Saturday, June 30, 2007

New York Times on Centennial Challenges

Regolith Excavation Challenger TechRanch reports that the New York Times magazine plans an article on the Centennial Challenges program, and had a photographer at the house of the person behind TechRanch. Sam Dinkins also posts about this NYT article at Transterrestrial Musings, noting Rand's involvement with the Astronaut Glove Challenge.

The video: The Winning Hand

The article: The Amateur Future of Space Travel

I haven't had a chance to read it, but a skim shows it covers Centennial Challenges overall, other prizes like DARPA's challenges and the possible H-Prize, the Astronaut Glove Challenge, the Space Elevator Games (including teams like the Kansas City Space Pirates), and the Regolith Excavation Challenge. I may comment more later, but for now I'll just note that at 8 pages (plus a video) it's more detailed than most news articles.

Update (July 1): Well, now I've read the full article and watched the video, and all I can say is I recommend you read (and watch) it too. The Space Elevator Blog has some comments on the article, especially the part involving Beam Power team the Kansas City Space Pirates.

By the way, I'm not sure if it was there before, but the Kansas City Space Pirates web page has a nice slide show of pictures on their home page. (S

Transterrestial Musings points out another article at the International Herald Tribune by Jack Hitt (author of the NYT article). This one seems to be a version of the longer NYT article that is more focused on Peter Homer and the Astronaut Glove Challenge.

Christian Science Monitor on Astronaut Glove Challenge

The Christian Science Monitor has a nice article on the Astronaut Glove Challenge, including a lot about Peter Homer and how he won the challenge.

Masten Week's Summary

Masten Space posts a summary and analysis of their first week of tether testing.

NSS Chapters on Banner Contest Winners

Earlier I posted on the National Space Society Banner Contest, and the winners of the contest. Now the NSS Chapters News has a writeup on the winners.

TechX Teams Announced

Singapore's Defense Science and Technology Agency has announced the teams that are eligible to compete in the $1M TechX competition involving a robot race in an indoor/outdoor urban environment.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Encouraging Results at Masten

As the Masten team continues to test and diagnose the test results, they may have gotten to the point of briefly hovering.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

KEI on the H Prize

The KEI blog has a number of recent posts about the H-Prize. The link shows an earlier post I made on the topic, but the KEI posts give you more information and links on it. Here are the posts:

The H-Prize - on the reintroduction of the prize in the House, including this link to Representative Bob Inglis's page on the bill

H-Prize Act Passes House Committee

H-Prize Passes U.S. House 408-8

Space Elevator Blog on The Andromeda Connection

The Space Elevator Blog has a post on Space Elevator Games competitor The Andromeda Connection. Among other things, this post points out their photo album, which has a number of quite recent pictures (as of June 28 '07) with explanatory comments of their work on their climber. The photo album also has some videos of the testing. It looks like the work is being done in a nice area with lots of birds and trees - a good place to be if you've got to do lots of hard work.

Here's a quick post I did on their recent progress report.

TransVision ZERO-G Flight for X PRIZE Foundation

Spaceref reports on a Zero Gravity Corporation flight that will be held in conjunction with the TransVision 2007 conference. TransVision 2007 will be held in Chicago July 23-26. This conference is brought by the World Transhumanist Association, an organization for "the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities". The conference theme is "Transhumanity Saving Humanity: Inner Space to Outer Space".

A spot on the flight, available to conference attendees, will cost $5,000, which will benefit the X PRIZE Foundation. Peter Diamandis, from both Zero Gravity Corporation and the X PRIZE Foundation, will participate in the flight. Also participating will be Ray Kurzweil, who, as RLV News just noted, is also joining the Board of Trustees of the X PRIZE Foundation. On the subject of innovation prizes still, Ray Kurzweil is also a winner of the Lemelson-MIT Prize, a $500,000 prize for practical inventions and innovations. Check here to see more winners of this prize, as well as winners of the $100,000 Award for Sustainability and the $30,000 Student Prize.

Speakers at TransVision 2007 include Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, Chairman and Chief Science Officer of the Methuselah Foundation (which runs the Mprize competition to help people achieve longer lives), Peter Diamandis of all sorts of space-related companies and organizations, and all sorts of other people who will be recognizable to people especially interested in space, as well as to the general public in many cases.

SpeedUp Open House Rocket Test

RLV News has several links about a rocket test that Lunar Lander Challenge competitor SpeedUp had at the Frontier Astronautics ex-missile silo. There's a link to a video of the test, as well as a couple newspaper articles. The article from the Laramie Boomerang is my favorite, going into a lot of details about what SpeedUp is all about, how it's different from the other Lunar Lander competitors, and how SpeedUp is working with Frontier Astronautics.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

KEI Blog: John Edwards Calls for Prizes to Replace Drug Patents

The KEI Blog has a post on a proposal by the John Edwards campaign to replace patent monopolies with prizes as an innovation incentive in the pharmaceutical industry. A lot of the economics literature on prizes is directed at this particular industry (rather than, say, space), and the debate on "patents vs. prizes". Here's a more detailed article on the proposal. Here's another one. This article expresses a worry that the prizes will be much too small to replace the incentive of patents.

I'm very skeptical of these grand schemes to replace patents with prizes. We'll have to wait to see what the details of the Edwards plan is, but most of the patent-replacing prize ideas have lots of problems. They usually have some kind of government bureaucracy (expensive in itself) to try to determine what the value of the pharmaceuticals are (before or after the fact), and that organization is vulnerable to all sorts of political mischief. That's in contrast to the current space prizes which are difficult to manipulate politically, and too small for the bad guys to bother with. They are extremely expensive if they have any hope of providing an incentive comparable to patents (or simply keeping the details of how the innovation works secret). That is in direct contrast to the X PRIZE style of prizes which are cheap. If they aren't expensive enough ... your innovation and pharmaceutical businesses stagnate. They also tend to be directed towards an entire industry, whether the particular sub-area is appropriate for prizes or not. That's in contrast to the laser-beam focus of the space prizes we have now. Finally, because they are so all-encompassing, they totally lose the major benefit of prizes, which is the publicity and enthusiasm and energy of a sport or game-like competition.

Hopefully this proposal will turn out to be much more like the targeted incentives to break logjams in areas where government contracts and grants have failed, like the X PRIZE, but until I find out otherwise I'll be very skeptical on this one.

One more thought (not original - it's from a memory of one of those economics papers) - it would be much better to start with a pilot program than a grand overhaul that's likely to be economically crippling. Also, it would be much better to have prizes that supplement patents in areas where we really want a breakthrough rather than replace them (perhaps in areas that are technically very difficult, or that don't pay much even though we can agree they would be worthwhile). We want the improvements! Paying more temporarily because of patents is a small price to pay for advances, which you look at it in the long view for the nation or human species. Another variant would be to have a patent-replacing prize that is optional for the company. Then the incentive to innovate would still be there either way.

Registration Now Closed for TechX Challenge

Per the TechX site, registration for the urban military robot competition closed on June 22. Eligible teams will be announced there on June 30.

You can take the "DARPA Challenges" tag below to include posts on similar competitions not run by DARPA like the TechX Challenge and the MOD Grand Challenge.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Question to Rocket Engineers from Unreasonable Rocket

Unreasonable Rocket has a rocket design question for all you rocket engineers ... and plans to post more videos from last weekend's testing.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Masten Officially Enters Flight Testing

Masten Space Systems has another in their rapid-fire series of posts on tether testing, including videos. As with the others, this one shows steady progress over earlier ones. The Masten folks are feeling like it's slow going, but from here, with a peek at progress every day or 2 (and not having to slog through all the work) it seems like they're really moving fast.

Early morning update (June 26): More testing, slightly better results

Also see the comments (including some from Jon Goff from Masten) in this RLV News post.

Update (June 27): Masten posts more on some post-test work.

