Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wired Interviews Anousheh Ansari

Wired has an interview of Anousheh Ansari. The interview includes video clips of what it's like at the ISS, and discussions of a variety of topics like the Ansari X PRIZE, Prodea Systems, ISU scholarships, and skills needed for long-term development of space. The following excerpt gives some idea of what types of decisions are being considered behind the scenes at the X PRIZE Foundation:

"WN: Do have specific recommendations for ways to improve the K-12 curriculum's coverage of space?

Ansari: It won't be a recommendation that I would develop in a vacuum. There are so many resources out there. Just NASA itself produces tons of educational material. I think the problem is how to make this material accessible and easily understandable and usable. I am hoping to work with teachers, with students, with all of these agencies producing these materials to see where the problems are and why it isn't being used as much as everyone hopes. I'd like to ask the teachers, what are the problems they see?

Also, the X Prize Foundation is another possible conduit.... We have been looking to see if there is an X Prize that specifically addresses education. It is still at a very early stage."

Rocketeers Review

This Business Week review of Rocketeers by Michael Belfiore shows that there is a lot of information about space prizes in the book, so anyone interested in the things posted here probably should get a copy. I haven't read it yet, but I'll have a post on it when I do.

Ben Franklin Racing Team Videos

The Ben Franklin Racing Team is one of the competitors in DARPA's Urban Challenge, of course from the Philadelphia area (University of Pennsylvania and a bit farther away Lehigh University). If you go to their blog you can see a number of videos of their car (not just the 1 I linked to), including recent tests during their DARPA site visit. I have to admit that the computer(s) are doing better than I did in my first driver's exam, especially in the 3-point turn.

Armadillo Modular Progress

RLV News gives the highlights from a Space.com article by Leonard David on Armadillo Aerospace.

SEDS SpaceVision 2007

The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) are planning Space Vision 2007, their national conference on, well, the exploration and development of space. The conference will be held on November 9-12 at MIT. The currently-planned list of speakers includes many well-known people in the space industry, including some with prize backgrounds like Anousheh Ansari and Peter Diamandis.

Unreasonable Rocket Diagnosing a Problem

Here's more from Unreasonable Rocket on the types of problems a Lunar Lander Challenge engineer can encounter, with some recommendations from a well-known competitor.

RFP for Automotive X PRIZE Vehicle Sponsorship

The Society for Sustainable Mobility has an RFP for sponsorship for their vehicle architecture that they plan to enter into the Automotive X PRIZE competition. They're looking for $295,000 in exchange for ad space on their vehicle and osgv.org.

Armadillo Plans

The Space Fellowship has some information about Armadillo's incremental development plans to go beyond the Lunar Lander Challenge to suborbital and eventually orbital launches, linked by RLV News.

More on Wearable Power Prize

Aviation Week has more discussion on the Wearable Power Prize. This is based on a blogger phone conference held by Dr. Willaim Rees, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. Here's the PDF transcript of the conference call, which among other things emphasizes that this is just the first prize competition they plan to hold. The audio version is here.

Light Racer Registration open

Space for All posts a news bulletin from the Spaceward Foundation on the opening of registration for the Light Racer competition to be held at the 2007 Space Elevator games.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

2007 Space Elevator Games Time and Place Set

Cosmic Log posts on the time and place, and much more, for the 2007 Space Elevator Games. They will be held October 19-21 (with qualifying competitions held in the preceding days) in the Davis County Events Center near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Elevator2010 site has a lot more details and updates on the Space Elevator Games, including a tickets page with some special options if you want to meet the participants, a map of the competition area (it looks like a festival map with vendors, food vendors, display and theater areas, and more - looks like a lot of fun), and the $10,000 Light Racer competition for kids I posted about recently.

More from the Space Elevator Blog can be found here and here.

BonNova YouTube Channel and Test

Lunar Lander Challenge competitor BonNova posts a rocket test on the BonNova YouTube Channel.

Automotive X PRIZE Blog Post

The Automotive X PRIZE blog has a post on 3 ways to address auto fuel consumption: more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels, and changed driver habits.

Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) Challenge Approaching

Since the PAV Challenge is approaching (it will be held August 4-11), I thought it would be a good time to post some links related to this Centennial Challenge. Check the tag below for more related links.

Kitplanes.com had a recent overview of the challenge.

The competition will be held at the Sonoma County Airport, where the CAFE Foundation running the challenge has a test facility. The airport has a publication called the Red Baron Flyer; page 3 of the linked flyer is on the PAV Challenge. This particular Centennial Challenge will not be open to the public (I imagine because of safety concerns and/or the long time it will take to run the challenge tests), but the public can visit the airport on Sunday, August 12 (9 AM - 1 PM) to view the PAVs in the contest on display.

Page 4 of another flyer, this one from the Flying Wire document published by the chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association that includes the CAFE Foundation running the challenge, also has an update on the PAV Challenge.

The August issue of this flyer is full of information about the PAV Challenge. It has some hints about how you can see the PAV Challenge in spite of the restriction mentioned above:

"If you wish to see the upcoming PAV Challenge from the airport side of the fence, you will
have to work for the privilege. Only CAFE staff and volunteers will be allowed inside the gates
due to security reasons".

After the challenge, there will be a banquet and awards ceremony with "surprise keynote speakers" and prizes. Details are on page 3 of the August flyer issue.

Page 4 gives a detailed schedule of the PAV Challenge events:

Aug 3, 07 Friday All Day Possible PAV Arrivals CAFE Hangar
All Day CAFE Prep CAFE Hangar

Aug 4, 07 Saturday 0800 – 1400 PAV Arrivals CAFE Hangar
0900 – 1400 PAV Registration CAFE Hangar
0900 – 1700 Safety Inspection CAFE Hangar
1200 – 1700 Aircraft Prep CAFE Hangar
1200 – 1300 Take Off Team Training CAFE Hangar
1300 – 1400 Noise Team Training CAFE Hangar
1400 – 1500 Speed Team Training CAFE Hangar
1500 – 1600 Handling Team Training CAFE Hangar
1600 – 1700 Efficiency Team Training CAFE Hangar
1700 – 1800 Pilot Briefing CAFE Hangar

Aug 5, 07 Sunday 0800 – 1000 Aircraft Prep CAFE Hangar
0800 – 0830 Pilot Briefing CAFE Hangar
0800 – 1200 Take Off & Community Noise Contest CAFE Hangar
1400 – 1430 Media Briefing Media Center

Aug 6, 07 Monday 0800 – 1200 Aircraft Prep CAFE Hangar
0800 – 0830 Pilot Briefing CAFE Hangar
0800 – 1200 Speed Calibration CAFE Hangar
1400 – 1430 Media Briefing Media Center

Aug 7, 07 Tuesday 0800 – 1000 Aircraft Prep CAFE Hangar
0800 – 0830 Pilot Briefing CAFE Hangar
0800 – 1200 Speed and Cabin Noise Contest CAFE Hangar
1400 – 1430 Media Briefing Media Center

Aug 8, 07 Wednesday0800 – 1000 Aircraft Prep CAFE Hangar
1000 – 1400 Handling Contest CAFE Hangar
1400 – 1430 Media Briefing Media Center
1800 – 1930 EAA Feed EAA 124 Hangar

Aug 9, 07 Thursday All Day No events CAFE Hangar

Aug 10, 07 Friday 1300 – 1700 Aircraft Weight-In CAFE Hangar

Aug 11, 07 Saturday 0600 – 0800 Aircraft Prep CAFE Hangar
0800 – 0830 Pilot Briefing CAFE Hangar
0800 – 1300 CAFE Efficiency Contest CAFE Hangar
0800 – 1600 PAV Simulators Media Center
1900 – 2230 Awards Banquet Charlie's Grill

Aug 12, 07 Sunday All Day Departures
0900 – 1300 Aircraft Exhibit SJC

Pages 3 and 4 of the May newsletter have a fictional story about the winners of the contest, followed by an update from that month.

