedUp test at the local Frontier Astronautics test site, and a pretty detailed Unreasonable Rocket engineer design drawing and machine shop post with some helpful-sounding (to my non-engineer ears) comments.

Briefs: Unreasonably close to flight tests; X P Cup; Space Elevator Challenge - I've covered the SE Challenge part, but this one also has another recent Unreasonable Rocket post and an assessment of the overall 2008 X PRIZE Cup.

An October rocket party - This one recounts Yuri's Night, and suggests a night program for the X PRIZE Cup:

This got me to thinking that it would be great if a future X PRIZE Cup included an evening program with space-themed music and arts. Instead of a Burning Man, the highlight, so to speak, could be an after dark exhibition flight by a VTOL vehicle like Mod or Pixel.

I haven't been to any of the X PRIZE Cups, so I don't have a good sense of how much of this kind of thing they have. I thought (but I could be wrong) that at one point one was supposed to have a kid-oriented night program with outdoor movies and astronauts speaking. My impression is that the actual Cups have closed down at evening.

A lot of outdoor festival of course have multiple types of art. A music festival might have an art/craft area, and an art festival might have a music area. An air show might also have various vendors including airplane art. It seems to make sense to include something like this in the day program, especially if there are "down times" between rocket flights or there are families where not every family member is a rocket fan, but might enjoy a moderate amount of rocketry mixed with related music/art.

As for a night program, that also makes a lot of sense to me. An onsite program would be cool, perhaps allowing some night-time rocket flames (on the ground if safety doesn't allow it in the air). If it can't happen onsite, maybe some kind of off-site space party, movie, performance, or other activity would be fun.

It would also be cool for spectators and teams to have some kind of pre-LLC competition, perhaps with cash prizes, for teams that haven't reached the point where they have FAA approval to fly, but where they can competitively demonstrate their progress on the ground.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Planned Student Space Launch Competition

Spaceref points out a press release of a new student space launch competition in development by a number of organizations with links to Spaceport America. From the press release:

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) today announced intentions to create a new venture between the NMSA, the Air Force, higher education, and the private sector to create a competitive educational launch program for students in public schools and universities. The program is envisioned to be a collaborative effort between the NMSA, the Air Force Research Lab Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base (AFRL), the X-Prize Foundation, the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium at New Mexico State University (NMSG), UP Aerospace and Microgravity Enterprises, Inc. (MEI), all of which have demonstrated support for Spaceport America, the nation’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

University Student Launch Initiative Today

Space for All posts about NASA's University Student Launch Initiative for a reusable rocket that goes up 1 mile. During the school year, the university students go through design reviews, safety reviews, and more with NASA engineers. Flights are planned for today. ATK Launch Systems and NASA MSFC sponsor and organize the event. The winner gets to see a Shuttle launch.

There is also a NASA Student Launch Initiative (SLI) for grades 7-12 run by MSFC. The challenge and NASA interaction is similar, but there are 18 instead of 9 teams. This event is to be held April 23-26. Qualifying teams are from the best performers at the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC).

Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Progress

Micro-Space has posted about progress on several fronts in the Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams site. Some of the progress sounds like it's for the Lunar Lander Challenge. It sounds like the LLC work is part of their plan of progressively demonstrating hardware success before looking for funding for the next level.

Meanwhile, LunaTrex was apparently one of the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams that Will Pomerantz mentioned as having been at the National Space Symposium. On the Teams site, they discuss some of the networking they did at the Symposium.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reasonable Color Scheme

RLV News gets the latest news from Unreasonable Rocket. First it was purple monsters, and now, as RLV News notes, it's a color scheme suitable for a certain group of blue megastars.

My impression is that it looks cool in the shop, and I suspect it will look cooler flying. All sorts of marketing ideas suddenly come to mind, and the comments confirm this. What corporate logos are circles or spheres? If marketing doesn't pan out, maybe with a little artistry that sphere could become Neptune, or the Earth?

Genomics X PRIZE Videos

As with some of the other prizes the X PRIZE Foundation is managing, Peter Diamandis's blog has videos on the how and why of the Genomics X PRIZE.

