Sunday, February 25, 2007

FAA 2007 U.S. Commercial Space Transportation report

The FAA 2007 U.S. Commercial Space Transportation report (subtitled "Developments and Concepts: Vehicles, Technologies, and Spaceports") has some information related to space prizes. The document has a section on "Space Competitions", including the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup, Bigelow's America's Space Prize, and the Centennial Challenges. Some of the other entries were at least in part inspired by the X PRIZE.

Bambi Francisco interviews X PRIZE Foundation's Tom Vander Ark

Here's an interview where we learn a bit more about the X PRIZE Foundation's plans. They intend to launch the Automotive X PRIZE later this year, and would like to have 2-3 prize launches per year.

Another prize from TSGC

The Texas Space Grant Consortium is also holding the NASA Means Business Competition 2007, a competition for university students to design programs to inspire middle school and high school students to excel in math and sciences. The finalist teams get $1,000 and travel to JSC and KSC, while the Grand Prize winner also presents their program to NASA HQ. This will be input to NASA's strategic communication strategy. NASA Watch and others have lately been stressing that NASA's communication is out of touch with the generation that will be implementing its long-term plans now in development. This may be a way for them to get some insight into this problem.

21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition

NASA and the Texas Space Grant Consortium held the 21st Century Podcast Competition, a contest for students to make audio and video podcasts. The site implies that there will be a similar contest next year. You can win computers, IPODs, and Space Camp tickets. The podcasts are on "how space exploration will benefit your future".

Space Journalism Prize

New Forks, LLC gave $3,000 prizes for the best published and unpublished space journalism piece. The company plans to issue a space-related publication. This news comes via Space Pragmatism.

American Idol executive produces to work with Emmy Awards

The executive producers of American Idol are going to be helping out the Emmy Awards. The ups and downs of the Emmy Awards are similar to the ups and downs of any long-term prize event, including space prizes. The director of the Emmy Awards is John Leverence, who wrote "And The Winner Is... Using awards programs to promote your company and encourage your employees." See the link to the right. This book has a lot of common-sense advise on managing the rules, scheduling, legal aspects, personnel, and public relations issues with prize programs. A lot of it is obvious, but if you're developing a prize program, it's worth a look to see if you've forgotten or underestimated something.

A Space Prize you don't want to win

This one comes care of the Space Cynics. It will be hard to pick a winner with so many qualified and deserving contestants.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

InnoCentive matching challenges with scientists

When I wrote the school paper that started this site, I had some speculative thoughts about prizes being used in the normal course of business. In particular, I imagined companies or non-profits that specialized in various aspects of running prize competitions (legal, management, public relations, events, technology evaluation, etc). Some of these might be branches of existing companies (hotels, resorts, law firms, etc) while others might specialize in all parts of prizes or manage the overall process with the help of subcontractors. At the same time, businesses would evaluate areas where they could benefit by a certain technology or similar advance, but were not willing or able to invest in the goal themselves. They could issue a prize competition (by themselves, or in combination with others with similar interests, and with or without the services of prize management specialists) and wait and see if any results occur. A giant company might just offer "$10,000 million for the technology that, in 10 years time, has with hindsight been judged to have benefited our company the most" or something similar to get a lot of people thinking about how to help them.

Well, it isn't the whole industry I imagined, but InnoCentive looks like one of the pieces of that puzzle ...

Mars Society Rover Challenge update

The Mars Society has posted an update on their Rover Challenge contest. The challenge will be held June 1-2 of 2007 at the Mars Desert Rsearch Station the Society runs.

Virgin Earth Challenge

Sir Richard Branson has announced The Virgin Earth Challenge for a practical design that can remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A number of sources have reported on this prize, including MSNBC (here too), Bloomberg Europe, and RLV News. Check out the Virgin Earth web site, too. The press release at the site discusses the history of technology innovation prizes in general, and also mentions the X PRIZE and how that enabled Virgin Galactic. Al Gore is also part of the prize announcement and effort. The prize pool is $25 Million, with 20% awarded initially and the rest potentially awarded after a 10 year evaluation period during which the design would be in actual use. The award may be shared among multiple winning designs. A lot more detail is available at the Virgin Earth web site, including at the News and Press Releases link and the Terms and Conditions link at the bottom of that page.