Welcome to Lunar Lander Challenger BonNova

The BonNova web site had a message to the effect of "coming soon ... watch this space", which is now replaced with some information about the company.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Space Elevator Blog on LaserMotive Team

The Space Elevator Blog has a post about one of the Space Elevator Games teams, LaserMotive, being visited by the BBC for a documentary. As you might expect, LaserMotive is using a laser in their power beaming design.

Here's a link to the LaserMotive site. You can see a number of interesting blog posts from the team. They discuss their team needs, high-power lasers, a near-disaster with shipping (so many teams in the different Centennial Challenges have had problems with shipping!), and testing. You can see videos of tests here and here.

I won't forget the sponsors that make the competitions possible in so many cases.

I should note that the team pages site at the Elevator2010 web page doesn't have a Home page listed for LaserMotive. Hopefully they can get a link to the above LaserMotive site set up soon (as well as to any other teams, if any, who may have web sites but no corresponding links).

CanSat 2007 Competition Results

Pegasus News has an article about the University of Texas at Arlington's victory at the 2007 International CanSat Competition.

Here are pictures from the 2007 version of this annual event from the CanSat Competition web site.

See my earlier post for background information on the competition as well as links to pictures of the event from previous years.

Cornell University Team's Plans for the 100 MPG Automotive X PRIZE

InventorSpot has a recent post on the Automotive X PRIZE challenge, noting that making a 100 MPG vehicle is one thing, and not too difficult already, but making a 100 MPG to meet the requirements of the Automotive X PRIZE - requirements such as meeting standard vehicle safety regulations, doing well in a race, and providing the types of features that are expected in the consumer car market - is quite another thing.

Meanwhile, the Cornell University Chronicle Online has an article about a team from the university that plans to compete for the challenge. The team already includes professor and graduate student talent from the Sibley School or Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, as well as the business school. It also has already received sponsorship from Popular Mechanics, which plans to cover the team, as well as the Engineering school, GE, First Manhattan, and the Roy H. Park Foundation. This is a great example of how prizes can be managed by the prize sponsor as well as the competitors to get more results than one might expect just from the dollar amount of the prize.

AutoBlogGreen also has an article on the TechKnow forum on Alternative Fuel Cars. This meeting included Mark Goodstein from the Automotive X PRIZE. It also included a representative from Tesla Motors, Elon Musk's other company besides SpaceX.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Knowledge Ecology International on Prizes

Recently in the comments of this Space Politics post on a big Mars prize, Anonymous (the one who eloquently dissects the problems with the ESAS implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration) presented a list of historical prizes during the discussion. The list is interesting in and of itself, so I'll provide the source here. This link is a great place to start in investigating space or other prizes, and in fact I've used some of the same references here (gained unfortunately through hard searching, not this nice page, as my original paper was written last summer). There's a good chronological description of prominent technology prizes, and then a good list of references (mostly web sites and press articles, but some academic papers too) at the end.

That list isn't the point of this post, though. This post is more to point out the prize resources available at Knowledge Ecology Interational (KEI), of which the linked page is just the beginning. Here are some more prize items at KEI:

KEI's web site has a large section on Prizes to Stimulate Innovation. A lot of the rest can be reached from this high-level page.

There are lots of KEI Blog entries on prizes. There are a number of prize-related posts here, and they probably deserve separate treatment since there is a lot there (if you follow the links).

Here is a list of KEI/CPTech papers on prizes for medical innovation. This list is followed by lots of other references on prizes for medical innovation, including a section that is mainly favorable to the idea and another section that tends to be against it. Finally there is a section on other ideas besides prizes.

One prominent KEI paper is The Big Idea: Prizes to Stimulate R&D for New Medicines.

Here's a talk that Robin Hanson gave on Why Grants Won Over Prizes in Science. From the overview of the talk: "Hanson explained that historians of science have traditionally argued that the shift reflects a recognition that grants are a superior strategy for getting innovative scientific results. But Hanson hypothesizes that ... more centralized and democratic governments tend to prefer grants, perhaps because they are more susceptible to pressure from establishment scientists and scientific societies which stand to benefit from more discretionary spending (much in the same way that such governments are more susceptible to pressures leading to “pork” spending)." Here's the Powerpoint summary and here's the paper.

Drug Development Blog with Prize Posts

One of the papers that's been linked on this blog since the beginning is "Perfecting Patent Prizes", one of the academic papers on prize economics focused on comparing the patent system to various versions of prize systems, especially in the area of pharmaceuticals. In preparing another post, I stumbled across this blog post on a talk by the author, Michael Abramowicz, on the paper. The blog post gives a good high-level summary of the paper (and presumably the talk as well), although naturally the paper was much more detailed than the blog post. There is also a link to a Powerpoint presentation on the talk that's another easy way to digest the main points.

You can find more pharmaceutical-related prize posts at the same blog:

Peter Pitts on Prizes

Bio-generics and prize systems

Note that the types of prize systems discussed in these economics articles tend to be a bit different from the space prizes usually discussed here. Typically the subject of the economics papers is a macro-economic level change to the economy, such as replacing the patent system with a prize system or an industry-wide change of this sort like the Medical Innovation Prize Fund. (However, see this in-progress proposal for a small-scale test version of a medical prize system). In contrast, the space prizes are isolated incentives for particular achievements without a change to the overall national or global economic system. There isn't any kind of push to replace the existing NASA or DOD contracting system, research grants, or commercial space regulatory environment with a prize environment - just a push to give some incentives to solve a few very difficult problems like CATS. Nevertheless you can learn a lot about one type of prize from studying the other.

More Masten Tether Test Setup

RLV News points us to another update from Masten with a lot of pictures of tether testing setup. According to a comment in the post there very well may be more to see at Masten's blog this weekend, so check back there.

Update on June 23: I just checked back and there's already a new Masten post about the testing called T minus XX.XX and counting... The post says they'll return tomorrow (I'm not sure which day "tomorrow" refers to though as the activity sounds like it was on Friday night and the post date is Saturday morning).

Selenian Boondocks has more about the Masten testing in a post called "Mach 10 Butterflies".

Update on June 24: Masten has more videos and comments on the videos from this weekend's testing. There is also an earlier video showing why they were concerned during one of the tests.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Raytheon Student Contest for Mars Day

Spaceref posts on a math contest that Raytheon is holding for students ages 10-14 for Mars Day. The prizes available include a trip to the National Air and Space Museum in D.C. for 4, a video game system, and others.

Find Your Home DARPA Urban Challenge Team

... on this map of DARPA Urban Challenge site visit teams.

New Mprize Competitor

The Mprize Foundation announces a new competitor, Terra Biological LLC, in their Methuselah Mouse Prize competition to gain insights into ways to combat aging by extending the lifespan of lab mice.

NewSpace 2007 Program Agenda

NewSpace 2007 is just a few weeks away, and RLV News points us to the latest program agenda. There are a number of events related to space prizes scheduled, and the rest of the conference should be well worth going to for anyone interested in space prizes, as the entrepreneurial and competitive spirit that prizes try to encourage is well-represented throughout this conference. Some of the prize-related events:

Overview Effect Day: Among numerous other speakers:

Robert K. (Bob) Weiss – Vice chairman of the X-Prize foundation, film and TV producer/writer/director (The Blues Brothers, Sliders and many others). Director, executive or consultant for numerous space organizations.

Thursday, July 19th, 2007: After numerous ORS and spaceplane topics:

5:00 pm Reception – sponsored by VPrize

Friday, July 20th, 2007:

10:00 am
The Next Great Space Business — Annual Business Plan Competition

Watch and help judge pre-screened entrepreneurs seeking to raise capital to build space-related business at this year’s business plan competition. Companies will give a 10 minute presentation to the audience and this year’s competition will have two winners: one for the audience favorite and the other based on scoring by judges, a panel of venture capital, angel investing and legal experts.