Heinlein Centennial Wrap-Up

The Heinlein Centennial site is now showing some post-event information. See the link for more details; I'll just post on the writing prize. From the site, here are the winners of the Heinlein Centennial Writing Contest:

Winner, Amateur Division: "Hammers and Snails" - Christopher J. Howard
Honorable Mention, Amateur Division: "A Condition of Intelligence" - Robert Jenkins
Special Recognition, Amateur Division: "World Ceres" - Sandy Sandfort
Winner, Professional Division: "The Beautiful Accident" - Edward Carmien
Honorable Mention, Professional Division: "Refuse" - Marjorie Dieter Keyishian
Special Recognition, Professional Division: "B All U Cn B" - Fran Van Cleave

What's really nice is that, until August 7, these stories are available for downloading here.

Genes of the Rich and Famous

Forbes.com has an article, linked by the Genomics X PRIZE site, on the celebrities, such as Larry King, Paul Allen, Lance Armstrong, Esther Dyson, Michael Milken, and Stephen Hawking who are among the rich and famous involved with the Genomics X PRIZE. Additional prize money can be won by sequencing the genes of these celebrities, chosen both for their fame (to help increase interest in the competition and the associated research) and for their ability to draw attention to the help cost-effective gene sequencing can give to combat different ailments these celebrities have (such as heart disease).

Mojave Explosion and Tribute to Those Lost

I've been away on vacation for a few days, so I'm late with the news of the explosion and losses at Scaled Composites. The tribute posted on Transterrestrial Musings seems to me to be the most fitting expression at this point. I just read this version of the Navy Hymn in the Heinlein Reader's Companion, probably the same day the accident happened, which may be why it seems so appropriate to me.

There's more at Cosmic Log (including the comments) and many other sites.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Unreasonable Rocket Hardware and Software

RLV News posts a link to the latest Unreasonable Rocket update, which includes a video tour of the hardware shop/garage.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

User Experience Arts and Innovation

User Experience Arts has a post about the recent New York Times article "The Amateur Future of Space Travel" on the NASA Centennial Challenges. The post has some thought-provoking questions about why such innovation often has to come from outside a government administration or a corporation, which have much more resources (such as people and money) that should help innovation. The post discusses some typical reasons holding back innovation in such environments: the sterile office environment itself, the pressure not to "rock the boat", excessive paperwork, and the lack of reward for innovation in a large organization.

This brings up the question: what can a large organization do to encourage innovation? Can they institute internal reforms to encourage innovation? I've linked a couple books on the right of the page that review this topic, and there is much more to be found. My questions is: Can a large organization (eg: a corporation) use an internal version of the prize concept to foster innovation in-house, for example to solve specific technical problems, without taking away from ongoing business efforts? Can prizes be a more-widely used method for corporations to encourage innovations from (known and unknown) suppliers?

LaserMotive Mirror

Space Elevator competitor LaserMotive has a blog post showing their mirror.

E-T-C Space Elevator Team at Japan Space Elevator Association

The Space Elevator blog posts about the Earth-Track-Controllers Space Elevator Games competitor presenting at the Japan Space Elevator Association. It's not clear how far along this association is currently, but one of the E-T-C members is the founder.

Teachers in Space Competition

RLV News posts on the Teachers in Space Competition, which is a competition among excellent teachers where the best win suborbital spaceflight rides. This will be managed by the US Spaceflight Academy. This version of Teachers in Space is supported by an organization branched off from the Space Frontier Foundation.

Here's a related post from last year from Spaceports. Here's another. If that's not enough, here's the SFF's Teachers in Space site. According to the site, Teachers in Space had an exhibit at last year's X PRIZE Cup; I wonder if they'll also have one this year? There are a lot of other news articles, as well as other information, on the TIS site.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Space Frontier Foundation Best Presentation of Space Award

At the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2007 conference, Clark Lindsey was awarded the Best Presentation of Space award for his work with HobbySpace.com, including Space for All posts, RLV News, and much more. From his reaction is sounds like he was a bit surprised. I doubt that a lot of other people were surprised, though, and it sounds like they weren't from the comments.

Here's where you can find out about more Space Frontier Foundation awards, including past winners of the Best Presentation of Space awards.

2007 Great Light Racer Championship

The Spaceward Foundation, which runs the Space Elevator Games, is also planning a Light Racer Championship in October. This involves a 100 foot race of a model car powered by a searchlight. The team categories are Schools, Families, and Grown-Ups.

Helping Kids Reach for the Stars

The Mars Society posts about a model rocket contest for kids. You can set up a local contest using the guidelines just linked. (Note: for some reason I couldn't use the Mars Society link directly, but the URL seems to work just find here and when pasted into my browser address bar - so try one of these if the direct one doesn't work). The winners of the local contests go to a national contest at the October Sky Festival. More information is here.

Gruber Cosmology Prize

Cosmic Log points us to a press release on the $500,000 2007 Gruber Cosmology Prize for the discovery that the universe is accelerating. Here's information from the press release about past winners of the prize:

2006: John Mather and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) Team for studies confirming that our universe was born in a hot Big Bang

2005: James E. Gunn for leading the design of a silicon-based camera for the Hubble Space Telescope and developing the original concept for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

2004:Alan Guth and Andrei Linde for their roles in developing and refining the theory of cosmic inflation

2003: Rashid Alievich Sunyaev for his pioneering work on the nature of the cosmic microwave background and its interaction with intervening matter

2002: Vera Rubin for discovering that much of the Universe is unseen black matter, through her studies of the rotation of spiral galaxies

2001: Martin Rees for his extraordinary intuition in unraveling the complexities of the universe

Allan R. Sandage and Phillip J. E. (Jim) Peebles: Sandage for pursuing the true values of the Hubble constant, the deceleration parameter and the age of the universe; Peebles for advancing our understanding of how energy and matter formed the rich patterns of galaxies observed today

The Open Source Green Vehicle

The Permanent Innovation blog posts about the Society for Sustainable Mobility, a vehicle development team using the Open Source software model, which plans to go after the Automotive X PRIZE. The SSM also has some posts about the AXP:

Automotive X PRIZE calls for 100MPGe Mainstream Vehicles

Comments on Automotive X PRIZE Rules

Northrop Grumman Buys Scaled Composites

Perhaps this news doesn't have much to do with current space prizes, but the historical involvement of one company with the Ansari X PRIZE and the other with the Lunar Lander Challenge are well known.

