Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wall Street Journal Online on an Automotive Prize

The X PRIZE Foundation news list presents an article by the Wall Street Journal Online that advocates an automotive prize:

To further this effort, I'd like to see someone step up and offer a prize to the team responsible for designing and building the best new car in the world. Whoever funds the prize could define the parameters and time frame, but surely qualities would include environmental sustainability, performance, style, practicality and affordability.

The article mentions the Automotive X PRIZE, which does emphasize all of these characteristics. However, the emphasis of that prize is on the 100mpg equivalent threshold and winning a race; as I understand the prize the other characteristics just have to be good enough to make the vehicle a viable mainstream product rather than a concept car. The prize suggested by the WSJ sounds similar, but with a different balance in the required vehicle qualities.

I have to say that I'm a bit skeptical about the WSJ prize goals - you would think that companies would already, because of market forces, be trying to offer the "best new car in the world" when all factors are taken into account. Focusing on 100mpge as the Automotive X PRIZE does allows a particular problem to be addressed that perhaps isn't getting enough attention because market forces don't emphasize political or environmental downsides of low mileage cars. If it were me designing the prize I might make a "2nd" prize tier for the X PRIZE for, say, 80mpge cars that really do a good job on the other "mainstream" criteria, but nevertheless I think it makes a lot of sense to focus, as the Automotive X PRIZE does, a lot of attention on a particular important technical challenge.

National Review on Climate Prizes, and My Comments on Space

The National Review has an article by Jonathan Alder on the pros and cons of prizes compared to research grants and similar mechanisms for encouraging climate change mitigation technologies. The article comes down in favor of prizes:

Direct government subsidies are a particularly poor way to encourage innovation. Perhaps it should be possible to direct research and development funds toward the most promising and valuable technological endeavors, but this rarely happens in practice. Government subsidies tend to be dispersed on political criteria, rewarding large, politically connected incumbent firms, rather than innovative upstarts. Failing industrial dinosaurs with lobbyists on the payroll are in much better position to snatch up government goodies than revolutionary thinkers toiling in garages or private labs.

The article gives many examples of historical prizes from various fields, including space.

He does emphasize one serious problem with prizes, though:

The same characteristics that make innovation prizes so effective discourage their use by politicians. No one knows in advance who will win a prize, but subsidy programs allow government officials to dole out goodies to special interests and constituents. Subsidy payments go out whether or not a grant recipient delivers, or a problem is solved. Prize money, on the other hand, is only paid out if someone fulfills the preset conditions.

He phrases it in a way that makes it sound almost like an advantage, but as we're seeing with NASA Centennial Challenges funding, it makes it difficult to even start government incentive prizes. Congressional politicians have to look out for the whole country, but their job is also to look out for their direct constituents' interests, too, even if it means that local R&D programs that get funded might not be the most effective ones possible.

But if the climate-change problem is truly urgent, and federal policymakers wish to encourage the development of viable climate-friendly energy sources, they should phase out energy subsidies in favor of various prizes. The federal government should stop rewarding political influence, and instead encourage innovation by paying out for practical results.

For the reasons I stated above, this recommendation sounds completely impractical. Fortunately, it isn't an either-or situation. Moderate government prize programs can be funded without taking away anything significant from big R&D programs. The same is true in the space field - a well-run $10M or $15M per year NASA Centennial Challenges program could be extremely productive, but would hardly put a dent in the rest of NASA (~17B per year). Similar statements could be made for other space-related government agencies.

There are more comments on the article here.

Wired on CMU Lunar Lander X PRIZE Competitor

Wired has an article on the CMU Rover team competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE. They're already getting to work:

I spoke to Whittaker this morning and he was very excited about their plans, the team had just met last night and already have their first iteration of a design as we pass the two week mark from the announcement of the prize. You can tell he has space in his blood. With 15 years of robotic experience, from DARPA Grand Challenge, to Antarctic and Arctic robots, he now has his chance to go for the golden ring.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Google Lunar X PRIZE on Planetary Radio

Planetary Radio has a show that features the Google Lunar X PRIZE as the main topic. This show has clips from the announcement of the Lunar X PRIZE from Buzz Aldrin, NASA's Shana Dale, Google's Larry Page, SpaceX's Elon Musk, and the X PRIZE Foundation's Peter Diamandis. The show also has interviews of Diamandis and Musk that were held shortly after the announcement.