Invited Judges:
• Esther Dyson – Author, Release 0.9; Chair, Flight School
• Mohanjit Jolly – VP, Garage Technology Ventures
• Mike Miller – Managing Director & Founder, ComSpace
• Alan Marty – NASA Ames; Formerly of JP Morgan

Business Plan Competition PDF

1:30 pm Surviving a Bad Day in Space: Risk Management Architecture

Among other speakers:

Haley Jackson – Associate Producer, Ansari X Prize Race to Space
Bretton Alexander – Executive Director, Space Prizes and Wirefly X PRIZE Cup

4:45 pm Beyond COTS: Future Commercial Opportunities and the Vision for Space Exploration

Among other speakers:

Ken Davidian – Centennial Challenges, NASA ESMD

Saturday, July 21st, 2007:

3:15 pm Born After Apollo

Among other speakers:

William Pomerantz – Director, X Prize Foundation

See the "Space Frontier Foundation" tag below for additional SFF posts, including on NewSpace 2007.

Unreasonable Rocket Paperwork Milestone

... with FAA paperwork. Blazing a trail through the uncertainties of new commercial space regulatory regimes is just as important, if not as glamorous, as blazing a technical path to space, and Unreasonable Rocket is showing us how it's done in both cases.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Planetary Society on the Regolith Excavation Challenge

Emily Lakdawalla on the Planetary Society blog posts about the Lunar Regolith Challenge. Mat Kaplan from the Planetary Society was at the event, and took some pictures of the challenge teams' machines that are posted on the blog.

The Planetary Society also has a half-hour Planetary Radio show that covers planetary science and related topics every week. The main topic of the week I just linked is "Digging for Dollars on the Moon: The Lunar Regolith Challenge". This episode of Planetary Radio goes into great detail on-site at the Regolith Excavation Challenge. The episode starts with an enthusiastic interview with NASA Centennial Challenge's Ken Davidian about the Regolith Challenge and the purpose of NASA's prize program. Next there's an interview with a NASA engineer who explains why NASA wants to learn more about excavating lunar regolith. Buzz Aldrin is there talking to the challenge teams and learning about their excavators. The episode then covers the teams' attempts at the challenge. Thanks to the Planetary Society for this detailed and highly recommended radio show on the Regolith Challenge.

See the "Regolith Challenge" link below for more posts on the Regolith Excavation Challenge.

X PRIZE Cup Team Announcement

The X PRIZE Foundation issued a press release announcing the Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge teams. The identity of the teams has been posted on the LLC web site for a few days, but the press release gives a bit of an introduction to the teams, too. They will announce the mystery team's identity 60 days before the challenge.

Transterrestrial on Cheap Genome Sequencing

Transterrestrial Musings posts about an article at Future Pundit about ever-cheaper genome sequencing. The article discusses 454 Life Sciences, one of the teams competing for the Archon Genomics X PRIZE, and also considers some of the possible results of cheap and fast genome sequencing. See more here and here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Masten 4 Engine Tests and Tether Tests

Masten Space has been very busy lately ... they have more posts with pictures. In one post, they show progress by having a 4-engine test, and in the comments you can see that the X PRIZE folks have noticed. Even though they didn't get the media they wanted, the picture is still interesting so you can compare it to the appearance with fewer engines from earlier tests.

After the 4-engine test, they posted another set of pictures showing the beginning of testing with a tether, and the beginning is testing the tether. It's really neat to see their vehicle in the air swaying ... it does give you the sense that it's a lunar lander, even if the real market they're going after is on Earth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Point to Point Suborbital Competition

Spaceports blog has been quite lately, so I've been wondering what they've been up to. Now I know ... they're working on a new space prize for point to point suborbital transportation. Blogger and lawyer Jack Kennedy has been very active in supporting the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, and this prize is no exception. If the V PRIZE competition happens, it will be for a suborbital ride from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility to France ... a bit like a modern, Wallops version of the Orteig Prize that the Spirit of St. Louis won!

Kansas City Space Pirates Interview

The Space Elevator Blog posts about the Kansas City Space Pirates interview they alerted us to a week ago.

Hints about the next University Rover Challenge

The Mars Society has posted some hints about what is happening, and when, with the 2008 University Rover Challenge:

"Stay tuned to this space throughout the summer for updates on the 2008 URC - the full set of rules will be released in early September. The prizes will be bigger, and the competition will be steeper. Is your school up to the Challenge?-Kevin"

Look What Just Showed Up at Masten ...

Masten Space posts a picture of a crane or similar vehicle (this is not my area of expertise, if I have one) that has arrived, and that they'll be using for tether tests.

Science Documentary Film Award

Space for All has a press release about a new film award, the Kistler Documentary Film Award, for science documentaries that "shape the long-term future of humanity". The first winner is for the producer, Thomas Levenson, of the miniseries "Origins" and writer and director of part of the miniseries. The cash part of the annual prize is $10,000. This year there will be an award ceremony at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, including a showing of part 4 of the miniseries. See the press release for many more details about this award and other annual Kistler awards.

Also see the Foundation for the Future site for links to information about the winning miniseries and details about the other Kistler awards and related work like the seminar Humans and Space: The Next Thousand Years.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Disruptive Innovations in Health and Health Care

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is sponsoring a competition called "Disruptive Innovations in Health and Health Care-Solutions People Want". The competition isn't directed towards a particular health or health care problem, but rather is generally directed towards solving problems in the health market where entrepreneurs could, with the right idea, improve characteristics that health care consumers experience, such as cost and complexity. The competitors submit their written ideas for review. After an initial review and selection of finalists, there is a voting process to select the winners. There will be 3 winners of the competition, each of whom will receive $5,000. They may also win up to $5 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help the winning projects.

The competition will be run by, which has already run several competitions in a similar way up to the $5,000 win phase in areas such as ending abuse (this one also with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with potential impact on their grant decisions) and supporting peace. Check here for more past competitions. There is another active competition on ending corruption. Upcoming competitions include another with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to find games that support health, sports for social change, and geotourism innovations sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

It's quite a different approach from those typically taken with the prizes usually discussed on this blog. The main goal of the various challenges seems to be to generate ideas - a kind of global brainstorming effort on different problems. As with other prize competitions, there can be considerable value even in the non-winners, since the ideas of all submissions will be available for the public to consider. The potential follow-on financial support in the Disruptive Innovations in Health and Health Care competition seems likely to be similar to a grant. In this particular case the traditional grant mechanism may be combined with the less-traditional prize mechanism in a 2-phase process. The prize helps select a better grant, but the grant may be invested without knowing whether or not the idea really will produce the desired results (whereas a well-written prize rule will guarantee that the desired result was achieved before the prize is awarded).

The other difference is that these competitions are to varying degrees directed towards solving social problems rather than technical problems. These tend to be much more difficult to measure or otherwise pin down quantitatively because they involve such incredibly complex and dynamic systems like societies and cultural organizations, so it is much more difficult to make progress with a prize in solving such a problem, or to even be able to tell if you are helping to solve the problem. Rather than attacking a social problem head-on with a prize competition, it may be better to choose a physical or technical goal that can be measured by competitors and prize sponsors, and that also addresses (in the judgement of the prize sponsors) the social problem at hand. This might work out particularly well for the Disruptive Health competition, since there are plenty of quantifiable challenges in the health care world (in pharmaceuticals, health information systems, and so on). The X PRIZE Foundation seems to be taking a similar approach to the one I described in attacking health and energy problems that are as much social as technical problems with the Genomics X PRIZE and the Automotive X PRIZE. The X PRIZE Foundation advertises that they have their eyes on prizes in "energy, environment, social, medicine, water, poverty, education, and space" concerns, so we will see if they continue with this approach in the fields that are more difficult to quantify.

As I said in a recent post, it's also good to have so many different types of prize competitions going on so we can find out which ones work, and under what circumstances they work.