There are reports that Northrop Grumman has bought 100% of Scaled Composites. They are increasing their stake from 40%. The reports don't have many more details than that so far. As a result, the implications are even less clear than usual. Will NG have a "hands-off" management style? Will they try to merge the large aerospace cost-plus culture with the small entrepreneurial culture? Will Scaled be able to make its own decisions? How will the Scaled employees react? Will Scaled benefit from access to more customers, lawyers, HR, R&D money, etc? Is anyone getting rich on the deal? What does it mean to the entrepreneurial space industry in general - will investors see the possibility of buy-outs as being more likely, and therefore invest more in space startups?

There are plenty of examples where this kind of merger has taken the value right out of the little company (I'm sure you can think of cases in the aerospace world, the computer software world, etc). However, if handled properly, with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and what each can offer the other, it could be a win for everyone. Probably more than any of the other large aerospace companies, Northrop Grumman has already taken a big interest in the entrepreneurs, not only with their Scaled interactions but also with sponsorship of the Lunar Lander Challenge and Zero-G rides for teachers.

Personal Spaceflight has an article on this with a comment from Dr. Thomas Matula.

MSNBC provides some background.

LiveScience reports that a Northrop Grumman media person says "the equity change will have no impact on development of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle. There are to be no differences at all in the on-going work at Scaled with aerospace primes or jobs it does in its commercial programs". He also said “The partnership between Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group on The Spaceship Company is unchanged by the transaction. Certainly, Burt will remain at the helm and lead Scaled Composites…and the entire management team will remain. It will continue in its current operating model as a separate entity within Northrop Grumman”.

Will that arrangement continue to hold over the long run, as pressures on both sides lead to changes?

RLV News has a post with numerous comments.

Update (July 23): Selenian Boondocks and Transterrestrial Musings has some analysis of the event.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Maine Automotive X Team

From the X PRIZE news ticker comes an article on the Maine Automotive X Team, which will try to win the Automotive X PRIZE. They also appear on the Automotive X PRIZE Community.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Education for NASA's VSE

The July 9 issue of Space News has an editorial entitled "A World-Class Work Force for Exploring Other Worlds" by David Black (former president of the University Space Research Association) and Dan Hastings (undergraduate dean at MIT). This editorial gives a summary of the conclusions of the National Research Council's report "Building a Better Workforce: Meeting the Future Workforce Needs for the National Vision for Space Exploration".

One of the major conclusions of the report is that NASA needs to look out for itself and ensure that it has the workforce skills in engineering, project management, and systems engineering that it will need for the VSE. The available pool of talent is there, but the program is multi-decade so NASA needs to help at all educational levels. Furthermore, these disciplines require significant amounts of hands-on experience (and opportunities to make, and to learn from, mistakes) at progressively more challenging assignments, not just classroom lectures. As a result, the authors of the report emphasize the need for more small missions, such as suborbital missions, smallsats, Explorer missions, and high altitude balloon and aircraft missions to develop talent and experience at all educational levels. Unfortunately, these opportunities have been shrinking rather than increasing to meet the VSE needs.

The editorial doesn't, but the much more detailed report does, mention the opportunities that could become available in real-world but educational missions with NewSpace businesses, many of which were inspired by prizes like the X PRIZE and Lunar Lander Challenge:

"NASA can also accomplish multiple goals by providing support to the emerging sector of new, small rocket companies often referred to as the “entrepreneurial space” or “alt-space” (or “new space”) community. Although these companies often cannot compete with traditional aerospace companies in terms of entry-level salaries, they can promise new employees opportunities for innovation, responsibility, and a high degree of engagement. They can also offer superb value to NASA in some cases. For example, it has been reported that the SpaceShipOne suborbital manned spacecraft program" ... "accomplished by a company of ~100 employees, spent significantly less than the hundreds of millions of dollars estimated by standard cost models for the project if conducted by NASA or the traditional aerospace sector. By furthering its support of such entrepreneurial companies, NASA can simultaneously achieve value, increase the diversity of the marketplace, and encourage the education and training of entry-level employees."

The report and article both emphasize the educational potential of prizes. From the report:

"NASA also can emulate an inexpensive and effective method used successfully by the Department of Defense. The “Grand Challenge” prize, a $2 million cash prize offered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), targeted university and amateur teams capable of developing autonomous vehicles." ... "The competition attracted entries from many of the country’s leading universities, most of which partnered with leading industrial companies that provided cash to and mentored the competing students. In the end, DARPA’s Grand Challenges program produced four winning teams and more than $170 million in investment over 2 years of competition. NASA could use its own Centennial Challenges prize program to achieve similar results, both financial and educational, by increasing the emphasis on this program beyond its current $9.7 million budget.

Previous prizes, ranging from the privately funded Ansari X PRIZE to the Department of Defense’s Grand Challenges, have shown a consistent ability to motivate a wide variety of individuals, many of them entry-level, to explore new solutions to longstanding problems and to conduct entire missions on extremely low budgets."

From the article:

"Our committee noted that nontraditional approaches to the agency's missions, such as the Centennial Challenges program, which awards prizes for developing innovative space hardware, also play a role in attracting skilled members of the work force from other areas. A recent example of this is the Astronaut Glove Challenge in which an unemployed engineer, who had left the aerospace sector a decade ago for apparently better prospects in the computer field, produced an astronaut glove that is superior to those currently in use. This was a dedicated and innovative worker whom the aerospace sector had lost, but has now regained due to a new way of engaging the engineering community."

I will just add that the VSE began with a reasonable amount of support from the entrepreneurial space, education, science, and environment communities. They saw the potential of the VSE to help their areas of interest. However, as the ESAS implementation of the VSE was formed into another NASA "space transportation corporation", and funding has been reduced (and VSE plans cancelled) in areas of interest to these communities, support has dropped considerably. In my opinion NASA needs to take serious steps with real consequences that can be felt soon to regain (political and cooperative) support from space entrepreneurs, the science community, the environmental community, and, as this report emphasizes, the educational community.

Greater support for appropriate prizes in NASA's Centennial Challenges program is one relatively cheap way to accomplish all 4 objectives. General support (for example, buying services, funding enhancements such as environmental and other science instruments compatible with suborbital or small space vehicles and their flight profiles, funding small university missions on suborbital vehicles, funding small lunar robotic missions) for entrepreneurial space business is another cost-effective way to do this. In particular, these avenues offer a great opportunity for small, educational missions that can grow the undergraduate students, graduate students, and beginning NASA/aerospace business employees into the lead talent ready for the big VSE missions.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Here's another post from the Space Elevator Blog. This one is on Space Elevator Games team RAMCO I. I'm not sure I understand the particular beam power application they show in the video, but they seemed to enjoy it.

Handling Worst Case Scenarios at Space Elevator Games

The Space Elevator Blog has a post about the type of worst-case scenario the Space Elevator Game teams have to consider ... just in case.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Weekend Testing Result from Unreasonable Rocket

RLV News posts on another update from Unreasonable Rocket on their testing from this weekend. The Unreasonable post includes a video and some data.

The other parts of the multi-part RLV News post are also interesting; I've already linked to the Masten video, but I'll add the Pat Bahn talk to my list of non-prize Heinlein Centennial links. I was also at the Pat Bahn talk (which was a panel discussion that also included representatives of Space Adventures and Masten Space, and which followed another panel with XCOR and RpK), but I wasn't taking notes.

Personal Air Vehicle Centennial Challenge News

The CAFE Foundation has a number of news articles on the Personal Air Vehicle Challenge, to be held August 4-12 . Here's another place to find news on the Challenge: their PAV Challenge Updates. Check both sites because the general news has some articles on the PAV Challenge that I don't see on the PAV Challenge Updates site.