I mentioned this in the context of the XPF email newsletter I got yesterday, but this is better because I can link to it. They have a news post about the DNA Day celebration with the St. Louis Science Center and the Genomics X PRIZE.

GLXP Origin, Social Networking, and Teams

In some of the recent downloads of videos to his X PRIZE Foundation blog, Peter Diamandis describes how and why the Google Lunar X PRIZE started.

William Pomerantz, who is featured in the "how" Lunar X PRIZE video above, tells us about lots of recent GLXP web outreach efforts that I've mentioned before, like YouTube, their Forum, and their newsletter (well, that was the XPF newsletter, but GLXP has one too). He also mentions a lot of others, like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Some of the teams are also getting involved. With links to the various sites, the post makes it easy to try out the various ways to keep track of the Google Lunar X PRIZE. I can't keep track of all of the GLXP Twitter posts, so don't even think about it ...

So, is the Lunar Lander Challenge going on these sites, too?

On the Teams site, Quantum3 (the team featuring Paul Carliner, Courtney Stadd, and Liam Sarsfield) discusses the prize in terms of the human spirit and the media.

I probably posted about these a while ago, when they appeared elsewhere (YouTube?), but there are now (as of Tuesday) also GLXP videos on the Diamandis blog on Blast-Off story and the first 10 GLXP teams.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Space Elevator Blog Interviews Tether Team

The Space Elevator Blog interviews 2 teams: DeltaX, one of the Strong Tether Challenge teams, and their carbon nanotube-oriented partner NanoComp. You'll get a good idea of the technical challenges they're facing, how they divide their work, and how they view the competition in the interview.

TARC and Botball to the Rescue

Flight Global discusses the expected problems in the aerospace industry as one generation retires, and another perhaps doesn't replace it. Efforts to encourage student interest in engineering fields, like the Team America Rocketry Challenge, are mentioned.

Meanwhile, there's happy blog activity from teams that made the TARC finalist list here and here.

Botball is another student contest that I expect to inspire some students to join the engineering and related fields. Spaceref has news about this robot contest and the Northern California Tournament (one of 14 in the U.S) at NASA Ames.

Pomerantz Report on RLV Summit, Part 2

William Pomerantz continues his posting on the RLV Summit at the National Space Symposium. He describes this big-time space conference, and how it's no longer strictly the big companies and government agencies, but now includes some NewSpace representatives. For me, it's a bit expensive to go to for a hobby (especially since I usually get 2 tickets for conferences for myself and my wife, who I usually go touring with for a few days as well). Anyway, Will notes that times are changing and the 2 sides of the space industry are seeing each other differently now. There were even 3 Lunar X PRIZE teams at the symposium.

X PRIZE Foundation April Newsletter

The April XPF email newsletter is out. It has the last month's updates. These include:

  • the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE rollout
  • news of the XPF's Genomics X PRIZE and the St. Louis Science Center joining forces at the Center for a DNA Day event on April 25
  • a reminder about the Google Lunar X PRIZE Summit at the International Space University, including an education competition for ISU students involving designing a GLXP type of mission
  • outreach at the National Science Teacher's Association Conference, where the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award was presented
  • news of a WIRED Magazine article feature XPF Board member Ray Kurzweil
  • and an Google Lunar X PRIZE Lunar Legacy of a Peace Sanctuary design that probably could be seen from orbit.

Sign up for the regular XPF email update on their site, because you aren't getting any of the links or pictures, and few of the details, from my summary.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Burt Wins NSS Heinlein Award

RLV News gives us the announcement that the National Space Society will give this year's Robert A. Heinlein Award to Burt Rutan. The award is offered every 2 years at the ISDC.

Don't confuse this with the Heinlein Trust's Heinlein Prize or the Heinlein Award for SF authors.

ARCA Updates

Flight Global Hyperbola has a collection of "Space News Bites", including one that points out Google Lunar X PRIZE updates on the ARCA site. I can't confirm what's new on their site - there are so many GLXP teams, and with the amount of information on the GLXP Teams page and YouTube, I've spent a fairly small amount of time on the teams' sites.