Friday, June 15, 2007

H-Prize Passes in House of Representatives

The H-Prize Act of 2007, a bill to make a hydrogen energy-related innovation incentive prize program, passed in the House 416-6. According to Inside Higher Ed, a similar bill is pending in the Senate. Every 2 years, four $1 million prizes will be available for various categories of hydrogen-related advances, and $4 million will be available for hydrogen vehicle advances.

Here's some more information from This says the voting numbers were a bit different (but close enough). The projected cost is $1 per American from 2008-2012 (I'm not sure whether they're assuming there will always be prize winners or not). Here's the bill itself. A private, non-profit entity would be in charge of managing the prize, and would be allowed to get sponsor money to help run the prize. Prizes will be awarded for advances in hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, hydrogen distribution, and hydrogen use (as well as hydrogen vehicles). There would also be a $10 million grand prize after 10 years for a "transformational technology". It looks like there would be judges to decide what the best advances are in each category after the fact, rather than a specific technology challenge to meet.
Here's some information from Congressman Lipinski on the prize program.
Some blog comments from Influence Peddler.
I'm not sure I would have picked this particular area, so difficult technically and difficult to bring to the market, out of all possible energy-related prizes. Also, I probably would have designed more specific challenges like the X PRIZEs, Centennial Challenges, and many others. Maybe I would have even "joined forces" with the Automotive X PRIZE or a similar non-profit effort, contributing to that prize or to complimentary goals (such as an 80 MPG version of the Automotive X PRIZE with stricter criteria in other areas related to marketability).
There are many examples of prizes in general areas, but having a competition with a specific, useful, measurable goal strikes me as bringing out more of a competitive spirit, and leaving less to the political whims of the judges. However, we will just have to see how the bill does in the Senate, and if it passes what happens afterwards. It's a good idea to try different variations on the "prizes" theme to see what works, and under what circumstances it works.

Articles on Innovation Prizes

The Wall Street Journal, in an article this past January, compared innovation incentive prizes to other ways to encourage innovation like grants, R&D labs, and others. It covers a lot of examples of prizes, giving a lot of attention to Innocentive and the X PRIZE Foundation's work.

Enterprise Resilience Management Blog considers what innovation is all about, and evaluted the WSJ article, and the prize approach to innovation, in that context.

A bit later, in February, Gizmag did an article on the advantages of innovation prizes in the context of the Virgin Earth Challenge announcement. It gives some history about prizes, but I don't agree with everything in the article. For one thing, I think it's a bit overly dramatic and perhaps a bit too early to say "The Ansari X Prize fast-forwarded space development by decades". After all, we don't even know yet whether or not the follow-on vehicles will really be developed, or if they will be commercially successful. I also don't think it's true that "The first recorded prize of this type was offered by the British government in 1714, in the form of financial incentives to the inventor who developed a device capable of measuring longitude within a given degree of accuracy". In fact, I think there were earlier prizes offered (unsuccessfully) for the same problem. Overall, though, you'll get an idea of the types of innovation prizes that have been offered over the years from this article.

Moon-Mars Blitz Results

Space Politics reports on the Space Exploration Alliance's Moon-Mars Blitz in Congress. One of the things they advocated is support for NASA Centennial Challenges and similar programs.

Mars Prizes

With the recent discussions on extremely large Mars-related prizes, I thought I'd post more of those old links I've gathered:

The Mars Prize - See pages 10-11. This is a proposed series of Mars-related prizes that lead to a large prize to a human Mars mission. The smaller prizes are intended to build towards the large prize. The idea is similar to one described in "The Case for Mars". Even the small prizes, such as a $500M prize for a Mars robotic orbiter that produces high-resolution imagery of the surface (the idea was before MRO), are much larger than the ones we see in the prize business today.

The Cato Institute has a white paper from 1998 about the economics of going to Mars. It presents The Mars Prize idea is presented as a way to simulate some of the advantages of a market, but the article also tries to come up with a way to do a purely private human Mars mission. It's pretty difficult to do, unless the component systems you are building are useful for other business purposes.

Since the beginning of this blog I've had a link on the right to "A Cold, Dry Cradle", a short story by Gregory Benford that features a human Mars mission inspired by a large Mars prize. I haven't read it, but it looks like Benford's novel The Martian Race is a variant of that story. Here's an excerpt from the novel. Benford is on the Board of Directors of the Mars Society.

Masten Test Video with 3 Engines

RLV News points us to a video of the 3-engine test that Masten Space Systems has been striving for recently. They may get a 4-engine test soon.

Technology Ranch Considering 2008 Regolith Excavation

Tech Ranch posts about planning for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge. Since the competition in 2008 will be more difficult both because of technical requirements and potentially more, and some more experienced, competing teams, some fundraising is needed. Jim is also considering going after the Space Elevator Games Power Beaming prize, and is working on a video.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vanishing Point Winner

I'm getting to some old posts that I meant to write a while ago, but didn't have the time. I tend to post in a "last in first out" order, so I'll usually post recent news items, and older ones that I didn't get around to just get pushed under a big pile of posts-waiting-to-be. I'm taking care of a few of those today.

Here's a quick one from this February, from Personal Spaceflight on the Vanishing Point contest from Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices (computer chips) being won. The prize was an RpK suborbital space flight. I'm sure I had some complicated things to say at the time that prevented me from writing the post (or maybe I just wanted to get ready for Valentine's Day and didn't care less about space prizes that week). Now, though, it seems like there isn't much more to say, so if you missed this one the first time around check it out.

Update: Also see this RLV News post.

Space Elevator Teams Hard at Work

Here's another video by Ken Davidian. This one is for the 2006 Space Elevator Beam Power teams getting ready and making a lot of noise.

Foresight Institute Feynman Prize

The Foresight Institute is concerned with nanotechnology, especially with advancing beneficial nanotechnology. They have organized their thoughts into Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges, including clean energy, clean water, health and longevity, preserving the environment, information technology access, and of course enabling space development. The Institute also offers the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology. There are prizes for communication, government policy, and research that promotes beneficial nanotechnology. The ultimate prize, the Feynman Grand Prize, for $250,000, is for making a nanotech-sized robot arm that can manipulate atoms and molecules, and also a simple but extremely tiny computer (which I assume would need to be built with the nanotech assembler).

The chairman of the Foresight Institute's Prize Steering Committee is Peter Diamandis, also known for many space prize and space business activities.

Edmunds on the Automotive X PRIZE

Edmunds Inside Line gives an overview of the Automotive X PRIZE, including some pictures of concept cars that might be a start towards ideas for competitors. They note that lots of concept cars can get 100 mpg (or equivalent) as specified in the rules, but doing that while handling realistic market needs like 4 passengers, regular traffic situations, manufacturability, safety standards, and environmental standards as also specified in the rules is quite another thing.

Cornell's DARPA Urban Challenge Entry

Cnet has an article on DARPA's Urban Challenge, focusing on the Cornell University team, the reactions they get when onlookers see their robotic car, and the crucial month of June when DARPA makes site visits to the teams. There are some pictures of the robot cars with the article. Two other teams featured prominently include the MIT team and "A Bunch of Dropouts".

Lunar Ventures Competition Results

I'm a bit late, but here's a post on the results of the University of Colorado's Lunar Ventures 2007 Competition. The winner of $25,000 is the Omega Sensors team from San Diego State University. The announcement of the winners shows some of the reasons why they won the space business plan competition:

"San Diego State University entry OSI offers an improved sensor technology for navigation systems and robotics as well as satellite, rocket and space shuttle navigation. Here on Earth, the technology has immediate applications. In the oil industry, it has the capability to increase oil well output through strategic drilling -- both in locating oil and fewer dry wells. Additionally, the devices have significant potential in structure and equipment monitoring."

Space applications with business applicability on Earth were strong in the competition, a point that shouldn't be lost on today's space entrepreneurs.

BYU Radio on the BYU University Rover Challenge

BYU Radio has an interview on the BYU team's entry in the University Rover Challenge offered by the Mars Society.

Regolith Challenge Teams and Judges

Here's something I didn't run across before on the California Space Authority Regolith Excavation site: more information about the 2007 teams and judges.