Space Cynics on Google Lunar X PRIZE

As they warned, the Space Cynics have a full article on the Google Lunar X PRIZE showing the technical, schedule, and financial difficulties in winning the prize. They seem to see a possibility for a company that's already working on a lunar rover (eg: the CMU team), but not much hope for a fresh starter. The commenters aren't as sure, but noone is saying that it will be easy.

X PRIZE Foundation 7 Year, $300M Commitment to Education, Energy, Poverty Alleviation, and Health

On the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker, a press release is linked showing a big commitment by the Foundation in the areas of "Education, Energy and Climate Change, Poverty Alleviation and Global Health". This was done at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative meeting.

The commitment is for $300M, in the form of prizes, over 7 years. That's a big commitment, but note that Larry Page from Google was with Peter Diamandis when he made the announcement. I don't know if, or how much, Google or Google representatives expect to actually contribute to the $300M, but it lends a certain level of credibility to the announcement.

The press release gives more details about the Foundation's plans:

"The first step toward meeting this Commitment to Action will be the official launch of the Automotive X PRIZE, scheduled for early next year. In all, a dozen prizes will be launched over the course of the seven-year commitment ... The Foundation has defined four prize initiatives within each of CGI's areas of focus, all of which are designed for a global impact".

That's a lot of prizes! I guess 4 times 4 is 16, which isn't a dozen, but maybe some of the prize initiatives within the 4 areas of focus won't be chosen for launch. "A dozen" may just be a rough goal at this point.

There's more information about each of the areas:

"Energy & Environment: The Foundation is developing a suite of prizes that will increase the supply of renewable energy, improve the efficiency with which we consume resources and promote the use of environmentally friendly alternative sources of fuel."

At this point I'd like to mention the paper Technology Prizes for Climate Change Mitigation, which discusses the applicability of prizes to this area.

Of course the Automotive X PRIZE draft rules have been released, and many teams are already preparing for this competition. I hope they offer some intermediate rule updates if there are any significant changes in the works!

It would be very interesting if they can come up with a prize that combines the areas of space and environment. Some kind of Earth Observation smallsat advance, or sensor that can be put on an already-planned satellite to help monitor the environment, might work. Iridium, although not in a typical Earth-monitoring orbit, seems to be interested in hosting Earth Observation sensors in their next generation of satellites, although they might prefer lots of sensors for a whole constellation - meaning lots of money - to make it worth their trouble. Something like that might even be of interest to Google as a core business supplier for Google Earth, rather than primarily as a marketing or charitable effort. A solar power satellite demo might be another way to combine the 2 fields (space and energy/environment). Of course there are other possibilities, but they would have to fit together into a reasonable prize competition.

"Life Sciences: New prizes are being created to improve public health and healthcare. With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a panel of seasoned medical, scientific and engineering experts, multiple prizes will be developed in early 2008. The Foundation is also working closely with a panel of cancer research and treatment experts to develop a suite of strategically sequenced prizes to unlock the challenges of cancer prevention, detection and treatment."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation lists the X PRIZE Foundation in its grant list.

I should mention that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored the Disruptive Innovations in Healthcare competition, which was run by Check out the winners; one of the finalists uses medical systems developed for remote medical work on the ISS for medical treatment from a distance on Earth.

Naturally this again makes me wonder if there's some way 2 goals could be accomplished with 1 prize. Could a life sciences prize be merged with a space prize? The telemedicine prize finalist make it seem possible, but I'd only recommend such a combination of prize efforts if there's a really good natural fit, or if the benefit of combining health care and space prize sponsor funds clearly benefits the prize, from the points of view of all sponsors, more than any awkwardness resulting from the combination.

Also of note is the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research.

Dr. Peter Diamandis is also listed as a speaker in the "Innovations in Building Consumer Demand for Tobacco Cessation Products and Services" conference.