Pomerantz Report on Armadillo and RLV Summit

Continuing with the wave of X PRIZE Foundation posts, Will gives us part 1 of his assessment of the RLV Summit involving Air Force and entrepreneurial space representatives finding out how to better work together.

He also assures us that Armadillo is still competing in the LLC.

I didn't get the impression from John's comments (described here along with thoughts from Rand and later thoughts from me) that they were dropping out of the Lunar Lander Challenge, just that they now have a higher priority - their commercial business (e.g.: Rocket Racing League). That in itself is a great victory for the LLC. Here's hoping they get more and that they're able to make their customers happy, even if it does distract them a bit (or more) from the LLC.

Automotive X PRIZE Blog Videos and AXP Podcasts

Speaking of videos at the X PRIZE Foundation, the Automotive X PRIZE Blog has a bunch:

Videos, videos, videos! - There are a whole bunch here.

Jay Leno on the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE (PAXP) - Unlike the previous post, you won't see YouTube video images in this post, but I assure you that one of the links is to a Jay Leno PAXP promotion video.

You'll also see a lot of podcasts on the Automotive X PRIZE at X PRIZE Cars. For example, the site has been gradually releasing podcast interviews from the PAXP official opening at the NY Auto Show. Several of the interviews - some quite thorough - are with X PRIZE Foundation AXP staff like Neal Anderson, John Shore, and Don Foley. Others are with AXP teams.

I'm sure followers of space prizes will also be interested in how Elon Musk's Tesla is doing. Tesla is featured prominently in a number of recent X PRIZE Cars posts, including one about a lawsuit against Fisker.

Videos on Peter Diamandis's Blog

Peter Diamandis's blog got a whole bunch of videos today. Because of time constraints, I'm just going to describe a collection of the videos I think "fits together", at least in today's post. By their titles I suspect I've mentioned YouTube versions of most of the other videos in other posts already. See the Peter Diamandis blog for the whole set.

Attributes of an X PRIZE - Peter talks about some of the attributes of their prizes, including some that might not be obvious like the potential to drive regulatory reform in the prize area, that might be of interest to prize sponsors.

How to Design an X PRIZE - Here he discusses some of the considerations when making an X PRIZE, like making sure it's not too difficult and not to easy, that it's interesting to the public, and that it involves a worthy breakthrough rather than an incremental improvement. You might consider these attributes when submitting an X PRIZE idea on the XPF web site.

What constitutes an X PRIZE? - He discusses more X PRIZE attributes, such that they have to be objective and important (as demonstrated by the $10M prize floor).

How did X PRIZE Grow beyond space? - Peter tells the story of how, after the Ansari X PRIZE win, the X PRIZE Foundation got, or in some cases is getting or plans to get, into other areas like life sciences, exploration in general (including underwater), energy/environment, education, and other areas. The story involves a Google doodle ...

Origin of the X PRIZE Foundation - This is the story of how Peter grew up interested in space, got a gift of the book "The Spirit of St. Louis", and had an idea about applying the idea to space.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Astrobotic Wheels

Astrobotic posts more pictures and a movie of wheels and wheel testing in a sandy, hilly environment. Don't forget to click on those wheel pictures, and once in Picasa get more detail and pictures via "View Album" or "Download Photo".

Unreasonable Tank Repairs and More

RLV News has the latest from Unreasonable Rocket, which posts on both their LLC efforts and the Garvey Spacecraft Corporation flight (which the RLV News post also covers).

Update (April 15): There's already another Unreasonable update on pressure.

KC Space Pirates News

The Space Elevator Blog has the latest news from the Kansas City Space Pirates beam power team, including parts arrivals, testing, a new machinist team member, a hint about national media coverage, and sponsorship from Thorlabs.

Rocket Racing League Space Prize News

The news from the Rocket Racing League is all over the space and general media sites today. The primary site I'll point you to is Cosmic Log, which not only has a very good summary of the announcement, but which also (at the bottom of the post) gives links to some other sites you should check out for more details. I'd just add that the linked RLV News post is an important one, but you should look around for others like this one.