I don't see a way to link to particular articles. I suspect the PAV Challenge articles I'm referring to will work their way off the page, or too far down for most readers, so I'll include copies here for later readers:

LSA Owners: Last Chance To Win NASA's $250,000 Cash Prize

July 5 , 2007

The CAFE Foundation has just learned that 3 of the teams officially entered for the 2007 $250,000 NASA PAV Challenge have withdrawn from the flight competition for LSAs. This opens 3 slots for other teams to enter the August 2007 event. Teams wishing to enter must contact the CAFE Foundation immediately in order to complete their application for the event. Please see the full contest rules for more information.

Boeing Phantom Works to support CAFE Foundation’s PAV Flight Testing

June 30, 2007

Boeing Phantom Works, Boeing’s advanced research and development organization, is providing financial support for the non-profit CAFE Foundation flight research program for small, environmentally-progressive Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs). CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency, est. 1981) was chosen by NASA as the official flight test agency to conduct the annual NASA Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) Centennial Challenge, a $2M flight competition that rewards innovations in fuel efficiency, noise reduction, ease of use, speed and short runway capabilities.

Boeing support will help enable CAFE to create and use an advanced suite of new flight test hardware and software to measure the performance of competing PAVs. NASA’s vision is for PAVs to complement the NextGen air transportation system by offering consumer-attractive, on-demand air travel for short range trips. Future PAVs may include conventional takeoff vehicles driveable on highways, vertical takeoff vehicles and solar/electric powered emission-free aircraft.

Related news:

The CAFE Foundation held the "Electric Aircraft Symposium" in San Francisco on May 23. One of the presentations was called "Electric PAVs: Contenders in NASA's PAV Challenge?".

AVWeb has a post related to the 3 open PAV Challenge slots.

Cnet has an article about a potential PAV Challenge team.

Armadillo Tests New Configuration

RLV News has a link to, and picture of, the latest series of tests from Armadillo. The Armadillo July 14 notes cover a lot of activity from the last month and a half, including work, progress, and troubles fine-tuning the current Quad configuration, and also tethered testing of a different configuration. There's a lot of news about what they plan to do in the fugure, too. It's essential reading for anyone following the X PRIZE Cup competitions, as it covers so many weeks of work.

There's also a video of the tethered tests of the module configuration, and numerous pictures of it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sweepstakes to Visit Space Camp

Space for All posts on a sweepstakes contest by Space.com and Nissan where the winning prize is "a 3 day/2-night trip for four (4) to Huntsville, Alabama to attend Space Camp.

More details: "Trip includes round trip coach airfare from major commercial airport near winner’s residence (Sponsor’s choice), hotel accommodations and meals at Space Camp, airport transfers, and $1,000 spending money (Estimated Retail Value (“ERV”): $4,200)".

Check the Space.com contest site for more details.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Masten Posts More Video

The Masten Space blog says there's nothing really amazing here, but from here it's still interesting to follow the ongoing progress and methodical attempts at progress.

Philanthropic Prizes Back in Vogue

Here's another article brought to you by the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker.

The San Francisco Business Times reports on the growing number of prizes that are being kicked off for philanthropic purposes. Some of the prizes are of the "technology innovation incentive" variety that this blog usually emphasizes, while others address social, political, or educational issues. The article describes the reason why I emphasize the innovation prizes here:

"Prizes are a really good tool for sparking new ideas and new collaborations and getting new people involved in the mix," said Lucy Bernholz, president of Blueprint R&D and a philanthropy blogger. She cautions, however, that prizes may inspire change but are a poor mechanism for sustaining that change. Indeed, the most successful prizes, like the Goldman Prize, provide ongoing support for winners beyond a crowning ceremony."

A well-designed innovation prize will give competitors the incentive to try multiple approaches to get past a "technology hurdle" that is preventing a commercial or government market that can sustain itself once the hurdle is overcome. The trouble with some prizes, and this tends to be true more often with non-innovation prizes, is that even after the prize is won, the advance that won the prize needs ongoing maintenance to thrive. Of course this is not always the case, and at any rate sometimes the goal is important enough to make the ongoing cost worthwhile.

Other than the X PRIZE, the prizes mentioned in the article are:

The Purpose Prize, which "provides five awards of $100,000 and ten awards of $10,000 to people over 60 who are taking on society’s biggest challenges".

The Goldman Environmental Prize, which is "the world's largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists. Founded in 1990 by Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the Goldman Environmental Prize annually awards US$125,000 to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions".

Ruckus Nation, which "is awarding up to $300,000 in cash and prizes to individuals and teams that join Ruckus Nation and submit the best ideas for new products to increase physical activity among kids".

Automotive X PRIZE Blog Post and 3-Wheeler

As you may already know, the Automotive X PRIZE has a blog. They recently posted about the high cost of high MPG.

Meanwhile, the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker points to an article in BusinessWeek about a low emission, high-performance 3 wheel vehicle by FuelVapor. The car gets 92 mpg and takes 1.7 G's during cornering moves. The article states that "The alé will be an entry in the Automotive X-Prize, a competition aimed at fostering the design of viable, clean and super-efficient cars that people still want to own.".

More on Space Frontier Foundation Business Competition

RLV News posts more details on the NewSpace Business Plan Competition to be held at NewSpace 2007 in Washington D.C. by the Space Frontier Foundation. You can read an analysis of the competition at Cosmic Log.

The competitors better have business plans grounded in real business principles, because a noted Space Cynic will be one of the judges.

One of the "Boot Camp" instructors is Ken Davidian from NASA's Centennial Challenges prize program.

Here's the relevant excerpt from the NewSpace 2007 page:

8:00 am
The Next Great Space Business — Annual Business Plan Competition

The Space Frontier Foundation is hosting it's annual business plan competition. Last year we had over 20 companies apply. We're inviting SEC-accredited investors and their representatives to judge the business plans based on a one-page summary and a 5-8 minute pitch. Presenting companies are all early stage companies with technologies or products that advance the goals of an enduring human presence in space.

Judges Include:

Mohanjit Jolly – Partner, Draper Fisher Jurveston
Andrew Nelson – Angel Investor, Boston Harbor Angels
Guillermo Söhnlein – Managing Director, Space Angels Network
Lee Valentine – Angel Investor
Dr. Burton Lee – Partner, Innovarium Ventures
Shubber Ali – Entrepreneur

Please contact Rich Pournelle, Space Frontier Foundation Project Manager at rich@xcor.com if you would like to be a judge or suggest someone.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Space Elevator Blog on Snowstar Team

The Space Elevator Blog posts on Space Elvator Games challenger UBC Snowstar. They have a number of pictures of their Beam Power Challenge testing. Note that they posted an update yesterday, which is a couple days after the original Space Elevator blog post, so it's worth checking again even if you read the original post. They give more details on their testing, and directions to Science World on July 21 where they will hold a demo.

Popular Mechanics on Change in Entrepreneurial Space Industry

RLV News points us to an article in Popular Mechanics on how the National Space Society ISDC conferences have been changing from "bold talk and dreams" to "getting down to business" over the years. This is in part because of the change of focus from trying to get Congress to fund the dreams to the existence of a growing group of space entrepreneurs and suppliers that have more realistic business plans and funding. (Space Prizes question: But are the plans realistic enough? Is the funding enough? Space isn't easy.) The current atmosphere strikes the author as similar to that of the early computer and nanotechnology industries.