When thinking about this and other recent innovation prizes, it occurs to me that there are opportunities for collaboration with these prizes, as NASA Centennial Challenges show. One example could be collaboration between Virgin Earth prize and the X PRIZE Foundation, although I think the same general idea could be applicable to all sorts of prizes, like the Planetary Society Apophis asteroid mission design contest, the Grainger Challenge, the Mars Society Mars Rover competition, and many others. In the Virgin Earth press release, Branson welcomes governments and other organizations to contribute to the prize pot to make the incentive even greater. This makes sense because they surely would want to increase the incentive for the main prize while having a second and third place design to back up the first.

As an example, let's assume the Virgin Earth Challenge and the X PRIZE Foundation goals are compatible. In that case with collaboration the Virgin Earth Challenge could gain the legitimacy and public name recognition of the X PRIZE Foundation for their prize. In the area of innovation prizes, they have a lot of credibility. Publicity is important for many prizes in attracting donations to the prize, informing potential contestants about the prize, and increasing the prestige of the winner. They could also gain the expertise of the X PRIZE team, which has people who are in the business of the management, publicity, and legality of innovation prizes. They would also be able to tap into the built-in donation process the X PRIZE team already has. They could benefit from the celebrity efforts at events like the upcoming X PRIZE announcement at Google headquarters. Finally, they could design their challenge so the contestants could compete, or at least make demonstrations or display exhibit booths, at the X PRIZE Cup. This event could be a media and funding draw for them, as well as giving them an opportunity to educate the public about the problem they are interested in. All of this, I suspect, could be worked out in such a way that the Virgin Group could also benefit from the publicity and keep its name on the prize.

The X PRIZE Foundation would also benefit. It would have another prize to work on. Innovation prizes to solve important problems are, after all, its main reason for being. It would benefit from the publicity of the prize and working with Virgin Earth. It might be able to attract donations for its other prizes by awareness gained as a byproduct of working with the Virgin Earth Challenge. Finally, having exhibits, demonstrations, or contests related to this prize at the X PRIZE Cup would enhance that event and possibly expose a different audience to some of their other concerns like space challenges.

At any rate, congradulations to all those involved for keeping the promising prize mechanism in the spotlight, as well as for the incentives and efforts to solve the actual problems.

Friday, February 09, 2007

more on the ups and downs of a space trip prize

RLV News continues the information about the space prize winner who lost a chance to go to space and then got another. In addition to offering this new ride (assuming it gets to the point where it is flying such a vehicle), Benson Space Company plans to offer a number of trips to space to winners of a new contest. (At the time of this posting the contest rules were not yet on the site, so check back there later).

Space Frontier Foundation conference

The Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2007 conference will be outside Washington, DC on July 19-21. One of the events is the "Space Business Plan competition, where new entrepreneurs will compete in front of investors and analysts for cash prizes and private meetings."

Bigelow space prize doubts

Aviation Week and Space Technology reports (Feb 5, 2007, p. 15) that Robert Bigelow is still honoring the America's Space Prize, although he doesn't expect any contestants. The prize is a hefty $50 million, plus the possibility of business with BA, but the challenge is a huge one. COTS competitors are not eligible for the prize because they receive government funding.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

the latest Centennial Challenges budget news

RLV News has gone through the Administration's 2008 NASA Budget Proposal and picked out the areas from this massive document related to Centennial Challenges. The 2008 Centennial Challenges proposal is for $4 million, or under 1/4000th of NASA's proposed budget (which in turn is an invisible feather on the total 2008 Federal Budget elephant). Looked at another way, it's a couple hours of Ares I/Orion development. The document suggests that new challenges will be issued in areas like Solar Sails, Micro Reentry Vehicles, and Lunar ATVs. However, the Solar Sail challenge alone was originally envisioned to be 2 prizes for 2 goals totaling $5 million (not much for an actual space demonstration), so the challenges might be rolled out ... very ... slowly ...