I won't cover all of the news here, but instead will just focus on the prize-related parts. From the Cosmic Log article, we learn that Lunar Lander Challenger Armadillo Aerospace is now part of the hardware team:

One kerosene-fueled Rocket Racer has been under development at California-based XCOR Aerospace for more than a year. But in a surprise move, the second Rocket Racer would use an alcohol-fueled engine built by Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace, under the leadership of millionaire video-game programmer John Carmack.

There's a lot more about Armadillo's role in the article, but the following is most directly applicable to Armadillo's prize efforts:

Carmack recently said he would make rocket engines available to customers at a cost of $500,000 apiece. He declined to say exactly how much the racing league was paying Armadillo for the current project - but he said the project had a higher priority than Armadillo's renewed push to win the NASA-funded Lunar Lander Challenge.

Transterrestrial Musings has the following thoughts on that part:

That could conceivably mean that they won't even bother, and will leave the money on the table for someone else, but even if they compete this year, their chances of winning will be reduced if they're not focused on it, so it could represent an opportunity for Masten, Unreasonable Rocket, and others.

From my point of view, it's fun to follow Armadillo's progress for this blog, but it would be great if they got so much regular commercial business that they never got around to continuing with the LLC effort. I hope that's the frame of mind of lots of these prize teams. Of course it could also mean that they get enough incoming funds to be able to accomplish more to both satisfy customers and win prizes.

The Cosmic Log article also notes that there will be what I'll call "space prizes" in the Rocket Racing events themselves:

Six racing teams have signed up for the Rocket Racing League and intend to purchase rocket planes at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. Eventually, the teams plan to vie for millions of dollars in prizes. However, Whitelaw said those competitive races likely wouldn't begin until late 2009.

One of the exhibition races will be held at the 2008 X PRIZE Cup:

- Current plans call for additional exhibitions at the Reno Air Races in September, at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico (traditionally held in October) and at in Aviation Nation in Las Vegas in November.

The X PRIZE Cup obviously has prize overtones, with the Lunar Lander Challenge, Conrad Spirit of Innovation competition, and Space Elevator Games one year. The Las Cruces Sun-News goes so far as to say

The Rocket Racing League today said it is ready for competition when it announced four exhibition races to be held later this year, one of which will take place in Las Cruces.

However, the subsequent description in the article doesn't seem to match the certainty of that opening statement, but just notes that one of the exhibition races will be at the X PRIZE Cup, and reminds us where that's been held the first 3 years. Anyway, from the X PRIZE Cup site:

X PRIZE Cup - 2008

The 2008 X PRIZE Cup is currently in the planning and development stage. We will be announcing dates and locations for the 2008 Cup in the first half of the year.

Either way, Las Cruces is noted as an important RRL location in the article:

The league plans to establish its world headquarters in Las Cruces and earlier this year broke ground on two hangars at Las Cruces International Airport. The league also plans to develop an aerospace park adjacent to the airport.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Top 100 Team America Rocketry Challenge Teams

Rocketry Planet has a press release about the Team America Rocketry Challenge, which announced the 100 finalists for the event. Rocketry Planet also shows the names of the top 100 teams and some alternates.

Two Space Elevator Team Updates

The Space Elevator Blog has updates from 2 teams.

Tether strength team Astroaraneae announces an AIAA presentation at the Aerospace Museum of California, including a documentary called "The Mighty Tether". The SE Blog has a copy of the flyer with all the details on the event.

There's also an update with videos and pictures from the National Space Society Space Elevator Team.

A Couple Quick Lunar Lander Challenge Updates

RLV News points to some SpeedUp news and videos, and Jon Goff at Masten Space Systems announces some filled summer internships and potential Fall internships.

Google Lunar Prize Pictures, Videos, Credibility, and Investors

The latest team posts at the Google Lunar X PRIZE site include more pictures from Astrobotic (hill climbing and carousel testing). I'd like to mention that the initial view of the pictures is pretty small, but you can get a better view by clicking on the pictures. That will take you to the Astrobotic Picasa Web Album (GLXP sponsor Google will be glad to know the team's using their Web Album). Once you're at the Picasa site, you'll also notice an Astrobotic's Public Gallery link that gets you to a number of Astrobotic photo albums with lots more pictures. With these or the original photos, you should be able to "Download Photo" and get an even better view that may even allow you to zoom in farther. What you probably could hardly recognize in the original photo should become crystal-clear.