Check the "regolith challenge" link below for more posts on this Centennial Challenge.

Regolith Excavation Challenge Video

I ran across another Regolith Excavation Challenge video at GaiaSelene, in their Moon Colony Videos section. It's very well done, giving a good view of the competitors' machines, and explaining lots of details about the challenge, the rationales for the rules, and the difficulties the challengers face with things like the lunar simulant. It's pretty comprehesive, at about 7.5 minutes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Return of a Space Elevator Team?

The Space Elevator blog posts about Punkworks, a Beam Power competitor in the 2006 Space Elevator games. The blog notes that they had the only microwave powered entry in the competition. There is special interest in methods like microwave and laser beamed power for various space applications (only one of which is the Space Elevator). Punkworks is doing tests to determine if they want to register for the 2007 games.

Lunar Lander Challenge Teams

RLV News and Cosmic Log post about the Lunar Lander Challenge. The Cosmic Log post is quite detailed. It discusses the LLC web site, which has been extensively updated. The X PRIZE folks said they were going to put a lot of attention into the LLC web site, and it shows. There is a lot about the competitors, both new and old, for the LLC. From the Cosmic Log post:

"The lineup includes Acuity Technologies, Armadillo Aerospace, BonNova, Masten Space Systems, Micro-Space, Paragon Labs, Speed Up and Unreasonable Rocket." That makes 8 teams, but there is still a mystery 9th team.

Another items from the post: "The purpose behind the exercise - and the reason why NASA is putting up the prize purse - is to encourage rocket-powered innovation that could someday come into play during the drive back to the moon and beyond." That's part of it, but they are also interested in general in vertical takeoff vertical lander rockets, and want to see what the entrepreneurs can do with that profile.

Check out the RLV News and Cosmic Log posts and comments - there is a lot there. Then check the LLC site, and the sites of all the teams!

(Note to self: It's time to update the list of LLC Teams and Sites on the right! I'll try to get to that ASAP folks ... Update on 6/14: Done!)

Executive Director for X PRIZE Foundation

From RLV News comes the announcement that Bretton S. F. Axexander will become the Executive Directory, Space Prizes and Wirefly X PRIZE Cup, for the Foundation. Bretton is President of the Personal Spaceflight Federation and Senior Advisor to t/Space.

One interesting item to note in the press release is the following:

"The X PRIZE Foundation is building upon its resounding success in the space arena to develop several new space prizes. Working closely with agencies such as DARPA and NASA's Centennial Challenges program, a prize program created in direct response to the success of the Ansari X PRIZE, the Foundation has already secured $3 million in prizes to be offered at this year's Wirefly X PRIZE Cup and Holloman Air and Space Expo."

What are these "several new space prizes" that are mentioned? Are they being "actively" developed? Will there be a space prize surprise? I don't have any inside information, so I'll have to wait to find out like everyone else.

Also, what is the "$3 million in prizes"? Last year there were discussions of $3 million for the Lunar Lander Challenge, with DARPA contributing perhaps $1 million, but that didn't happen. Is it something like that this year? Prize money is a lot more effective if everyone knows it's available, and for what. The prize amounts for the Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge are $2 million, broken into 1st and 2nd prizes in 2 levels of difficulty (for a total of 4 prizes). Could the extra $1 million be from the Space Elevator Games (which were held at the X PRIZE Cup in 2006)? The right amount - $1 million - is up for grabs in the Space Elevator Games, and they are expected to be held in October 2007, but the location of the event hasn't been announced here as far as I can tell. Could the $3M just be a typo?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More on the Recent Space Prize Discussions

Selenian Boondocks has a post (and we will see how many comments appear there) about the Space Politics Gingrich Mars prize post and discussion. There is a lot to consider in this series of posts (as well as the recent Lunar Lander prize posts).

Masten Space Systems: "#3 works!"

Here's a quick post on some more progress at Masteen Space Systems. Also, here's a bit more from Selenian Boondocks that explains what the event was that caused some delay and concern in their testing in their previous post. (They used the term "epicenter", so I thought "Huh? Earthquake?").

Monday, June 11, 2007

Peter Homer and the Astronaut Glove Challenge

Linked by RLV News as often happens with interesting stories, NPR has an All Things Considered radio interview of Peter Homer, the first winner of a NASA Centennial Challenge. Peter's interview describes the key insight that led to the win. NASA's Centennial Challenge's Ken Davidian is also interviewed briefly.

113 Second Burn

Unreasonable Rocket posts on another rocket test, after fixing some earlier problems. A video of the test is included. The link was from RLV News.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

X PRIZE Foundation announces director of AXP

The X PRIZE Foundation announces that Donald J. Foley will be the Senior Director of the Automotive X PRIZE. His background is public relations, emphasizing the importance of this aspect of prizes. A lot of times teams are as interested (if not more interested) in the public relations benefits (whether they be corporate advertising and public relations, personal resume content, or just the fun of being in the limelight) as in the prize itself.

More on the X PRIZE Foundation annoucement can be found at AutoblogGreen.

University Rover Challenge Results Announcement

The Mars Society now has a more comprehensive annoucement on the results of the University Rover Challenge here. The award will be given at the 2007 Mars Society Convention. They expect a lot more teams in 2008, when the University Rover Challenge will be held again.

Update: Here's a different view of the announcement.

Check the Mars Society link below for earlier posts on this challenge.

Kansas City Space Pirates demo results

The Space Elevator blog posts on what happened, and what didn't happen, at the Kansas City Pirates demo (see earlier post here). It looks like the NYT will have a comprehensive article on Centennial Challenges. There's a note on a radio show with the team on Monday, June 11, if you can get it from where you are.

Gingrich and Prizes

Space Politics has an article on Newt Gingrich and space prizes. There are a number of good comments you should look over, and judge for yourself. I'll just repeat my comments below (see the link above for the context) since they contain some links that I think are worth following up.

If I remember correctly, in “A Case For Mars”, Zubrin talked about a human Mars Prize along the lines of this $20B prize from this article, as far as I can tell from the short bit on it. This was supposed to have come from discussions with Gingrich. In the one in “A Case for Mars” there was a really big prize for an actual human Mars mission, but there were a number of incremental steps, made of smaller prizes, that led to the final goal, as some folks here are recommending. As you might expect, the steps followed the “Mars Direct” idea pretty closely.

I agree with the posters that suggest that prizes will tend to work better for projects that have more immediate follow-on economic usefulness. Perhaps that would be things like tugs, solar sails, space access demos, refueling, better instruments or better satellite components. A reasonable substitute for general commercial usefulness would be usefulness to government agencies that could then buy the new service (eg: NASA moon mission components).

Of course this is all fantasy when we’re wondering whether or not Centennial Challenges will get $4M this year.

Here are some Gingrich items on this subject, just FYI (since the referenced article was a bit brief on the subject). Like Richardson, at least he knows what the X PRIZE is.

Youtube - Gingrich on NASA and prizes

Examples of Prizes Incentivizing Behavior - April 2007 - Gingrich

National Prizes Foster Innovative Solutions - 2002 - Gingrich

Kerry vs. Gingrich debate

and one from Jeff himself: Space Review article from Jeff Foust

Ray (Space Prizes blog)

Update: Also see the post and comments at Transterrestrial Musings.

Here's an excerpt from an old article with a section on a "Mars Prize" from

The Mars Prize. Zubrin tried selling this idea during a dinner with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who got so enthusiastic that the meal lasted for four hours. But Gingrich never followed through on the proposal, which calls for Congress to promise $20 billion to the first explorers who reach Mars and return. In case that prize isn't enough to interest entrepreneurs in such a risky all-or-nothing venture, Zubrin also envisions offering smaller bonuses for achieving technical milestones along the way, like sending the equipment for making fuel to Mars.

