Saturday, April 23, 2011

Roundup: Jousting, Slinky, Student Launches, Nanosat Vids, Space Tech, CAFE on FB, More

Sometimes a space prize is a space prize because of who is hosting the competition:

Competitive Jousting on the Shores of Lake Austin - - Richard Garriott is the host of Lysts on the Lake.

2011 Weightless Object Contest Winner - ZERO-G Facebook - The winner is the Slinky.

Nanosat Launcher Challenge Raw Video #12-15: Dr Andrew Petro on the Centennial Challenges - Team Phoenicia - You can find the earlier videos on the Nanosat Launcher Challenge meeting at their site, too.

Gallery: NASA Student Launch Projects - The Huntsville Times has a photo gallery for the student competition.

SpaceTech Engineering Design Challenge - SpaceHack shows a competition for college students that NASA's new Office of Space Technology wants to hold.

Space Angels Network LOS ANGELES Venture Forum, April 28, 2011 - Space Angels Network is holding this event for accredited investors at 1 Rocket Rd in Hawthorne, CA.  You can probably guess where that is.  The presenting company is Astrobotic Technology, Inc.

NASA Awards Contract for Lunar Gravity Simulation Device - Astrobotic

Our Sputnik Moment: US Entrepreneurs Needed for the "Space Race" - The Huffington Post features Naveen Jain from Moon Express.

LaserMotive to Present to 29th Annual Space Power Workshop - LaserMotive

FRC Championship at the Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri - - The event will be held April 27-30.  NASA will live stream the event.

CAFE Foundation on Facebook - Their most recent update there links to their blog post Berblinger Flight Competition Winners for 2011.  Their blog also notes that the 5th Annual CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium Launches New Age of Flight on April 29-30.  That symposium includes some prize content: 

As a special event, EAS V will debut the awesome array of experimental new electric aircraft that will compete 9 weeks later in the 2011 NASA Aeronautics Prize, the CAFE Green Flight Challenge (July 10-17 at Santa Rosa Airport).

James Cameron And Eric Schmidt On Why They "Visioneer" For X Prize - Fast Company

X PRIZE Visioneering and The Mother of All Business Plan Competitions - Tech Crunch

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Prize Roundup: Student Launch Initiative, Weightless Objects, Visioneering, More

Other than a burst of posts about Space Access '11 (see much more about that conference here), I haven't written much here at Space Prizes in the last few weeks.  This is due to a combination of getting ready for a new addition to the family, lots of visitors, and other activities unrelated to blogging.  I wouldn't be surprised if the posts here continue to happen at a slower rate than before.  In the meantime, here's a roundup:

The Student Launch Initiative is taking place this weekend.  The following tweet has a key hashtag and video link, but there's also lots more from SLI_1milehigh:

@SLI_1milehigh: 47 teams are competing today, including 17 middle/high schools and 30 college/univ ( #Watching_Rockets_Launch live at

The deadline for the next tweet is now in the past, but there are still ways to get involved.

@gozerog: Last day to submit your entry into the 2011 Weightless Object Contest. Click here to enter

From the site: 

Submit one photo of an object you would like to see weightless by April 15. ZERO-G will select the Top 5 entries and publish them on ZERO-G's Facebook page on April 18. Then it's up to ZERO-G fans to select the winning object. The winner will be announced on April 22 and the winning object will fly on an upcoming ZERO-G flight. 

The next one is from April 15, so it's well under way now:

@peterdiamandis: Kicking off a three day X PRIZE board meeting. We have 100 CEOs and philanthropists gathering for a Visioneering brainstorm of future prizes 

You can see more about this at the twitter hashtag #visioneering

@nss: New review of Ansari's biography by Cliff McMurray: Use Amazon links to benefit NSS. 

National Space Society Announces Space Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur to Be Awarded to SpaceX - National Space Society

@morpheuslander: @VAXHeadroom We are partnered with Armadillo Aerospace, one of the NGLLC winners. Having me at JSC allows rapid testing and iteration. 