There are also somewhat more general descriptions of the education and global poverty prizes that the Foundation plans. The education prizes under investigation focus on advanced learning technologies, and the global poverty prizes are focused on incentives and market approaches. Check out the work that's been done on prizes for African agriculture. These proposals are a bit more complicated than the typical X PRIZE for specific innovations, which I think makes them more difficult to manage than an X PRIZE. However, there is an argument presented that justifies the complication. Hopefully both approaches are tried so we can see what works best.

Hopefully we will see more X PRIZE news in the education and global poverty areas.

All in all this sounds like a very ambitious and important series of efforts. Best of luck to the X PRIZE Foundation and all sponsors and competitors in these prizes!

Elevator Games Approaching

Here are 2 recent posts from the Space Elevator Blog:

Three weeks and counting - reminding us that it's almost time for the games!

The latest from the Kansas City Space Pirates - showing what's happening there (including a weather-smashed mirror) as the competition approaches

TSGC NASA Means Business Student Competition

Spaceref also has a post on the 2008 NASA Means Business Student Competition. From the press release:

"This year's challenge is: Help NASA to increase the number of corporate researchers, university researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors who utilize the Nation's investment in spaceflight to grow their investments in knowledge and commerce.

Specifically, participating teams will compete by designing and preparing a NASA Spaceflight Promotion Plan and illustrative flagship promotion projects including a fully implemented Internet Solution with a 20-second promotional video and other concept design/media elements".

The full details are at the Texas Space Grant Consortium website on the challenge. The TSGC also runs the TSGC Design Challenge.

AIAA/NASA 21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition

Spaceref has an article on the "Second Annual AIAA/NASA 21st Century Explorer Podcast Competition". This competition asks students ages 11-18 to make video and audio recordings on the topic "What do you think is NASA's greatest exploration achievement in the past 50 years and why?"

Details about the contest are here. It starts October 1. Prizes will be announced later. I thought the introductory video was interesting. It had a big-budget presentation on how to do the podcasts, and the students' low-budget ideas. It reminded me of the contrast between the typical view of a big government space program and a small private space mission.

UP Aerospace Trip Prize

RLV News has some information about a contest where the prize is a trip to see a UP Aerospace launch and then to Florida to see the Kennedy Space Center.

Friday, September 28, 2007

MoonROx Centennial Challenge Status?

In my previous post, I mentioned a slide show of prize-related pictures and associated text.

One of the slides says "...MoonROx Challenge, which will reward $1 million for an apparatus that can extract oxygen from simulated moon dirt. This competition, announced in 2005, has yet to prompt a single contestant".

As far as I know (I could be wrong), MoonROx isn't even on right now, which would explain why there aren't any contestants. You need to know the rules before you put money down on a registration fee. The California Space Authority site has the following information on MoonROx:

"MoonROx Challenge 2008... Coming Soon ... We are in the process of coordinating with NASA to finalize the rule set. They have been quite busy lately in their lunar architecture development efforts. With a little luck, we should have the rule set out to the general public in the July 2007 time frame."

I wrote the following notes during a talk by NASA Centennial Challenge's Ken Davidian at Space Access '07, which was only a few months ago:

"2006: Beam (200K), Tether (200K), LLC (2M), MoonROx (250K)
2007: Glove (250K), Regolith (250K), PAV (250K), Beam (300K), Tether (300K), MoonROx (750K)

For the MoonROx challenge, he just got the administrator’s signature on the $1 million prize."

The following NASA Innovative Partnership Program slide show from August 2007 has MoonROx as a 'possible'".

That's about all I know about it ... the situation isn't too clear to me. From this Spaceports article, it sounds like a lot of people would be interested in signing up for the challenge if it's offered and the details work out for them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

BusinessWeek on the Business Side of the Google Lunar X PRIZE

BusinessWeek has an article on the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Some snippets from the article:

Peter Diamandis expects that it could easily cost the winner more than the prize amount to win. With that situation, will anyone be able to justify the project, or even make a profit on the trip?

'"There are companies that will have a great interest in flying their computers, sensors, their communications, and their cameras with us," says Carnegie Mellon's Whittaker, who has in the past tapped such big-name sponsors as Caterpillar (CAT), Google, and General Motors (GM) to fund and equip his DARPA Grand Challenge teams.'