Prizes have been used in the past to spur public-private ventures in exploration. Fifteenth-century Spanish and Portuguese rulers offered financial inducements to captains who ventured down the African coast and across the Atlantic. In the 19th century, the British Parliament offered cash awards for reaching the North Pole and for venturing westward into the Arctic ice: a prize of [sterling]5,000 for reaching 110 degrees west, double that for reaching 130 degrees, and triple that for 150 degrees.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Andromeda Connection Progress Report

The Andromeda Connection is one of the teams competing in the 2007 Space Elevator Games. About a month ago they gave a progress report; check the link. You can learn all about their climber design here ... not.

Masten Space Back to Test Site

Masten Space posts on getting back to their test site and in the meantime working on their next vehicle. Videos of the upcoming tests may be forthcoming soon.

Unreasonable Rocket testing

Unreasonable Rocket has an update on their chamber failure tests. See the tag below for the history.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Pete Conrad Award

Here's more on the X PRIZE Cup's Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award contest, this time from Spaceref.

Zero-G Flight for Booksellers

Cosmic Log posts on a Zero-G flight contest (now over) for booksellers. An economist won a similar ride contest for the general public. This was a promotion for the book "The Space Tourist's Handbook".

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

SEDS Space Art Contest

Artsnova Digital Art and Space returns from the ISDC, and posts about the SEDS Space Art Contest that was announced there. Here's a link to the competition site that's being set up.

Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award Mystery

As noted before, the X PRIZE Cup will include the Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award for high school students that "develop a new, innovative concept to benefit the personal spaceflight industry within the next 50 years".

Here's an excerpt from the X PRIZE Cup site that shows what the Prizes are for the winner. (There are also significant prizes for runners-up).

"A travel stipend - a travel stipend of $1500 (for teams needing to fly to the event) or $500 (for teams within driving range of the event) will be provided to assist with the cost of attending the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup to display their concept to the engineers, scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs who make up the personal spaceflight industry.

A commemorative plaque.

The Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Trophy & Display - This trophy (created by Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of aviator Charles Lindbergh) will not be given to the team to keep, but will travel to museums and science centers around the world with a display of the winning team's concept (including team names, member biographies, etc…).

Desktop Conrad Trophy - The team will receive one desktop version of the trophy designed by Erik Lindbergh. This trophy will be kept by the team to be displayed in their school, or wherever they like.

Handheld Conrad Trophies - Each team member will be given a handheld version of the trophy that is theirs to keep.

Pete Conrad Scroll - Team member names will be added to a scroll that will be flown into space each year after the X PRIZE Cup. This scroll will be on display with the traveling Pete Conrad Trophy.

A $5000 educational grant."

Most mysteriously, though is the following:

"Other Prizes that are out of this world are still in negotiations."

What could these other prizes be??

Kansas City Space Pirates In Pursuit of NASA loot!

From the Space Elevator blog comes a post on the Kansas City Space Pirates, one of last year's and this year's Space Elevator Games teams. They will be doing a demo of their climber for the NY Times Magazine this weekend, and the public is invited. Check it out if your in the Kansas City region - and please post some pictures or video!

Note that you can Adopt-a-Cell - for $25, you get your name on one of the solar cells used by the climber.

Update: The Space Elevator blog notes that the location of the demo has moved.

Comment on Lunar Lander Prize Proposal

RLV News posts about the continuing discussion at Space Politics on Mark's Centennial Challenge Lunar Lander proposal. Some of the discussion there is on whether or not there would be motivation to go after a difficult challenge where the cash prize is smaller than the team's cash expenses to win the prize. The RLV News post notes that America's Cup teams spend a lot of money on a prize without a cash component.

I'll also note that there are other reasons to go after a prize even if the cash value doesn't match the cash effort. A prize win can be good advertising, whether for an individual's resume, or a corporation's capabilities. A prize effort can also be strategic if the capability developed is useful to the company (eg: there's a market for the result, and the cash prize tips the cost/benefit equation over the threshold). There are no guarantees, but the mechanism has its place, including in the business world.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


RLV News posts links to some presentation slides from the recent COMSTAC meeting. A lot of these will be of interest to anyone following RLVs or personal spaceflight. I'll just give some prize-related pointers.

Here's a slide presentation on the X PRIZE Cup from the point of view of the Holloman Air Force Base where this year's Cup will be held. With all of the events, including the Lunar Lander Challenge requiring permits and strict safety guidelines, as well as all sorts of other rocketry events, there is a lot for them to do. The slides note that 10 teams have registered for the LLC, seven of which are actively consulting with the FAA.

Another slide presentation covers the NASA Innovative Partnerships Office, which contains Centennial Challenges among several other offices. There is a lot about the recent Centennial Challenge competitions in the later slides. You will see a lot of pictures from the Astronaut Glove Challenge and the Regolith Excavation Challenge that I at least haven't seen from other sources.

One interesting slide notes that one of the IPP's goals is "By 2012, complete one or more prize competitions for independently designed, developed, launched, and operated missions related to space science or space exploration." That sounds like an actual space mission prize, but the Centennial Challenges funding has been pretty low, so it won't be easy to meet this goal.

Lunar Lander challenges: Cosmic Log brings it all together

Cosmic Log has a post that skillfully brings together a lot of the strands that this and other sites have been blogging about in the last few days, including the latest work by Armadillo and Masten, as well as Mark's proposal for a Lunar Lander Challenge of a different sort. It's worth it to not only read the article, but spend some time and follow the links when you're done.

Mars Society University Rover Challenge Winner!

From the Mars Society University Rover Challenge site:


Here's a photo provided by the Mars Society URC site of the Mars Desert Research Station and the Challenge. Here's another of the winner at work.

Here's more on the results.

Update: I also ran across an article at the Salt Lake Tribune that covers the BYU Rover entry. There are a couple more photos of the entry on the right. Note that the cash investment in this rover was $7,000 (to say nothing of the time), and the cash prize for the winner (among other benenfits to the winner) was $5,000. The BYU Team (or those not graduating) plans to be in the challenge next year.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Music of the Spheres

Here are some posts from Music of the Spheres on space prizes:

Awesome SpaceShipOne Documentary - This post pointed me to a Discovery Channel DVD on the X PRIZE flights. I have since purchased and watched it. It's worth seeing if you haven't already and you're interested in personal spaceflight, which I assume you are if you're reading this blog, because a lot of these space prizes I'm posting about are related to personal spaceflight, even though personally I like the robotic spaceships too.

If you check out the first link above, you'll see a number of additional prize-related posts. There may even be new ones added after I made this post. Some other posts in addition to the DVD recommentation include one on Virgin Galactic, several on Anousheh Ansari and her space flight, and one on the 2006 Space Elevator Games that were then upcoming.

Odyssey of the Mind contest

Spaceref posts about a student competition dealing with problem solving in the Earth Science and Earth Observation realm. The Odyssey of the Mind World Finals were held at Michigan State University May 23-26. NASA created an EOS web site to help sponsor the competition this year.

NSS Banner Design Contest winners

Earlier I posted about the NSS banner design contest. You can see the winners of the contest, as well as other good-looking efforts. The top 4 efforts are listed at the top; the order of the winners should by now have been announced at the NSS ISDC.

Personal Air Vehicle Centennial Challenge

The next Centennial Challenge competition will be the Personal Air Vehicle Challenge, which is coming in August. There is a lot to this Challenge, and it's all there - challenge rules, updates to the rules, rationale for the challenge, and more - on the CAFE Foundation site I linked, so for now I'll leave it at that. Expect more as the challenge date approaches!

For those who aren't already familiar with the Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) concept, or with the PAV Challenge, probably the best way to ease yourself into it is by taking a few minutes and watching this entertaining video on the challenge made for the 2006 Oshkosh Air Show (which I wanted to go to but missed).

Mars Garden Prize

I don't often post about flower shows, do I? In this case I have to make an exception. Hey, I like flowers, as long as I don't have to do any back-breaking gardening work! Universe Today has a post about a special winner of a flower show: a simulated Mars garden won the Chelsea Flower Show. Check out the link for the details on the Mars connections, and to see a nice picture of the garden.