2007 Lunar Lander Challenge registration opens

The X Prize has a news release on the opening of registration for the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge competion. Spaceref has a post on the release as does the X Prize Foundation. There are also rule changes for this year allowing repairs to the vehicle after the first hop ... as long as the repair materials are brought on the first hop, and not counted as payload. Northrop Grumman, builder (in an earlier form) of the Apollo Lunar Module, is the title sponsor for the event again. RLV News also informs us about this news and is tracking the competitors.

Another suborbital ride

Personal Spaceflight has a post on the over-taxed suborbital space ride prize winner (Brian Emmett) getting a second chance at reaching space, care of Benson Space Company and the yet-to-be-built Dream Chaser. Taxes shouldn't be an issue this time since he will be a "test passenger". RLV news also has a a post with some discussion on this turn of events.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

New X Prizes?

Space Pragmatism points us to an article (link now broken) on the new president of the X Prize Foundation. This article states that the foundation plans to start additional X Prizes in the upcoming weeks in a variety of areas. The article did not mention any space prizes. The Genomics X Prize was already started, and the X Prize Foundation web site mentions their intention to start prizes in the areas of energy, environment, social, medicine, water, poverty, and space. It also has a lot of detail about the planned Automotive X Prize. The Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal has an article about a fundraiser for a dozen new X Prizes. An article at the Auto Channel has other details and some comments by the organizers. A number of celebrities are expected to be at the launch event. I wonder if the nature of any of these prizes, whether space-related or not (and although I agree they should sponsor prizes in other important areas I would expect them to continue with space prizes, too), will be such that they can be shown in some way at the X Prize Cup (as a competition, or at least a booth exhibit)?

Later: Here is an interview (link now broken) with Tom Vander Ark, the new president of the X Prize Foundation. In this interview he discusses the possibility of a Lunar Lander X Prize (presumably separate from the Lunar Lander Centennial Challenge), and in the near term energy, automotive, and health prizes. A New York Times article suggests that the Automotive X Prize may be for around $25 million.

I would also suggest following the Ansari X Prize with a similar but more ambitious prize. For example, have similar rules but requirements for significantly higher flight, more passengers (or just payload), or faster and more repeated turnaround. I certainly don't consider space access to be a solved problem yet ...

Lunar Lander Challenge 2007 update

Another post on RLVNews points us to an update on Cosmic Log on this year's contestants for the X Prize Cup Lunar Lander Challenge. It will be good to see the activities of even more challengers in the months leading up to the contest, as well as during the event itself.

Martha Stewart and a Zero-G prize

The stairway to space history I mentioned in the previous entry has a note about a space prize from Martha Stewart, Zero-G Corporation, and Space Adventures. Although the contest deadline has expired, I will mention that it involves an essay. The prize includes flight on the Zero-G plane. Hobbyspace notes that "Martha Stewart took a ride on a Zero-G parabolic flyer and later lauded the experience on her TV show and sponsored a contest to win a ride. To her right in the photo is her friend Charles Simonyi who is on track to visit the ISS in March 2007."

Stairway to Space

RLV News/Hobbyspace has an updated speculative future history for space access, with space prizes and other new ways of doing space business featured as part of the history. There is also a NewSpace Glossary that also features space prizes and related topics.

Friday, February 02, 2007

NASA budget discussion

I won't go into all of the recent ups and downs of the NASA budget and the prospects for new Centennial Challenges in particular. A lot will become clear very soon as the Senate acts on the 2007 budget (the House is done with its proposal) and the Administration presents its 2008 budget. Space Politics has a discussion about the budget. Some contributors offer their ideas on Centennial Challenges starting a few posts into the discussion.

Water purification prize won

The Grainger Challenge Prize for Sustainability is a technology innovation prize competition for a reliable, inexpensive, and maintainable system that can filter arsenic out of drinking water from wells. It is sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering and the Grainger Foundation. The $1,000,000 first prize, as well as substantial second and third prizes, were won today. Other challenges with broadly similar goals may be offered later.