"The Carnegie Mellon Moon Prize Team will also look for opportunities to sell the novelty of having a robot on the moon. For this, Whittaker has reunited with David Gump, his former colleague at LunaCorp ... A visitor to an amusement park, for example, might take a turn driving the rover around the lunar surface like a remote-controlled car. But LunaCorp fizzled out in 2003 because, according to Gump, it lacked credibility in the eyes of potential backers. That, he believes, has changed overnight. "With Google's announcement, you now have a credibility factor and an interest factor that didn't exist."

Also, "there could be even bigger customers—government agencies—waiting in the wings".

You can also check out a commented slide show of prize-related pictures that goes with the article.

LaserMotive Test Photo

The Space Elevator Blog posts on a LaserMotive test setup. There's also a post on a paper from Team Recens on Beam Power Competition design, problems at the competition, and how to solve them. There are pictures of different teams' entries in last year's competition.

X PRIZE Cup links

RLV News posts some links to information sources on the upcoming events in New Mexico, which include the Lunar Lander Challenge prize competition and many other events.

X PRIZE Cup - blog from the sponsor, Wirefly - I didn't know about this one. They have a number of posts already. It's easy to get to the sponsor's business links, too.

The Pomerantz Report - blog from X PRIZE Foundation space representative William Pomerantz (you know about this one if you've been checking this site, but I think I should put it on the side links, too).

You can also check the RLV News link for more links - one from on the history of the Holloman Air Force Base (where this year's X PRIZE Cup will be held), and one on getting a spot at the Personal Spaceflight Symposium held before the X PRIZE Cup.

Space Politics on the Idea of Big Mars Prizes

Space Politics has 2 discussions going on with angles on prizes, especially really big Mars prizes:

Space and Solutions Day - discusses an event with workshops, including one on space, where the topic of prizes could come up, if someone in the audience takes the suggestion

Griffin on Balancing the Public and Private Sectors - this thread is related to the Space Review article I posted about recently

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Team America Rocketry Challenge Registration Opens

Space News has a short article on the start of registration for the 2008 Team America Rocketry Challenge, or TARC. This rocket contest is for middle and high school students, and involves $60,000 in cash and scholarship prizes.

Here's a key change in the rules for this contest that has been going on for several years:

"The new contest rules call for the teams to launch a handmade rocket to an altitude of 750 feet while staying aloft for 45 seconds. A major difference for the 2008 challenge is the rule calling for the rocket to carry a payload of two raw eggs, rather than one. Both eggs must be unbroken for the team to receive a score in the launch."


A while ago I had a late, brief post on the ESA's SUCCESS contest for students.

Now, Space-for-All has an article on the opening of this year's SUCCESS contest, where the prize is a year-long internship to develop an experiment for the ISS. The details are here.

Space-for-All also points out an essay contest where the prize is a trip to watch the Space Shuttle launch of the Columbus ISS module. The topic of the essay is 'The value of human spaceflight for European citizens'. Check out the contest poster.

Both contests are open to students up to the Master's degree level.

Monday, September 24, 2007

NASA Adminstrator Griffin on Prizes and the Space Economy

The Space Review has an article about some speeches that NASA Administrator Griffin made on topics related to the space economy. I'll start with the comment that's most relevant to this site, Space Prizes:

He did warn, though, about going too far in the direction of incentives like prizes. “The people who suggest that we should put up a $100-billion prize for the first company to take us to Mars are idiots,” he said. “We need an appropriate balance between government sector activity and private sector activity. My point is that, for fifty years in the space business, we have not had that appropriate balance. We need to move more towards the middle.”

At this point I'm supposed to get indignant and protest, right? This is the Space Prizes site, after all. Well, I have seen some proposals for large Mars prizes, such as the one in Zubrin's "A Case for Mars" and one from Newt Gingrich on a $20 Billion Mars prize. There was also an editorial in the Wall Street Journal advocating a $50 Billion prize for development of a Moon base in lieu of NASA building one. To some extent I wonder if the goal of some of these prizes would be to prevent NASA cost overruns, rather than to actually accomplish the objective. In Zubrin's case, the proposal included numerous smaller, incremental prizes, so the big dollar figure is somewhat misleading. At any rate, the prize that Dr. Griffin describes doesn't sound too attractive to me.