Google Earth Models at X Prize Cup

RLV News posts about a section of the X PRIZE Cup page showing Google Earth space-related models. These are made using SketchUp, an impressive modeling program that already had some Google Earth tie-ins when Google bought the company a year or 2 ago. When I looked into SketchUp last year, people were making entire SketchUp campuses and cities, and finding all sorts of other applications using it with Google Earth.

There are a lot of space connections within Google, including Google Earth, a huge model of SpaceShip One at Google headquarters, support for the X PRIZE Foundation, family members in NASA, and collaboration with NASA Ames. In fact, it's easy to find a prize-related connection with Google, too! Here it is: Google is licensing remote sensing technology from the Stanford DARPA Challenge team to supplement their SketchUp offerings for Google Maps and Google Earth! (Yes, Stanford is the Alma Mater of the 2 founders of Google, but the Stanford team also won the original DARPA Challenge).

I'm pretty sure at least some of the models were there during the 2006 X PRIZE Cup, but a lot of the content is new.

Armadillo Lunar Lander Challenge test flights

RLV News has all the links you need to check out the videos, messages, and descriptions of Armadillo's test flights that show they can win the level 1 version of the Lunar Lander Challenge event. Now they just have to make sure they can reproduce the feat reliably, just like they would have to in a real lunar lander. Check out all the links because it's quite impressive and interesting. When you get to John's notes on the tests, follow up on the pictures, too - among other things you'll see pictures of the modular vehicle being made.

Personal Spaceflight also has a good post on the tests. Follow the "Armadillo Aerospace" category link to see more information about the modular vehicles. Also, here's an earler post from New Scientist magazine.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Blogger Thoughts on the Automotive X PRIZE

DigitalCrusader has some interesting thoughts and links on the Automotive X PRIZE, some of which may have a space angle in addition to the obvious one that the success or failure of the Automotive X PRIZE affects the X PRIZE Foundation that manages the Lunar Lander Challenge, X PRIZE Cup, and potentially future space X PRIZEs.

One discussion is on Tesla Motors, which is making a fuel-efficient car that is also sporty. This is another company like SpaceX that Elon Musk is financing. They need high-performance batteries for their cars, and are now finding that it makes sense to market the batteries to other companies. This is the kind of dual-use approach that may be needed by many space startups, including the ones competing to win prizes.

Another discussion compares the Automotive X PRIZE with the SAE Supermileage Competition, which is mainly for high-mileage vehicles, whereas the AXP strives for high mileage, but not so much that consumer market applicability is forgotten. Both competitions have their merits, but the AXP approach is needed to address their goals, one of which is to start real markets with 100 mpg vehicles. Similar thoughts have to go into space-related prizes and how to design them to achieve their goals.

Also check out the Automotive X PRIZE Discussion Forums. They have discussion groups on the draft rules, helping people that want to work on teams find a suitable team, and other useful subjects. This type of discussion board seems to be very useful in helping the teams produce, helping manage the competition, and generating public interest in the challenge. I wonder if there is some way that other groups, such as the Centennial Challenges Affiliated Organizations, could make similar discussion boards, or collaborate with the XPF to make something like the AXP boards?

Update: Here's more on the Automotive X PRIZE:

Car Body on the Velozzi electric car entry to the upcoming AXP contest

Velozzi on their AXP entry, and what you might get if your business sponsors them

AutoBlogGreen interviews Neal Anderson, Automotive X PRIZE representative

An Idea for a Robotic Lunar Mission

RLV News points to a story by Mark Whittington in the Houston Chronicle about giving the MSFC Lunar Robotics Office a new mission, now that it no longer has the job of managing a large lunar lander project. The problem: as things currently stand, the Office will soon not have much to do, but will be kept open anyway, at a fairly large cost. There are various changes that could be made, and the one that Mark suggests is to create a Centennial Challenge - essentially a new twist on a "Lunar Lander Challenge II", managed by this Office, to give private industry an incentive to create a lunar lander mission that returns data specified by NASA.

There are a few comments in the RLV News post, including one by the manager of the current Centennial Challenges program, that are also important to read when considering this proposal.

Update: Also see the discussion on Space Politics.

Diamandis interview with PSU Mars Society

While checking out the Penn State Mars Rover video I ran across this interview of Peter Diamandis by the same video poster. It apparently was filmed a couple days after the winning Ansari X PRIZE flights, and goes into some of the concerns of university students and how they can participate in the type of space activity the X PRIZE was inspiring.

University Rover Challenge continued ...

... but no word yet on the results. Nevertheless, here's more on the Mars Society University Rover Challenge that was held yesterday.

First up, there are pictures from the Daily Herald of BYU student team setup at a media briefing here and here and here.

Here's another article with a picture of the BYU rover from at the Mars Society Mars Desert Research Station from the day of the challenge. It includes some details about the BYU rover instruments and some comments by Kevin Sloan, who is running the challenge.

The Daily Herald also has a video news report about the BYU team and the tasks they will need to perform at the challenge.

Youtube has a video of the Penn State rover from the Penn State Mars Society.

Select "Mars Society" below to select earlier posts on the contest.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

more Space Elevator posts

With all of the recent Astronaut Glove, Regolith Challenge, and Lunar Lander Challenge activity lately, I haven't posted much on the Space Elevator Games. Part of the reason for that is there is already a Space Elevator blog that already does a much better and more comprehensive job than I would. Just check there! Here are the recent posts at that blog that pertain to the Beam Power and Tether Challenges. If you're also interested in Space Elevators in general, check the blog because there are a lot more posts there.


University of Saskatchewan’s Space Design Team featured in an article on an innovation gallery. Here's more on the USST team from the On Campus News.

discussion on where and when the 2007 Space Elevator Games will be held (current answer: TBD)

Eurospaceward formed to promote Space Elevator activities, including helping with the German Space Elevator games. Here is the Eurospaceward site, under construction at the time of this post.

23 teams registered for 2007 Space Elevator Games, recently including SnowStar. The post includes a breakdown of teams for the Beam and Tether challenges.

10 things you can do to build a space elevator - 1 recommendation from the post (which is about the post on the list) is for National Space Society people interested in Space Elevators, and the recommendation is for them to form a Space Elevator Game team.

Also, from the site, among other posts are:

German Space Elevator Games anticipated in 2008

Eurospaceward climber and tether design workshop, which is meant to address the NASA Centennial Challenges and German space elevator competitions. The idea is not only to discuss the technical challenges of the competitions, but also to help potential team sponsors and teams meet.

Masten updates

Like Unreasonable Rocket, Masten Space Systems has been posting a number of updates and videos. Just crank up the volume before viewing, please.


earlier engine test video

engine test video - throttling

more engine test videos - looks like 2, and from a different angle

No 3-engine test yet, but another test video is shown

Unreasonable Rocket Chamber failure analysis

Update (June 25): It's come to my attention that through the Information Retrieval mysteries of search engines lots of people that are looking for the main page of the Unreasonable Rocket web site are getting here. For those people, just click here.

If you want all my Unreasonable Rocket-related posts, click the "Unreasonable Rocket" tag at the bottom. If you want all my Lunar Lander Challenge-related posts, click the "Lunar Lander Challenge" tag at the bottom. If you're on the main Space Prizes page, you'll see links on the right side to all of the Lunar Lander Challenge teams, as well as to the X PRIZE Cup site. And now back to the original post:

Here's more on the work being done at Unreasonable Rocket:

First, here's how to get to the RLV News post that gets you to the beginning of this chamber pressure post series. Then, continue with:

simulating chamber failure

Chamber failures explained

Here's more:

FAA Permit Application and associated cover letter ... sounds boring, right? Well, part of the idea is to make this step easier for everyone in the future by showing how it's done. Not only that, but it's actually interesting because you get to see what the vehicle is going to look like (assuming it is completed), what it will do, and where it will do it. Most of it actually seems like things that ought to be designed and recorded anyway for the benefit of the designer. I had imagined a lot more "documentation of documentation layers".