The GLXP site also has one from Micro-Space on credibility to inspire investors. Micro-Space hopes to demonstrate credibility with suborbital tests using UP Aerospace rockets to demonstrate various Micro-Space GLXP operations.

I suspect that this need to demonstrate credibility through impressive hardware demonstrations is going fall even more heavily on very small teams. It may make sense for some teams to look at each others' strengths and weaknesses and consider joining forces.

Speaking of investors and credibility, RLV News links to an article from CNN Money on the NewSpace type of commercial space (as opposed to traditional commercial space like the comsat industry) and the current lack of venture capitalist funding for this approach. The Google Lunar X PRIZE, Ansari X PRIZE, and the X PRIZE Foundation's Peter Diamandis are featured prominently in the article. There is some discussion of hoping for a "Netscape Moment" in the article, an idea that brings to mind some cynical thoughts. I'm more inclined to hope the NewSpace industry (including the prize-related portion) comes up with a number of solid, steady, realiable, profitable-but-financially-unspectacular businesses delivering valuable services that inspire VCs to invest prudently to grow the industry than to hope for a Netscape Moment.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Multiple Student Space Prizes

There's lots going on in the student space prize world:

The blog of the 8th Continent Project has a multi-post report on the Lunar Ventures Competition from someone who was there. Out of an expected 3 parts, parts one and two are currently available as of this posting.

Universe Today posts about several student space activities. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I'll concentrate on the ones that are competitions, although the others aren't drastically different in other respects.

One student competition that's described is the Move an Asteroid competition we just heard about from RLV News.

Another is the Cassini Scientist for a Day essay contest, where the winner gets to control Cassini's cameras for a hour.

Another is the LIMA Challenge, where students get to propose research efforts based on the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica.

Cosmic Log has an article that covers, in great detail, the Cassini contest and one of the other activities also covered in the Universe Today post that I didn't describe.

In some recent posts, the Oregon Space Grant Consortium also describes some student competitions: the Young Scientist Challenge (this year the theme of the video challenge is "the science of space" with finals at NASA GSFC), a deadline update (April 30) for the NASA Aeronautics Competition for College Students, four non-space competitions that nevertheless promote skills like marketing and resourcefulness we'll need to get fully into space, and the Cassini contest I described earlier.

Meanwhile, Hometown Life tells us the story of one of this year's Team America Rocketry Challenge teams. Also, the TARC Blog has an entry on another team - one that's back for the 3rd year. The rules are different this year (2 eggs, different altitude), so they need to adjust to that.

Here's a YouTube collection from a TARC team that ends up with a very good time and altitude in one of their tests.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

QSET Team Members

According to the Space Elevator Blog. the Queen's Space Engineering Team is getting a number of new teammates. Their first general meeting was scheduled a few days ago.

Frednet and Unreasonable Rocket Posts

RLV News has a post with a number of prize-related links. I've already posted on some of the items, but one of them is on a recent GLXP post by Frednet (the actual press coverage Frednet posted about is from December '07) and another is on Unreasonable Rocket giving a quick landing gear/helicopter update and another update on weld/pressurization problems.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

LEEM Cansat Competition Approaches

The LEEM Cansat Competition in Madrid is coming soon - April 10-12.

Here's a post on it with some quick parachute test videos (and here's 4 from them on YouTube).

The Turbinators seem to be another LEEM Cansat team that likes to post their testing - from the ground or from the rocket - on Youtube - as well as other cool things like Zero-G flights.

Move An Asteroid

Space for All covers a student competition called Move an Asteroid 2008 that seems like a logical follow-on to the Apophis competition. In fact the Planetary Society (Apophis competition sponsor) and SpaceWorks (Apophis competition winner) are helping, and Planetary Defense blog not only covered the story, but is also mentioned as a resource on the competition site.

Lunar Ventures Winners

The Lunar Ventures space business competition announces the 2008 winners and runners-up. The highest-ranked competitors all had business plans that involved space businesses that also had Earth applications, or space technology applied to Earth businesses. Denver Business News has more on the winner.