LaserMotive to Exhibit at SPIE - LaserMotive 

Join our mailing list - Sample Return Robot Challenge 

NASA Releases Status On Open Government Initiatives - SpaceRef - You can see the status of the initiatives at the NASA Open Gov Status DashboardMany of the items on the dashboard concern the NASA Centennial Challenges. 

2011 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards - NASA Watch 

NASA Make Challenge Webcast - NASA Watch

I've posted a number of times on Google Earth prizes, on ocean prizes, and on Virgin Galactic's work to take the Ansari X PRIZE win to the next level.  This next link isn't about prizes, but it does mix up those other 3 interests of mine in a new way, so I'll let this post take a quick step outside of the prize world for a second to link to a post about Virgin Oceanic: 

Diving deep with Richard Branson - Google Earth Blog 

Saturday Testing... - Unreasonable Rocket 

Armadillo working on Mod vehicle
Briefs: Iridium Next on Falcons; Catch a Ride with Rocket City Space Pioneers
Briefs: PWR joins Rocket City Space Pioneers; Morpheus update
Briefs: Moon Express; Colorado rockets; Southern space gloves - all from RLV News

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Space Access '11: Unreasonable Rocket - Paul Breed

Paul described the last year as an "unreasonably lazy" one.  He didn't build any new vehicles, but he did take technology steps towards his goals.  These steps involve three projects: small printed motor experiments, a 100 gram GPS IMU for a Nanosatellite launcher, and composite tanks technology.  Paul compared the GPS IMU to the heavier Northop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge version, which he showed in his hands.  These 3 steps are all intended to be combined into a microlauncher.

Paul showed his first 3D printed motor attempt, and explained the process for making it.  Then he showed his second attempt.  This presentation was full of hardware components, so he was showing the real metal.  For his third attempt, he used discrete metal laser sintering.  This is a more expensive technique - on the order of jumping from $350 to $5,000.  He showed the results.  He was able to get some firings out of this attempt.  His goal is to have it run for 10 minutes without touching it, then to wait 2 weeks, and finally to get another 10 minute run without touching it.  He got the first part of that sequence, but not the repeat.  He is trying again this upcoming weekend for the second attempt.  Finally, Paul showed is fourth printed motor, which was made using a different company.  This one is aluminum compared to stainless steel for the others.

The next discussion was on the small GPS-integrated IMU.  He built a high power rocket to test the IMU.  Paul showed the rocket.  Some lower-cost products don't work well with rocket vibrations.  None of the numerous GPSs that he tested (and he showed a bunch of GPS hardware) would keep lock during 6G acceleration.  As a result, he is GPS-less.  Now he is building one.  He will be open about all of the hardware.  He's not sure how open he will be able to be for the software.  He showed the chips he's combining with his Netburner product.

The last discussion was on tank development.  He partnered with Microcosm to develop peroxide compatible tanks.  The first tank may be ready by May.  Unreasonable can build with the tanks, and Microcosm can sell them.

In the future, he plans to combine these 3 projects into a vehicle.  He's looking at the NASA Nanosatellite Launch Challenge.

There was some talk at the end about the need for a volunteer to take videos at the FAR, since he's busy with other work when he goes there.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Space Access '11: Armadillo Aerospace - Russ Blink and Ben Brockert

Since the last conference, Armadillo has been flying the Mod vehicle and designing an aeroshell.  They will need to fly the Mod for their CRuSR contract.  They showed a video of a similar flight to what they'd need for CRuSR.  They did more work with the Rocket Racing League.  The RRL did 2 flights at a time.  Armadillo left us in suspense about something brewing at the RRL.  The RRL ran their engines 1,000 times.  These runs were full flight profiles, not just starts and stops.  Ben joked "You know you're doing a lot of rocket testing when it gets annoying."

Armadillo is working with NASA's Project M.  They needed a prototype for a system to take Robonaut to the lunar surface.  JSC folks worked with them to build a vehicle.  The vehicle is at jSC now.  They hope to fly around May.  It was a good collaboration, with learning in both directions.  They showed several videos of engine tests with new engines, some for their use, and some for NASA's use.  They showed a scaled-down model of the tube rocket.  This one can be held in a hand.  The full scale one is 29 feet long.