The article gives a lot of credit for the current entrepreneurial space vibrancy to the Ansari X PRIZE and the Lunar Lander Challenge. Although we shouldn't forget other factors, like regulatory barriers being lowered or removed, a generation of Internet pioneers feeling like space is the next big challenge to overcome, NASA cracking the door a bit on purchasing from commercial suppiers and using the COTS approach, and a generation of lessons learned the hard way by the earlier space entrepreneurs, prizes certainly have had an important role.

More from Edmunds on Automotive X PRIZE

Edmunds had a recent article on the Automotive X PRIZE. Now the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker links to another Edmunds article on the prize. The emphasis on the 100-mpg car prize is that the cars aren't meant as concept cars, and to win they must be desirable to consumers.

Unreasonable Rocket test plans

Unreasonable Rocket posts an update on their upcoming test plans after having made a number of changes that I don't understand, but that sound quite mechanically technical. I just hope the butterfly valve doesn't fly into the helicopter blades.

Masten Space Takes a Large Step Forward

Masten is finding and fixing the bugs in their Lunar Lander Challenger vehicle. You can see the progress in the test video.

Heinlein Centennial - National Space Society

George Whitesides from the National Space Society and George Howard from the Heartland of America Chapter of the NSS had a space advocacy presentation at the Heinlein Centennial. I can't report on this talk too much, because I missed a great deal of it because of some confusion on my part with session titles and schedule changes. They discussed a number of space-related activities that the NSS has that everyone, even those without Aerospace Engineering graduate degrees, can get involved with. As I tend to do (because of this blog, not because they're more important than the others) I tended to take notes on the ones involving prizes or awards:

Space Settlement Art Contest - which they discussed as a possible annual competition. They showed how the winning art looks in the calendar, too.

Space Settlement Student Design Contest

The Moon-Mars Blitz, advocating the NSS's space priorities to Congress, including Centennial Challenges - They would like to do this again in the Fall.

They gave a lot more information on the NSS and the local chapter, and had a discussion with audience members (and it seemed from their comments like some were NSS members, but others were more involved with SF and were interested in learning about space advocacy) about their ideas on what NSS should be concentrating on.

Peter Hodges has a post from the point of view of Generation X on this NSS seminar.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Heinlein Centennial - Gala Reception

There were a lot of other events besides the Peter Diamandis talk, but since this is the "Space Prizes" blog, I allowed myself to just enjoy myself during most of it and didn't take notes unless something prize-related was happening. Here are some of the other prizes awarded or discussed during the Reception:

The 2007 Heinlein Award (not to be confused with the National Space Society's Heinlein Award) went to Elizabeth Moon (another good author in my opinion).

The SFRA (Science Fiction Research Association) had a number of awards. You can see photos and descriptions.

Robert Charles Wilson (author of Darwinia, Bios, etc) won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for "The Cartisian Theater".

Ben Bova (Welcome to Moonbase, NSS, etc) won the John W. Campbell Award for his novel Titan.

Here are some photos of the award event and after the awards. I didn't hear who won these awards until the Gala Reception, but there are photos of that, too. In fact, you'll see a lot more of the conference (and probably some people you know if you're into space and/or SF) if you surf around that photo site.

The Heinlein Centennial Writing Contest had a number of awards in the amateur and professional categories. I tried writing them all down, but I didn't catch all of the names and titles. The winner in the professional category, however, is "The Beautiful Accident" by Edward Carmien.

Now that the Centennial event is over, you can still check here for the souvenir book or T-shirts. Also, don't forget to register early for the next Heinlein Centennial, to be held in Luna City on 7/7/2107!

Heinlein Centennial - Peter Diamandis at Gala Event

Peter Diamandis had another, shorter talk at the Heinlein Centennial Gala Reception. I would say that there were several hundred people in attendance for this first talk, and probably 2 or 3 hundred more for this one, which was just a part of a series of short talks, movies, songs, and awards, often involving famous space or SF personalities.

Peter sees Heinlein's writing as a business plan or guide. (Space Prizes note: Well ... as long as you pick the right books ... there are some activities in some of Heinlein's books that wouldn't go over too well in today's business world ...) Peter considers "The Man Who Sold the Moon" to still be a relevant plan. His personal goal is to get to the Moon and greet NASA a few years later. (There were cheers from the audience at this. Actually I think lots of NASA people would cheer if this happened too). NASA had 10 great years, and then waited for it to happen again. It was an amazing series of events, and it won't happen that way again. Now we have entrepreneurs with enough money to make things happen. Ten people now can work with the computing power of all of NASA in the 1960's.

Ray Kurzweil is now at the X PRIZE Foundation. At this point Peter showed a slide showing Moore's "Law". He plans to have Kurzweil do prizes to accelerate things so we can see this kind of progress. He expects space travel, longevity, and similiar advances just as depicted in Heinlein's books.

What are the drivers for exploration? Fear (eg: Sputnik, asteroid impacts)? Curiousity (eg: Mars Rovers)? Here's a measure of the relative strength of these 2 drivers: compare the DOD and the NASA budgets. Another powerful driver is Wealth (eg: asteroid mining).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Heinlein Centennial - Peter Diamandis Afternoon Talk

Peter Diamandis had two talks (that I saw) at the Heinlein Centennial. This summary from handwritten notes is for the first one, which was an hour lecture in the afternoon. The other talk was during the "Big Saturday Night" festivities. In both cases the crowd really seemed to be impressed and on Peter's side.

The talk was on "A Tribute to Robert Heinlein ... Dealing with this Version of Reality". He was inspired by Heinlein. Heinlein's stories formed the basis for Diamandis's business plans. After all of these years we're still stuck on Earth. Don't get discouraged. From 1961 to 1969 Apollo was made up from scratch. There was noone to tell them what can't be done during Apollo. Now risk adversity is holding us back. "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself".

Peter then talked about the Spirit of St. Louis. This was based on the Orteig Prize. Peter read the book and got his prize idea. In 1919 there was a $25,000 prize. Nine teams registered, and collectively spent $400,000 in airplane development to win the prize. Lindbergh got his plane built in 60 days. He got funding from a St. Louis group, and named the plane after the group. Within 18 months of the winning flight passenger traffic was up 30 times and the number of planes was up 4 times. Aviation stocks were way up.

Now, too much money and energy for space activities is spent on contract negotiations, beaurocracy, and similar non-productive activity, and not enough on hardware. To address this, Peter made the X PRIZE following the model of the Orteig Prize. There had been other similar efforts earlier, but they ran out of money. The X PRIZE idea was a $10 million prize, privately funded teams, and a 3-person reusable ship that would go up to 100 km. Two flights would be needed in two weeks. The "X" in the name was for the anticipated sponsor (ie "X" was a variable), but it was around for so long that it stuck. They wanted entrepreneurs, not big companies, so they didn't want to offer too much money. They were thinking of a 100 mile prize rather than 100 km, but they figured that heating issues on the vehicle would be too much with that profile. Repeatability was essential. The expected the ride price to go down to the price of an automobile after the developers recoup their development costs.

They got the teams to do a lot of experimentation with different designs without paying with the prize mechanism. The most important thing is what happens after the prize is won. For example, Richard Branson funded Virgin Galactic for the Scaled Composites vehicle.

