Sunday, December 24, 2006

Planetary Society prize update

RLV News reports that the Planetary Society presented their $50,000 prize for the best design for a "tagging" mission to an asteroid at the recent American Geophysical Union conference. Here is the press release. More details on the competition are now available, including the detailed rules. The competition is also now (as of Dec 24) featured on the main screen of the Planetary Society web page.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

2007 funding

NASA Watch reports that with the change in parties in the House and Senate, there is a possibility that NASA funding will remain flat in 2007. Since Centennial Challenges were not funded in 2006, they still would not be funded in 2007. There is speculation NASA would be allowed some degree of freedom to shift money from one account to another, but the Shuttle, ISS, and new "NASA space truck government business" need a big increase in money so Centennial Challenges might not be exactly in the front of the line. Total NASA funding would remain flat, but that would be alleviated to a large degree by elimination of earmarks. I'm skeptical about this provision actually happening ... we will see. A lot is in flux right now.

Centennial Challenge editorial

Space News (December 4, 2006 issue) has a near full-page editorial written by Rick Tumlinson on the Centennial Challenges problem in the Senate. The article is titled "Centennial Challenges - Don't Let Them Die". It describes the excitement at the 2006 X Prize Cup challenges, and compares them to other prizes that weren't won in the first year but eventually were. A key paragraph: "The cost of the Lunar Lander Challenge is less than the cost of many NASA paper studies. And the return for this tiny pittance includes: new ideas that can be applied to our return to the Moon and the exploration of Mars; inspiration for a tired and dispirited space community; the excitement of competition; the drawing in of new talent to the field of space; and the inspiration of thousands of young minds to study math, science and engineering." More on the Challenges in the next post ...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

WSJ on NASA moon base plan

NASA released more details about the Return to the Moon plan, including a base at one of the lunar poles. It also stressed opportunities for commercial participation in the plan. However, all of that is decades away, and until then the core of the plan is driven by new rockets and space vehicles designed, built, and operated by NASA. A business would have to be skeptical about the likelihood that the NASA plan will be cancelled, or run into insurmountable technical problems, or have a transportation system that is so expensive that there is no money left over for a base, or will be delayed years or decades. The initial promises of commercial use of the Space Shuttle and the ISS come to mind. To be taken seriously (and to increase the chance that it will work, and to increase the stakeholders), the NASA plan needs to have more commercial interest along the way, not decades later. That could include different kinds of COTS contracts, more (and more ambitious) Centennial Challenges, NASA purchase of commercial services like suborbital or orbital rides, Bigelow space hotel services, lunar science data, etc. There are many choices.

Space Politics reports that the Wall Street Journal is skeptical of the current Moon plan. I don't have a WSJ subscription and hence have not read the editorial, but SP notes that the Journal proposes an alternative program consisting of a prize scaled to about 1/2 NASA's early cost estimate for the completion of a comparable base.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

National Space Society supports Centennial Challenges funding

As a follow-on to the earlier post on the Space Exploration Alliance, Space Frontier Foundation, and X Prize Foundation supporting funding for new NASA Centennial Challenges, the National Space Society (one of the Space Exploration Alliance member organizations) has posted their support on the NSS web site.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ministry of Defense Grand Challenge

Aviation Week reports that the British Ministry of Defense has issued a Grand Challenge for a sensor platform that can work in urban combat environments. The current rules include a trophy and the possibility of a contract, but (unfortunately, from the point of view of this blog) no cash prize for the winner is mentioned. In that sense it is similar to the current round of the DARPA Grand Challenge. The MOD Challenge is restricted to UK contestants, unlike the DARPA Challenge which already has contestants from several countries.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More on Centennial Challenges funding

The Cosmic Log site (Alan Boyle from MSNBC, general site linked to the right) has an update on the politics of future Centennial Challenges funding. This post also breaks down the funding for the existing Centennial Challenges.

Sites like Space Politics and HobbySpace/RLV News continue to post updates as they occur.

NASAWatch also had a post on the topic. Esssentially this post was for the SFF press release, but it is interesting because (I suspect) a lot of NASA employees would have read that one. I'm not sure what the prevailing attitude of NASA employees is towards Centennial Challenges.

I haven't seen a post from Selenian Boondocks (to the right) on the Centennial Challenges funding issue, but between the obvious MSS/Lunar Lander Challenge connection, and Jon's frequent discussion of in-space refueling and the proposed refueling challenge that is one of the ones that depends on future funding, I'm suspect it's on his mind.