They showed videos of a burst test.

The NASA work took a long time.  Eventually they were able to start work on vehicle altitude and speed.  That's what the tube rocket is for.  It's not the final configuration.  Crashing the tube rocket is like crashing a sports car (I assume they meant in terms of cost).

They showed a video of a parachute drop from an airplane.  They also showed video of tube rocket Stig hovering.  One test even had them pull on the hovering rocket to give a disturbing force to the rocket.  They also showed a launch stand that Ben designed.

Stig is in New Mexico, waiting for some Spaceport America and White Sands Missile Range paperwork.  The are working through a new type of operation at the spaceport.  It's a learning process for everyone to get comfortable.  They are planning on a 100,000 foot flight.

Space Access '11: SpeedUp - Bob Steinke

Bob does his work at the Frontier Astronautics silo.  Frontier Astronautics had a presentation right before this one, so you can find more information about them by checking other sites covering this conference.  He's working on  hybrid engine, the Laramie Rose Lunar Lander Challenge vehicle, and a new product.

The hybrid engine is intended to be a simple, highly reliable upper stage engine.  He did static fires, design of a subscale motor, and some design work on  full scale motor.  Bob talked about a test where a hydrogen peroxide failure happened.

 Next Bob discussed the Laramie Rose, which was for the Lunar Lander Challenge.  That competition is over, but Bob still wants to fly the Laramie Rose.  Lots of the hardware work is done.  On March 27, he did a plugs-out static fire.  He thinks the hardware could fly, but the software isn't ready.  He expects to do tether testing this summer.  He got an FAA/AST class 2 amateur flight authorization last week.  The neighbor at Frontier has an airport which complicates the process.  He's now familiar with the FAA process, so later rounds should go smoother.  He's looking at doing a ~10 second hover.

He's working with Osa Fitch of Luna City Enterprises and Joe Lee of Open Source Launch Vehicle.  Both are presenting at the conference.  See other sites covering the conference for more details on them.

Bob gave a detailed presentation on a new product, a "Non-Pyro Valve Actuator".

Space Access '11: Masten Space Systems - Dave Masten

In the past year, Masten Space has been building their team, focusing more on the business side, but still making substantial technology achievements.  They have 4 new engineers, and 3 new business people.

On the technology side, they did the first VTVL relight, worked on the CRuSR conract, won a plume impingement SBIR where they can use Mars or lunar simulant to study landers and effects on regolith, worked on thei Scimitar engine, and flew Xaero which is capable of 30 km flight.  On the business side, since they are working on contracts, they have a strong customer focus.  They also got a Letter of Intent with Space Florida.

Dave gave some technical details on the Scimitar engine.

For CRuSR, they plan a 5 km flight in the 2nd quarter of 2011.

Their 2011 technology focus is on a rigid control system, getting Xaero to 30 km, put Scimitar on the vehicle, do Katana engine tests (Katana is a new engine), Xogdar build out, and customer projects.

They plan to continue developing their customer focus, increase sales and growth, make their back office smooth, and expand their investors.

Q: Why Florida?

A: There is an experienced work force that will be available with Shuttle retirement.  Also, there are problems with places where they can fly.  Mojave is just for research and development flights.  Spaceport America in New Mexico has difficult scheduling problems with White Sands Missile Range.  Florida is the most airspace-friendly.  Also, Florida is giving business incentives.

Q: What's the timeline for the 30 km flight, and is there a backup plan in case of a crash?

A: Ideally they would have the flight by September for the end of the fiscal year.  If there was a crash, they could rebuild with spare parts.

Space Access '11: NASA Ames Space Portal - Bruce Pittman

This talk covered a wide variety of topics; I'll concentrate on those related to prizes.