The most difficult issue was raising the money for the prize. They had to present a line of credibility. They were trying to announce the prize as if it had already worked (what Peter calls "Super-credibility"). However, actually they didn't have the money for the prize at first. When they tried to raise the funds, people asked "Why isn't NASA doing it?" (audience laughs). "Will someone die?" "Can anyone do it?" People will lose their lives in this kind of venture. "Failure is not an option?" is an attitude that holds us back. It prevents progress. You can't fail if you don't do anything.

Peter was reading about Ansari in Forbes magazine. She was saying "My dream is to fly in *suborbital* space". This was someone with knowledge who had also given it some real consideration - she didn't just say "fly in space". As a result Peter made it his mission to track her down to see if she could fund the X PRIZE.

They used a hole in 1 insurance policy. This is like the funding for a basketball free throw contest. They built the X PRIZE this way. They also got other sponsors. The insurance company tried to re-negotiate right before the win. (laughter). Peter had good words for the insurance company because it otherwise wouldn't have happened.

Now SpaceShip1 is next to the Spirit of St. Louis in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. (He showed a picture of it on a slide presentation - I may stick a photo of it here later ... after some image editing to remove backs of audience members). They got 5.5 billion media impressions during the prize.

Growth of X PRIZE Foundation: Google put up a Google doodle for the X PRIZE on the day of the win.

The foundation has set up a mission goal of $250 - $500 million in prizes in the next 5 years. One third of this is in space prizes, and the other two thirds are (obviously) in other areas, such as energy and the environment. (Space Prize blog comment: I actually wasn't sure if they planned any more space prizes beyond NASA-funded ones like the Lunar Lander Centennial Challenge. I was wondering if the X PRIZE Cup was about all they could handle in the space area - a pretty big activity already. It would be interesting to know what they have in mind, at least for the next space prize. Personally I would get some space prize out the door even if it isn't a huge X PRIZE-sized challenge just to keep the momentum going ... but maybe that's why I'm just writing about it. We will of course have to wait and see if they really can pull off anything like what they hope to.)

He showed a slide titled "X PRIZES" FOR THE "Grand Challenges". (I may stick a photo of this here later). The "Grand Challenges" on the slide, arranged in a 3x3 tic-tac-toe matrix pattern, are SPACE (picture of SpaceShip1), ENERGY (picture of windmills), ENVIRONMENT (picture of iceberg), NANO TECHNOLOGY (picture of the pins on a computer chip), GENETICS (picture of a DNA helix), MEDICINE (picture of a doctor), EDUCATION (picture of a kid at a computer), OTHER (picture of ... I don't know, is that a treasure chest with treasure pouring out?), and POVERTY (picture of poverty-stricken kids). He briefly mentioned the Archon Genomics X PRIZE and the Automotive X PRIZE.

Next he discussed the X PRIZE Cup. This is round 2 of the Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. He showed John Carmack's talk (I believe the one we saw Space Access '07) and the Pixel X PRIZE Flight that damaged her leg. Peter hopes to see the X Racer there.

He then covered the Zero-G Corporation. At the beginning the FAA said "Sounds good, talk to our lawyers". "It was an overnight success 11 years later ..." (laughter). The FAA is better now. They have flown for the Matrix 2 and 3, Trump/the Apprentice, and NASA work. They have had thousands of flights.

... Due to time (work, painting, etc) I'll stop here for now with this post ... more to come later on this talk, which continued with Zero-G and then the Rocket Racing League ...

Update (July 11): continuing the Zero-G discussion ... You can play catch on the Zero-G flights ... as long as someone volunteers to be the ball. (laughter) Burt Rutan and Brian Binnie also flew on Zero-G. Ansari, Simonyi, Hawking, and 40 or 50 Virgin Galactic Founders also flew on it. The experience isn't like that of neutral buoyancy in the water. Peter wants to be like Jacques Cousteau for space, making the experience personal for the public. They expect 4,000 people to ride this year, and want to give 10,000 rides per year. They are flying teachers and students. Northrop Grumman is funding this program a lot.

Peter met Stephen Hawking through the Archon Genomics X PRIZE. They plan to sequence Hawking's genomes first to allow investigation of his rare variant of ALS. They had to change the specifications of the Zero-G flight profile to get disabled person flight approval. They set up an emergency room on his flight. To Peter this flight is the kind of thing he did Zero-G for in the first place - to make dreams come true. Hawking wants commercial space business to succeed. They are trying for what Peter calls an "exothermic economic reaction" so their space ventures are independent of the stop and start whims of Congress.

Next Peter discussed the Rocket Racing League. He went to the Indy 500, and got the idea of a rocket racing league. He also imagines rocket racing as being similar to pod racers in Star Wars Episode 1. The races will be from 60 to 90 minutes. There would be 4 to 6 pit stops per race. There would be a "touch and go" each lap with full rocket thrust in front of the crowds. There would be 10 X Racers. The racers would have a 4 minute burn time and a 10 minute glide time with an impressive smoke trailer. XCOR built the proof of concept vehicle. The only problem was the flame, which was too blue. They wanted to have a really visible flame. They hope to have flight tests this fall. People in the stands would see 2 Jumbotrons with the course displayed. The planes would use differential GPS which could transfer flight location data to laptops. This would allow a kid playing a video game to compete with the real racers. They plan to have a "virtual racer" on the ground. They plan to eventually have the finals at the X PRIZE Cup, and other races in other venues.

... And the crowd went wild!

See the "Heinlein Centennial" tag below for more posts on this conference and celebration.

SpeedUp Updates

RLV News posts on several updates at the site for Lunar Lander Challenger SpeedUp, including a static fire test of their engine at Frontier and a copy of their FAA waiver.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Heinlein Centennial - The Heinlein Prize Trust

Before I begin these reviews of Heinlein Centennial lectures, let me emphasis that I'm just transcribing my hand-written notes, and it's likely that I missed big portions of talks, and probably misunderstood some of them. This is my best attempt at getting the speakers' points across.

The speaker, Buckner Hightower, is a Trustee of the Heinlein Prize Trust. There are 2 other Trustees. The Heinlein Prize was created by Virginia Heinlein, and was endowed in 2003. It has several activities:

- The Heinlein Prize: The first Heinlein Prize was awarded on Robert Heinlein's birthday. It isn't awarded every year. It's an international prize. The prize is for commercial space activity, with an emphasis on commercial. Nominations are sealed for 50 years. There are advisors for different regions - Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The prize is awarded for individuals. They expect to award the 2nd Heinlein Prize in the near future. Two or three individuals are under consideration right now. The first Heinlein Prize was awarded to Peter Diamandis for activities like the Zero-G Corporation and other commercial activities. Peter's non-commercial activities like the non-profit Ansari X PRIZE and the International Space University also were taken into consideration in this award, although the emphasis is on commercial activities.

- Heinlein Archives: Archives of Heinlein's writings are being made through the Trust. They should be accessible online very soon.

- A biography of Heinlein

- A cloth-bound collector's version "Collected Works" of Robert Heinlein books.

- A drive to move the public perception of Heinlein to that of a Great Author.