Monday, April 07, 2008

New Masten Vehicle Pictures

RLV News has the latest from Masten Space. Dave Masten does this post, which includes some computer graphics pictures of the new vehicle.

Annual Moonbuggy Race Results

Space for All links to the results of the 15th Great Moonbuggy Race. I guess the real lunar rovers never had to deal with flooded craters.

One of the NASA Centennial Challenges proposed in a batch of 6 ideas was a "lunar ATV". I wonder if it would help the Centennial Challenges funding prospects if the lunar ATV were specified as one of the Challenges to be funded, and the lunar ATV demonstration or contest was required to be held in conjunction with the Great Moonbuggy Race? Holding these 2 together or near each other in space and time would, I suspect, help both events in terms of publicity and fun.

Not only fun, but funding, might be helped. The Moonbuggy Race is held by the MSFC in Alabama. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby is the ranking minority member of the Committe on Appropriations subcommitte that deals with NASA.

Since one never knows who will win a Centennial Challenge, it seems wise to at least occasionally specify that Centennial Challenge events (contests, meetings, etc) be held at politically important locations to bring business to these areas.

Update on the Florida RLV Prize Bill

Earlier Spaceports mentioned a Florida RLV Prize bill. A Space Politics post about Florida bills to encourage space in the state in the face of the Shuttle retirement got me to comment about the status of this Florida bill, which has been moving through steps in the Florida Senate. I guess I'll reproduce my comment here - I'm not sure if there will be any more comments from other folks later:

There’s also an RLV prize (The Florida Prize for Space Exploration) bill SB 2310. It also has some non-space content.

Florida Impact Statement: impact statement

Broward Politics commentary: commentary

bill status: bill status

Google Lunar X PRIZE Summit and More

The Google Lunar X PRIZE site is prominently featuring the Team Summit at the International Space University in Strasbourg France, mentioned earlier in the Pomerantz Report. It's on May 20-21, and there will be a New Team Announcement opportunity. There will be opportunities for teams to learn from people who have managed lunar missions, to meet potentional government and private customers, to learn about and discuss the rules, and more (see the schedule).

Meanwhile, the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams remain active on the GLXP site. Astrobotic posted hardware pictures here, here, and here. ARCA posted a video of their launch sequence. Chandah discusses the hurdles to overcome, and the millionaire market to win. Micro-Space tells us about the virtues of UP Aerospace, and LunaTrex describes how some of their funding will come from a a flying car precursor from team member AirBuoyant.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Future Energy and Environment X PRIZEs

Recently I posted about X PRIZE Foundation energy and environment prize plans, such as the Biofuels Prize. These posts were based on talks by X PRIZE Foundation leaders like Tom Vander Ark and Peter Diamandis. Now I've noticed that the Future Prizes section of the XPF page has a spotlight on their Energy and Environment prizes, including the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, the Biofuels X PRIZE under development, and more. They have a nice Energy and Environment X PRIZE Suite paper that gives an overview of the process they'll use to select the prizes, the areas they intend to pursue, and the goals they want to achieve with the prizes.

There's no indication that they'll do this, but it would be interesting if they would put a space "flavor" into 1 or more of these Energy and Environment prizes. The space innovation community has demonstrated that it responds to these prizes, and there's no reason not to take advantage of that response in the Energy and Environment prize suite. For example:

- Solar Power or Relay Satellite demonstration: I'm not convinced the SPS is close to economically ready for mass energy applications, but it could be ready for less ambitious applications, like power relay, emergency power for disaster or other isolated areas, or satellite to satellite (or other space infrastructure) power. A prize for a demonstration of such capabilities could lead to real use at this level, which in turn could grow into clean large-scale SPS, as envisioned in the Google Lunar X PRIZE promotions, later.

- Environment Monitoring Using Suborbital Vehicles: Such a prize could include tasks like accurately sampling the upper atmosphere at various altitudes, taking calibration measurements of the Earth concurrently with various comparable environmental satellite measurements, simply taking accurate remote sensing measurements of the Earth's environment, and/or testing environmental sensors destined for space. Repeated, reliable, and accurate environmental measurements could be required. Such a prize could be an enabler for a diverse set of environmentally useful tools, and at the same time would give a helpful push to the suborbital vehicles under development that were in part inspired by the original Ansari X PRIZE. It would also help address one of the rather unthoughtful but politically dangerous criticisms of the suborbital vehicles as just "toys for the rich".