The Space Portal is interested in the Google Lunar X PRIZE.  NASA awarded ILDDs for lunar data purchases.  The total value is $30.1M; and some of the money can be earned through work on Earth towards the lunar data demonstrations. 

They are also developing a Lunar Orphan Flight Test (LOFT) list of lunar science and engineering instruments that NASA developed but never flew.  Their goal is to "loan" these instruments to people that can use them on the Moon.  There would be no requirement to return the "loaned" equipment, of course.  This is still an idea in development.  They are also doing other work related to the Moon.

Bruce also discussed the Regolith Excavation Challenge sandpit.  The sandbox now has internet controlled rovers, and is used for education.

Q: The ILDD data purchases have gone to Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, and a specific to the Moon.  Are any other data purchases planned?

A: They are exploring the idea, perhaps for NEOs.

Space Access '11: Kansas City Space Pirates - Frank Smith

KCSP have been involved with the NASA Power Beaming Challenge, FIRST, educational outreach, tether experiments, spacecraft design, and developing a new business.

Frank showed a video of the KCSP tether climber.

LaserMotive won some of the $2M Power Beaming Challenge, but $1.1M remains.  However, only LaserMotive is able to compete this time in the climber challenge.  Spaceward is looking into changing the challenge (Editor's note: I assume this is in the interest of having multiple competitors in the challenge ... but I'm not sure what LaserMotive thinks of the idea).  One idea for competition is to beam power to a rover, with the rover able to drive round at least 50m, do a turn, and rove another 50m.  The score would be based on the efficiency of beaming multiplied by the distance.  This idea has not been approved.  It's a preliminary proposal by The Spaceward Foundation.

KCSP are working on a tether experiment  It involves a smallsat (under 1 kg), a gravity gradient boom, and unspooling a tether as much as possible.

They have a new business, "Ashes to Orbit".  They put 1 ounce of ashes into a polar orbit, the ashes disperse into a cloud, they come back to Earth in 1-2 weeks, and spread over the Earth.  They're designing the capsule, and the launch provider has not been announced yet.

Their name is based on the mascot of a university they've worked with.

Space Access '11: Altius Space Machines - Jon Goff

This talk didn't involve space prizes, but I'm covering it because of Jon's past involvement with the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and possible interest in the Nanosatellite Launcher Challenge. I will probably cover some other presentations for similar reasons. It's likely that I'll cover Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander competitors in general.

This is the first time that Jon has pitched his company in front of a big audience.

Jon was part of the original Masten Space Systems team, he's the author of the Selenian Boondocks web site, and he's interested in propellant depots. Last July, he left Masten Space Systems, and started Altius Space Machines in Louisville, CO. Ian Garcia from MSS is also at ASM. His hunch is that many key space technologies can be profitably developed today. You can attack the problem of affordable space access from both sides and the middle. His plan is to bootstrap using contract engineering in the style of XCOR with longer-term goals in mind during the contracts.

The first ASM product is a rendezvous and docking technology. RLV markets are difficult. An RLV needs about 50 flights per year to be worth doing. Robust operations require 2-3 vehicles per vehicle builder. A robust industry requires 2-3 builders. All of that implies hundreds of flights per year are needed for a robust RLV industry. Rendezvous and docking events are a bottleneck at those levels of flights. To help solve that problem, ASM is working on a "tractor beam": an electrostatic sticky boom.

The boom is capable of rendezvous with a non-cooperative target. Electrostatically adhering to surfaces works better in a vacuum. They filed a provisional patent with SRI for the sticky boom. It can grab objects of any material, size, and shape. A long boom allows distant capture to reduce collision risk. It simplifies rendezvous. It also lowers the risk of plume impingement. Jon gave an analogy to ropes and a dock when bringing in a boat, or fighter plane refueling with a boom. The boat and plane don't crash into the dock or refueling tanker.

There are many potential applications of the boom. It can be used for Mars Sample Return, despinning objects, grabbing NEO samples, grabbing lost EVA tools, space debris cleanup, and satellite servicing. Eventually depot rendezvous and docking could use the boom. More frequent deliveries could be made to and from the ISS.