- Flight into the Future contest. The presentation included posters of several Flight into the Future events around the world. One poster's wording, showing a picture of the winners, was:

2005 Heinlein Student Contest "Flight into the Future" for their work entitled "Concept for the Use of Interaction with the Earth and Other Planets' Magnetic Field to Improve Orbital Rocket and Space Systems Efficiency".

They are trying to encourage ideas on how to make a profit in space. The are also trying to bring commercial space ideas outside the U.S. to space centers. The prize is a commercial space prize for students under 30 years of age. Most of the competitors came in teams consisting of business and technical experts. They went to Moscow for the first event and awarded prizes. Two years later there was a European prize. The Russia base reached out to Europe on the prize. The #1 winnder was British, the #2 was Ukranian, and the 3rd place was Russian. The third prize round was in Beijing. It was sponsored by Chinese government officials, yet was a commercial prize for students. One of the big benefits is setting up interpersonal networks of students.

Education is the major focus of the foundation now.

Question: Are there any similar competitions (to Flight into the Future) in the U.S?

Answer: There are ITAR issues. It's strange because it's student teams coming up with commercial business plans related to space, but that really is the issue. They don't want a strictly U.S. prize, but they may have to have one. The want it to cover the Americas. They may need 2 prizes: 1 for the U.S. and one for the rest of the Americas. This is planned at Caltech.

Question: There was an article (I assume this linked article is the one they were talking about) by Jeff Foust on the Heinlein Prize. Could the prize be made more like an incentive prize to achieve a goal rather than a prize after the fact? A $500,000 prize to achieve a goal is a big incentive to a startup. If it's awarded later, after the company is already successful, it may just buy a nice party for the company.

Answer: The trust states what it should be for. The Trustees don't have latitude to change it. They support incentive prizes but that isn't their mission.

Additional Answer by Peter Diamandis (who was in the audience, and who won the first Heinlein Prize): There is an efficient capital market for startups. The reward of the Heinlein Trust is a big benefit. He gave some of the winnings to his non-profits. Also, there is a personal benefit to winning the prize. After about a dozen startups, the Heinlein Prize was the first big payoff for Dr. Diamandis. The prize will probably be awarded to people at the beginning of their careers, so it will still be a big benefit to them. The prize isn't intended, at least from Peter's point of view, as a Nobel prize in the sense of being awarded way at the end of the winner's career.

Question: NESFA prints out-of-print SF books (Space Prizes editorial comment: they do a great job, too), but had trouble with Heinlein books because of the cost, which is higher than they usually get for other authors. Who should they talk to?

Answer: See me (Buckner) after the talk.

I expect to post more of my notes on the Heinlein Centennial throughout the week ... check the "Heinlein Centennial" tag below for the latest ...

Heinlein Centennial Updates in Progress

I'll be posting as I get a chance over the next week on this past weekend's Heinlein Centennial. These posts will include talks by Brian Binnie (SpaceShip1 pilot) and Peter Diamandis. They will also include a talk on the Heinlein Prize Trust. There were a number of awards given at the conference, and I'll post about these, too. Most likely these posts will trickle in over the next few days, as they'll take a bit of time each to write.

Update July 9: I should give an overall review of the parts of the conference I attended that I won't post about in detail. I'll just provide details about the prize-related parts of the conference.

I saw a number of Science Fiction lectures during the conference. These details with subjects like Heinlein's books for youngsters, learning how to write like Heinlein, and whether or not we are living through what Heinlein called "The Crazy Years". A number of Heinlein scholars and science fiction authors like Spider Robinson were on the panels (typically these lectures were in panel format). These talks tended to get a bit off subject, but noone seemed to mind. I have to admit that I could hardly remember the plots of some of the books they brought up that I read a very long time ago. Left vs. Right politics came up again and again, but it seemed like everyone was in favor of commercial space approaches whenever (frequently) space became a topic.

On the space side of things, I saw a NASA lecture on the COTS program, an NSS lecture, and several panel lectures from space access entrepreneurs like XCOR, Rocketplane-Kistler, Masten Space Systems, TGV, and Space Adventures. These were mostly review, but there were a few debates about the role of NASA vs. private enterprise, the problems of the implementation of ITAR for the U.S. space industry, the problem with Ares I/Orion/Shuttle taking the funding from various peoples' favorite programs (oddly enough this was in the NASA and National Space Society lectures, not the entrepreneurs' lectures - lots of people were upset about science budgets and NAIC being cancelled), and so on. The COTS program was popular, and it sounds like people want similar approaches in other NASA programs.

I missed the Mike Griffin speach - I didn't get a program until that had already passed.

In the meantime, here are some other links on the Heinlein Centennial:

Heinleinorama at Transterrestrial Musings

Heinleinorama (Part Two) and a number of Heinlein Centennial links at Transterrestrial Musings

You Can't Oversell It about Brian Binnie's talk on suborbital flight (Transterrestrial Musings linking to Jeff Foust's article)

G-loading Comparisons at Personal Spaceflight about Benson Space's vehicle and Brian Binnie's discussion at the conference

An Experience that Sells Itself - The Space Review on a talk by Brian Binnie (I saw this one and I'll post more on it later if my notes add anything to Jeff's)

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin on funding advanced technology work at NASA during the conference - about the removal of NAIC from NASA - Space Politics

We Must Ride the Lightning - Dwayne Day on Heinlein and space at the Space Review (this phrase is used in the souvenir book from the conference, too, and I heard it several times at the conference)

John Scalzi blogs about the Centennial from the point of view of an SF author.

MSNBC's Cosmic Log has a number of summer reading suggestions, including some Heinlein books and a related TV program.

More later throughout the week as I get a chance (I have a lot of notes on the conference) ... check the "Heinlein Centennial" tag below ...

Update (July 15): RLV News links to a post on a talk by Pat Bahn (of TGV) during a NewSpace panel.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

DOD Wearable Power System Prize

Cosmic Log has an article on a new Wearable Power Prize being offered by the Department of Defense Research and Engineering organization. There are 3 prizes offered: $1M for first place, $500K for 2nd place, and $250K for 3rd place. More prizes are expected to be announced later. I just had a chance to glance at this one, so I'll probably have more comments later.

Update July 21: The goal of the prize is to produce a light (4 kg or less) power source that can operate continuously for 96 hours with 20 watts output average, and 200 watts peak output. The goal is to produce a light power source that can be used by troops to power GPS systems, radios, etc. The lightest system that meets the other requirements wins. In case of ties, "wearability" criteria are tie-breakers.

Even though the prize has just been announced, there is already a spot to link to competing teams' sites, which is a good idea. There is also "reserved space" for teams for future prize competitions.

I wonder how much the wearable power source would benefit space applications? I suspect that astronauts would also find a light power source to be useful. Light batteries must also be important for robotic missions. In fact, one of the contests that NASA Centennial Challenges was considering was a small Lunar Night Power Source (see the last page of the slides). The Regolith Excavation Challenge also had serious mass and power considerations.

Here's the announcement of the prize, and here's a DoD news article on it. The news article notes that "A typical dismounted troop going out for a four-day mission carries as much as 40 pounds of batteries and rechargers". The prize is for a much lighter set. “Look at what it is that drives success in battle. It’s inevitably a combination of training and your ability to have decision making on your feet,” Rees said. “And that ability to have decision making is directly reduced by your fatigue. The more weight we can take off your back, the better your decision making in battle.” I'd also add that you also have the flexibility to carry something else of value.