- Best Software Contest: Perhaps a prize similar to the Android Developer Challenge for what's judged to be the best environmental software application to use, say, the Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth platform (depending on the prize's title sponsor, of course).

You get the idea ... many other energy/environment prizes involving space could of course also be imagined.

More on Marine Renewable Energy Prize from Scotland

Last November I posted about a Marine Renewable Energy Prize to be funded by the Scottish Government (care of an X PRIZE Foundation link). Now the X PRIZE Foundation has another link to an article about the prize, this time at Energy Current:

Scotland has laid down the gauntlet in marine renewables by offering innovators the world's largest cash prize for advancing fledgling tidal and wave technologies.

The US$20 million jackpot - known as the Saltire Prize - is being offered on a global scale as the country looks to move into a position where its renewables generate 60GW, more than ten times the electricty it currently needs.

Here's the Saltire Prize site.

Pomerantz at UK Space Conference

Will Pomerantz has a video blog post of the UK Space Conference that ends with a sensible bit of advise for Google Lunar X PRIZE teams from a Mars rover worker.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Lunar Challengers You Know and Maybe Another

RLV News has as usual been keeping us up to date on the Lunar Lander Challenge competitors, including Armadillo and its review of recent tests, the suborbital marketplace, and Google Lunar X PRIZE test vehicle prices. There's also a link to an Unreasonable Rocket vehicle rendering. Check the comments in both cases.

I'm not sure what to make of the YouTube videos I stumbled across here and here - is this another potential LLC competitor?

RLV News also points out the detailed cover story on the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams in the current issue of Space LifeStyle. There's also an interesting article by Eligar Sadeh on commercial space and government policy that mentions several prizes as demonstrating one way the government can foster a thriving commercial space industry.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Miscellaneous Prize Comments at Space Access '08

This post just gathers some prize-related comments during Space Access talks that don't otherwise feature prizes (or at least teams that to my knowledge went after prizes) enough to get a whole separate post here.

As I mentioned in the SpeedUp post, the Frontier Astronautics talk by Tim Bendel featured a lot about SpeedUp's Lunar Lander Challenge entry, including videos. He also discussed Masten Space.

In Ben Brockert's talk about SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), Robin Snelson asked if SEDS is a good place for volunteers for the kinds of things discussed at the conference. Ben mentioned the X PRIZE Cup, which has a lot of volunteers that are SEDS members. He suggests that those interested in getting involved sponsor a competition.

Former Centennial Challenges leader Ken Davidian, in response to a question, ended his presentation with a quick run-down of the different Centennial Challenges and their latest status.

In the Rocketplane Global talk, Chuck Lauer discussed their Microsoft Vista promotion contest that featured a suborbital tourism ride prize. He also talked about a promotion with Nestle France with 2 winning rides on the line, and the possibility of 8 more seats. Here's more about it (link care of RLV News). They also are arranging a contest in India for the TV channel Bindaas.

Space Elevator Blog Roundup

Staying on the topic of Space Elevators, the Space Elevator blog has had a number of posts since I last had an update on it. There's a lot more than just prize-related posts there, so check it out if you're interested in space elevators in general. For the prize posts, here's one of the Queen's Space Engineering Team answering some questions, and here's unfortunate news from the WARR team. There's also a look back at the first 2 years of the SE Blog.

LaserMotive at Space Access '08

Jordin Kare represented Beam Power Challenge team LaserMotive. This talk follows talks by Leik Myrabo and Jordin himself on Laser Launch. This is all about "power beaming on a shoestring". LaserMotive was formed for the power beaming prize, and maybe more.

Jordin gave an overview of the prize and the prize's history.

He was interested in power beaming, and saw the 2006 contest with Tom Nugent and decided to go for it. He showed slides for the team members and sponsors. One member has a machine shop. One software team member got a "hamburger patty flow detector" contract based on LaserMotive work.