The status is that they won their SBIR proposal, they made a proof of concept, and they presented at the D.C. technology day. They sent in a Zero-G flight proposal.

Jon did a demo of the boom, which was clearly popular with the audience.

Their roadmap includes Zero-G tests, suborbital/ISS/rideshare tests, and eventually actual missions using the boom. The business goals include technology demonstrations, satellite servicing, space science missions and developing a team.

Space Access '11: A Prize Snippet Roundup

This post covers a number of talks during Space Access '11 where the main topic was not a space prize or a prize team, but where space prizes were discussed briefly. In these cases, I concentrated on the short prize discussions. You can get more information about the rest of such talks from other sites covering the conference. For example, see the posts at RLV News and the collection of links there.

Please note that I have a lot of trouble hearing in big rooms with echoes and buzzing machinery, so it's quite possible that I've mis-heard some items here and there.

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space - Sara Meschberger

There was an overview of the High Power Rocketry Prize and a new video competition, the We Are Space competition. This is being run with help from the Space Frontier Foundation and The first prize is $1,000.

There were some pictures of SEDS members now in industry. On the prize side, I didn't see names, but I think Ben Brockert and Will Pomerantz were included.

Q: Could SEDS run something like a FIRST cometition, but with a space focus?

A: They have some local chapter competitions like that. Send in your ideas.

NASA Technology Roadmaps and the Shape of Future NASA - James Reuther

Q: Paul Breed asked about the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge. When will the Allied Organization be selected, will the rules be made, etc? Inquiring minds want to know.

A: This was an "I'll get back to you on that one". However, I include the question because it shows that there is some interest ...

Microlaunchers - Charles Pooley

Microlaunchers is relocating to Las Vegas because of a better business environment that he experienced in California.

He was doing N Prize work. He's also interested in the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge. He thinks it will help to attract participants and sponsors. We're in the mainframe era of space. He wants to make launch costs go down by a factor of 1000. This would make space accessible. He's looking into missions to NEOs with tiny spacecraft. There would be small telescopes to the ground to get data from the craft.

He showed several generations of launchers. The first generation could be an entry in the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge. He presented a chart with comparisons of 4 generations of launchers. The 4th generation is 1/2 the size of the Falcon 1.

Garvey Space - John Garvey

He's working on a Nanosatellite launcher. NASA's Nanosatellite Launch Challenge might help. There are some potential issues with the rules for this challenge, though. They need some direction on IRAD funding. What about reuse of hardware? What if the hardware was developed on a government contract? This would impact Garvey Space since they do this type of work.

He wants to avoid getting into a competition with a government project. For example, he views the Lunar Lander Challenge and NASA MSFC work on lunar landers as being in competition, and doesn't want to be in that situation.

His estimate is that the launcher could be done in 2-4 years, for $10-20M. It might be less, or on the lower side, if less robustness is needed. There's really a wide range of possible costs, but it's not anything like as low as $1M or as high as $100M.

FAA - Mike Kelly

Q: Paul Breed asked for FAA direction on Nanosatellite launchers. He doesn't want a Delta IV sized pile of paperwork. At any rate he wants an example of filling out the forms, like he had before (I assume for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge licensing) and more direction from the FAA.

A: It doesn't make sense to have the same size of dilligence for something like CRUSR and a Delta IV launch. They had a CRUSR workshop on licensing. A payload review is required and could take 180 days. They need to streamline the licensing process to reflect the level of hazard.

Q: John Garvey had a question on the FAA Launch prize.

A: The 2012 budget proposal includes a prize for a semi-reusable orbital prize. Originally it was for $15M, but that amount was cut back. (Editor's note: I believe it was for $5M by the time the budget proposal was released. Also, I don't recall hearing the details about "orbital" and "semi-reusable" before, so that might be new information). They will see if it passes in the budget. They see it as a good match with the NASA prizes (Editor's note: I will guess that he is talking about NASA's Nanosatellite Launch Challenge). He would like to see a least 1 rocket stage being reused for the prize.