Learning Curve/Frustrations interacting with vendors

Unreasonable Rocket T-shirts now available

June 2007 Centennial Challenges Listserv Message

Yesterday I got the following message from NASA Centennial Challenge's Ken Davidian to the CC Listserv. I have this listserv directed to my school email account, and since I'm not at school this summer, I didn't see it right away. However, RLV News did, so if you want to post any comments about it, check it out over there. Update: Ken has posted a comment at the RLV News post that may be of interest to you if you have any well thought out prize ideas or if you have any Centennial Challenges questions you'd like to see answered in the next listserv message.

The message has a lot of similar material to Ken's recent ISDC interview, so if you like listening instead of reading, go there. For everyone else, here's the full message:

June 2007 Message to the Centennial Challenges Listserv Community

Hello Everybody!

Below is a quick note of what's been going on in the world of Centennial Challenges this past month. Ever since I did the radio interview withDr. David Livingston of The Space Show on Feb 11, 2007, I've been directing people to his web page (the interview URL is I've been encouraging people to listen to that because it gives all the background information you could want on the program. Lastly, and just in case you don't have the 90-minutes required to listen to my entire interview, you can always check out the Centennial Challenges website,, for more information.

Ken Davidian
Program Manager, Centennial Challenges

P.S. I'll try to do better at getting messages out to this list...Thanks for your patience!


May 2007 was quite a month for Centennial Challenges and there are no signs of things slowing down! Here's a quick overview of what's been going on:

1. The 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge was held on May 2-3 at the NewEngland Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT. Volanz Aerospace was the Allied Organization administering and executing the event, with special sponsorship assistance from Hamilton-Sundstrand and ILC Dover. Three teams participated in the competition and one of them, led by PeterHomer, took home the $200,000 purse for the bladder-restraint portion of the competition! (A $50,000 purse was offered for a Mechanical Counter Pressure glove category, but nobody showed up with that type of glove.) The final report of the competition has been written and i tshould show up on the competition web page ( soon. Details for the 2008 Astronaut Glove Challenge will be made available as the revised rules and competition time and place are finalized in the coming months. Check the competition web page,, from periodically for the latest information.

2. The 2007 Regolith Excavation Challenge was held on May 11-12 at the Santa Maria Fairpark Convention Center in Santa Maria, CA. The California Space Education and Workforce Institute (CSEWI, a sister organization to the California Space Authority, CSA) was the Allied Organization administering and executing the event, with special sponsorship assistance from Diaini Building Corporation and Empirical Systems Aerospace. Four teams participated in the competition but none were able to excavate the required amount of JSC-1a to win any of the purses. By searching for the words "regolith excavation"you should be able to find compilation videos from a couple of different sources, including the 640x480 videos taken with my little Nikon digital camera. Despite the fact that no money was won, this competition score a number of "firsts" in the regolith excavation community which are still proving that value is achieved even if nobody wins, including the first large-scale "sandbox" of JSC-1a *ever*, and also the first time full-scale equipment was used to excavate JSC-1a (which took place*after* the event was over and Diani had to get the simulant out of the box and back into the bags by using a bobcat "Earth"-mover!). As withthe Astronaut Challenge, details for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge will be made available as the revised rules and competition time and place are finalized in the coming months. Check the competition web page,, from periodicallyfor the latest information.

3. I've been giving presentations about these competitions and about CC in general, both inside and outside NASA. The Monday following the two competitions, I presented the results to the management of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, including Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz. It's amazing to see how much excitement these events generate within NASA and it's a great tribute to the high quality of work being done by all the teams that participate in the competitions. I'm just the messenger between the great accomplishments and the decision-makers, and I would be lying if I said this wasn't the greatest satisfaction of the job! NASA management loves what is being accomplished with this program!

4. I presented the results of the two competitions at the National Space Society's International Space Development Conference in Dallas, Texas onMay 27. This was basically a compilation of the presentations I gave to the ESMD management and it was the first public forum to which I presented this information.

That's pretty much what's been going on with Centennial Challenges in May 2007. In addition, I had a new set of cards printed up to reflect the reallocation of purse money amongst the seven competitions that are currently active. I hope to get a new (not update, not different, just new) set of History cards printed soon and then I'll have them all collated and shrink-wrapped so I don't have to collate and rubber-band all the cards myself!


When I speak with people who follow CC, the question of prize budget always comes up. Here's the scoop on this subject: the President's budget requests $4M per year starting with 2008, the current budget under consideration. As funding is appropriated to CC, new competitions will be initiated. What those competitions will be and how they will be administered (presumably, using the same Allied Organization model as all the rest) will be decided at that time. We've been collecting ideas from multiple sources, and we are continuing to collect new ideas for future prize competitions. As always, if you have a prize idea, please don't hesitate to send it to us (me) at


The following are the competitions that are planned for the rest of the calendar year:

Aug 4-12: Personal Air Vehicle Challenge, run by the CAFE Foundation. Go to for more details.

Sept-Oct: Beam Power and Tether Challenges, run by the Spaceward Foundation. Exact date and place are TBD. Go to or for more details.

Oct 26-28: Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, run by the X PRIZE Foundation, at the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, NM. Go to for more details.

Friday, June 01, 2007

MoD Grand Challenge Update

The British Ministry of Defense had a briefing on the MoD Grand Challenge in March. A 3-page list of people attended, many from British universities and aerospace companies. Different presentations described the rules, registration process, and practical military views on urban warfare and the kinds of environment the competitors should consider in their designs (terrain, weight a soldier can carry, threats, etc). The winners should be able to enter an area and identify a variety of types of threats.

There are interesting commentaries here and here.

See more here.

ISDC Centennial Challenges Interview

Space Task Force has a (voice, not text) interview with Centennial Challenge's Ken Davidian at the 2007 ISDC. The interview covers the Lunar Lander Challenge, the Regolith Challenge, the Astronaut Glove Challenge, and the Space Elevator Games (Tether and Beam Power Challenges).

If all of the Lunar Lander Challenge money is won at this year's X PRIZE Cup, Ken would like to have some kind of follow-on competition for the X PRIZE Cup. Of course the Challenges will need additional funding to allow something like that to happen, and they haven't gotten any for a long time. NASA is asking for $4M this year for Centennial Challenges, but it remains to be seen how the budget will work out.

Ken noted that although the Challenges aren't an "outreach" or "educational" program, the outreach just happens by itself. People are just interested in seeing real hardware flying and operating. Also, the Allied organizations are all adding educational components to the prizes they manage.

CNN on Automotive X PRIZE

CNN has an article featuring Peter Diamandis on the Automotive X PRIZE. The video on the left of the page has much the same information, but you have to get past the commercial to get to the pictures (including autos and gas pumps of course, but also Space Ship One and Zero-G flights).

By the way, the Automotive X PRIZE draft rules were released on April 2 for a 60-day comment period, so I suppose the comment period, so we must be getting to the end of that period (if I could remember which months have 31 days I could say for sure...)

University Rover Challenge This Weekend

The Mars Society's University Rover Challenge is scheduled to start today with briefings for the competing teams. The actual challenge is planned for June 2. A new post was issued a few days ago at the challenge site.

A Penn State group of Mars Society members is one of the teams going to the challenge, according to a recent news release by the school. The challenge is at the Mars Desert Research Station, and the team expects to follow the MDRS protocols as if they were on Mars.

Another group of students from Brigham Young University also plans to participate.

This press release also notes that there will be teams from UCLA, Nevada–Reno and Ferris State, although this teams site's list is 1 team shorter.

More on the challenge from the Mars Society URC site:

sponsor opportunities

logistics (this page notes that 5 teams are expected to travel there)


Some news articles:

Daily Herald news focused on BYU team

older announcement from Space Daily