Jordin went over the basic rules of the 2007 challenge. They designed for much more than the rule minimum that year. Looking back, that may have been a mistake. Wind was a factor during the competition. They needed ~8000 watts of laser power going in to get the needed ~1000 watts. They used DILAS. You can't see the laser - you just see the burns. Jordin described the overall design, transmitter optics, transmitter design, and the beam pattern on solar cells. He showed a picture of the built system, and team members working on it. He discussed power supplies, cooling, and safety.

For the photovoltaic array, he covered the design goals and drivers (under 5 kg, 1m by 1m, etc). He showed the PV cells. They're gallium arsenide cells. They're about 40% efficient. They're not designed for much more than 1 sun equivalent. Boeing owns SpectraLab (Boeing is a LaserMotive partner) and got them to make specialized cells designed for 10 suns. These were 50-55% efficient.

Jordin described the system's thermal control. A picture of the cells shows custom wiring. Middle cells are the high-performance ones, and the others are tilted to get less "suns". He showed the climber. An automatic tracking system is video-based. Laser pointers shine on reflectors on the climber. 3M retrofeflective tape is on the vehicle. Jordin shows a picture of a 2-axis steering/turning mirror, and pictures of a testing stand. He also shows a test video from before the 2007 contest to show the system works.

He discusses similar issues to what John Carmack said: a 1-time only per year contest is a difficult way to run an R&D effort. He discussed weather and competitors at the contest. They had a confused time at the qualification climb. They were rebuilding the climber because they thought they were done qualifying. Because of that they weren't ready when they needed to be, and got caught by a simple problem.

He had some lessons learned: worry about simple things, test early and often in a working environment, system integration is important, and realize that a competition environment is tough. Nevertheless he's looking ahead to the next competition.

He discussed the future of power beaming aside from space elevators. For NASA, it could be remote power for rovers on the Moon or Mars, or power for a lunar base. For DARPA it could be satellite-to-satellite power. There could be air-to-air or ground-to-air applications, for example for the military. For the DoD it could be small solar power satellites in a space-to-air or space-to-ground configuration. For now, though, they're concentrating on the Beam Power prize.

To see more about this talk, check out Why Homeschool and RLV News. Also note that Jordin had another talk at Space Access '08 on Laser Launch. You can find out about the Laser Launch talk at RLV News and Why Homeschool. They also document a Laser Launch talk by Leik Myrabo (Why Homeschool link and RLV News link).

SpeedUp at Space Access '08

Bob Steinke began the SpeedUp presentation by showing a new video that's not (at the time of the talk at least) on the website. It's a tethered hover flight testing the attitude control system. The LLC vehicle is complete and they've made good progress towards the LLC.

The main part of the talk didn't concern the LLC, but rather a new business idea. They're developing a new product - and upper stage. The business opportunity is presented by the new suborbital vehicles, which have no upper stages to get payloads higher or into orbit.

It's using a non-toxic hypergolic hydrogen peroxide hybrid. Its characteristics include being restartable, storable, reliable, inexpensive, and interoperable with various 1st stage vehicles. It can be thought of as the "Centaur of NewSpace".

The oxygen tank technology comes from the LLC vehicle. He has different partners set up, including Swift Enterprises for the hypergolic propellant and Frontier for attitude control.

He sees 3 markets:

1. Increasing the performance of suborbital launch - NASA suborbital science missions typically involve up to 800 pounds and 1800 km apogee, which the NewSpace suborbital tourism vehicles couldn't reach without an upper stage.

2. Orbital - This would involve 3 stages: the suborbital tourism vehicle, a 2nd stage with 3 SpeedUp modules, and a 3rd stage with a single SpeedUp module.

3. On-orbit propulsion - for example, apogee kick, plane change, reboost, deorbit

There was more on SpeedUp during the Frontier Astronautics talk - in fact more about the LLC entry than there was in this talk - but I didn't take notes during that talk. It was an interesting one though - Frontier is involved in a lot of diverse and interesting projects.

You can see more on this talk at Why Homeschool and RLV News (below the orbital propellant depot section of that post - but check that, too, and the prize-related comment and the response and associated material by Jon Goff).