Laser Safety

The Space Elevator Blog posts on some laser posts (on IR lasers and laser safety, with demo photos of what a laser can do) from Space Elevator Challenger LaserMotive.

Unreasonable Rocket Testing with a Helicopter

Unreasonable Rocket posts a Quick Update on testing, the abyss of Windows programming, and and a cool way to test.

Masten Calibration Fix

Masten Space Systems posts on the discovery of a calibration problem discovered. They want to test again but it might have to wait because of vacations.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

ESA Playlist Prize

RLV News posts on the winners of the ESA ATV playlist competition, involving selecting an insipiring music playlist to be sent to the European ATV on its way to the ISS. The competition was only open to citizens of countries contributing to the ATV competition. (For comparison, NASA Centennial Challenges are open to non-U.S. teams with some U.S. connections). The prizes:

"The Grand Prize for the overall winner will be a trip to see the ATV launch in Kourou, French Guiana (South America) as well as having their playlist sent to space on board the ATV.

One prize for the best entry from each country. Each national winner will win a day trip to the European Astronaut Centre in Germany. "

The winning playlist:

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Come Fly With Me - Frank Sinatra
Rocket Man - Elton John
Up Where We Belong - Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
Imagine - John Lennon
Flashdance - What A Feeling - Irene Cara
Walk of Life - Dire Straits
Fly - Celine Dion
Rockin' All Over The World - Status Quo
I Believe I Can Fly - R Kelly

SFF Conference Business Plan Competition

RLV News posts on the Business Plan Competition at the Space Frontier Foundation's NewSpace 2007 Conference. The registration date has been extended to July 9. I posted on the competition and the conference before (check the Space Frontier Foundation tag below if you're interested), but the competition post was rather brief. Check out the RLV News one for the details. Also, the conference site has had some changes, so it's best to check there for the latest information on the schedule.

It looks like it's going to be a great conference!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Reminder of Heinlein Centennial

Heinlein Centennial web site

This is another reminder of the Heinlein Centennial, July 6-8, in Kansas City, MO, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Heinlein's birth on 7/7/7 . This is an appropriate place since this is where Heinlein grew up, and Kansas City is featured in some of his novels. I'll have more to post on it after the conference. In addition to many other guests in the areas of science fiction and space at the conference and 2 adjacent SF events (the Science Fiction Research Association annual meeting and the Campbell Conference and Awards), there are several space prize angles to this one:

Guest Speakers

X PRIZE Founder Dr. Peter Diamandis (also winner of the first Heinlein Prize for Accomplishments in Commercial Space Activities)

X PRIZE pilot Brian Binnie

Heinlein Award

"Heinlein Award to be Presented at the Centennial Gala

We're pleased to announce that Dr. Yoji Kondo will be presenting the Robert A. Heinlein Award as part of the Saturday evening Gala.

The Robert A. Heinlein Award was established in 2003 by Dr. Kondo and several other prominent science fiction writers, including the late Charles Sheffield, to honor outstanding published works in hard science fiction or technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space. Prior recipients include Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Greg Bear, Jack Williamson, Michael Flynn and Virginia Heinlein."

Heinlein Centennial Short Fiction Writing Contest

New Automotive X PRIZE Executive Director

The X PRIZE Foundation has issued a press release about the promotion of Don Foley to Executive Directory of the Automotive X PRIZE.

Monday, July 02, 2007

KEI on Prize4Life

The KEI Policy Blog posts on a medical science prize, Prize4Life, modeled after the X PRIZE, for solving problems related to ALS. According to the Boston Globe, they've raised $4.5 million. One way they attract donors is to promise to return the donor money if the prize isn't won. Their first large prize, the ALS/MND Biomarker Challenge, is for $1 million. It can be found at Innocentive. See more from Innocentive here.

The Boston Globe article notes that drug companies avoid ALS research because the risk is too high.

Find out more at the Prize4Life site. Some excerpts from the site:

"The Prize4Life concept is inspired by other prize awards for stimulating research, such as the X-Prize for commercial space travel and DNA-decoding, the U.S. government’s H-Prize for hydrogen renewable energy, and Eli Lilly’s venture, InnoCentive, which outsources difficult R&D problems to a distributed network of scientists using prizes."

"What will we offer prizes for?

1) Biomarker/diagnostic tool: a test or exam that will allow us to measure how good a potential ALS/MND treatment is much more precisely than just measuring patient survival.

2) High Throughput Screening for ALS/MND: a lab experiment that allows the fast and cheap testing of large numbers of chemical compounds for their potential as ALS/MND drugs.

3) New Treatment Therapies: new drugs that extend the life of ALS/MND patients by significantly compared to the current standard ALS/MND therapy."

Here's more from the Wired Blog, including some congratulations from the X PRIZE Foundation in the comments.

Here's an article from Yahoo! about Keith Powers from the X PRIZE Foundation moving to the Board of the Prize4Life Foundation.

From Boston Magazine comes an article on the Prize4Life organization and Avi Kremer, including several paragraphs that describe their discussions with the X PRIZE Foundation on making the Prize4Life an X PRIZE. Even if this alliance doesn't work (and it makes a lot of sense to me to consolidate some of the prizes that are out there under organizations that have track histories, experience, already-existing overhead costs that can be shared, and name recognition), hopefully the different non-profit prize organizations (in this particular case and others) can be mutually supportive in other ways (news, exhibits during events, etc). Anyway here's the excerpt:

"Finally, you have to wonder whether patients’ fear might lead them to make the wrong decisions in their research work. Prize4Life is a case in point: Kremer modeled his organization on the Ansari X Prize competition, which in 2004 granted a $10 million award to the team that realized the long-held goal of private space flight, and last month announced a similar bounty for developing a car that can get 100 miles per gallon. Kremer admired the prize’s ability to stimulate innovation—but pay only for results—in a field that had seemed stagnant; maybe, he thought, prizes could “revolutionize” ALS research in the same way.

So successfully did Prize4Life imitate the X Prize model that Kremer’s people eventually began to talk with its leaders last year about turning his organization into an X Prize for ALS. By joining forces, Prize4Life would have access to more money (the minimum award would be $10 million) and a bigger, better-established operation. Much like Warren Buffett’s giving $36 billion to the Gates Foundation, it appeared to be a natural fit.

The X Prize Foundation was receptive. But its representatives felt strongly that to capture the public’s interest, and that of the very best scientists, the prize had to be linked to breakthroughs in neurodegenerative diseases as a whole. Upon hearing their terms, Kremer declined. He was worried that Prize4Life’s funding and previous work might ultimately go toward research that had no benefit to ALS. Determined to maintain his foundation’s tight focus, he opted to go it alone.

If Prize4Life were subject to a Harvard Business School case study, many students would have urged Kremer to “find synergies” and merge with the X Prize Foundation. But when it’s your life hanging in the balance, your tolerance for risk is greater. After all, for Kremer, what’s there to lose? "

Spider Space Elevator

The Space Elevator blog reports on a 2006 team, Nexia Biotechnologies, that was working towards the Tether competition. The post describes a tether approach using spider silk, and links to an article detailing some new advances in the approach, which has many other applications beyond tethers.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Kansas City Space Pirates Funding

The Space Elevator Blog has an article that includes some information sent from the Kansas City Space Pirates. It sounds like they're making good progress on the financial side of their Beam Power attempt.