However, I don't think many advocates of NASA or other government agency sponsored space prizes are talking about monstrously huge prizes like these. Clearly starting such huge government prizes would present insurmountable political difficulties, and getting serious competitors to raise the money needed to make the needed investments would also be, shall we say, challenging. I think most prize discussions have been much more modest. NASA's Centennial Challenges prize program hasn't been funded in the past 2 years, and this year it may, if it's lucky, get funded for $4 Million. That's a truly insignificant amount out of NASA's ~$50 Billion budget for the last 3 years. Most pro-prize discussions I've seen have advocated increasing that $4 Million to $10 or $20 Million per year. As you can imagine, this would hardly hurt the balance that Dr. Griffin is striving to achieve. NASA Centennial Challenges has many modest-sized prize ideas with potentially big payoffs, as can be seen here. There are many other modest but worthwhile prize ideas to pursue, too - adding to the Google Lunar X PRIZE (eg: bonus prizes for achieving NASA goals such as measurements or engineering demonstrations of interest to the NASA Moon program), adding to the Lunar Lander Challenge if some of that prize is won this year, prizes for improvements to suborbital vehicles, etc.

I'll also mention that more mainstream prize proposals tend to favor prizes with an identifiable commercial, as well as NASA, follow-on market for the winner than the $100 Billion Mars Prize that Dr. Griffin described. With modest size, a believable market, and a suitably difficult but publicity-generating challenge, prizes can work out quite well.

In summary, it would be helpful for Administrator Griffin to enthusiastically talk up his own Centennial Challenges program, rather than making prizes seem over the top. There isn't much he can do in a speech to help most NASA programs, since publicity doesn't matter much for them, especially as they are being developed, but it is important for prizes. I'd also recommend checking out some of the serious academic papers listed on this site, or some others in the economics and policy literature.

Administrator Griffin also discusses commercial suborbital vehicles.

“If I was still at the helm of NASA when such a service became available, I would guarantee you that we would use it to begin entry-level training of astronauts.”

That's a good idea, but why wait until after the service becomes available? It's highly debatable whether or not this industry will get on its feet, and if it does, whether or not U.S. companies will be involved. I'd suggest that NASA should be proactive in encouraging this industry, in particular (since NASA is funded by U.S. taxpayers) U.S. suborbital companies or related businesses. So, why not have a serious NASA effort to explore what suborbital services it wants, what are the technical characteristics of the rides it wants, and what would it be willing to pay for these services? This wouldn't be a contract - it would just be a statement of intention, subject to the usual ups and downs of the business - to try to clarify the business situation for investors, and the engineering challenge for engineers. Is NASA interested in astronaut training flights? How many? What flight profiles would be acceptable, and what are the payment tradeoffs? Is NASA interested in flying microgravity experiments? What about funding University microgravity experiments? How many, how big, how long should the flights be, and so on? Is NASA interested in making Earth observation measurements on suborbital flights for satellite calibration purposes, or for direct science? Are they interested in taking atmospheric samples? Astronomical observations? Instrument testing? Aeronautical testing? What payloads need people, and what can be done unmanned? What systems would NASA be willing to develop to attach to the vehicles if it looks like they're going to really be developed?

I'd like to see more NASA-industry discussions, and a NASA document that lays it all out so industry knows what NASA wants, and what it can bring to the table.

Not only that, but it would be interesting to see NASA show its interest in buying commercial space services by buying existing services from Zero Gravity Corporation, UP Aerospace, JP Areospace ... just to show that all this talk of buying services from entrepreneurial space companies is in all seriousness. If NASA doesn't need the actual services, maybe they would fit in nicely with NASA University outreach programs.

Finally, Griffin talked about COTS, a model for giving industry incentives when their services haven't been created ... yet.

Griffin talked about the role of government in helping enable new markets in space, specifically citing the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) efforts currently underway. “To me, this is exactly analogous to the way that government policy—enlightened public policy—spurred the aviation industry of the 20th century."

One potential problem with COTS is that it's directed at 2 specific companies with their own strengths and weaknesses, with a particular technical goal. Also, it isn't a whole lot of money for the enormous challenge of developing a launch vehicle and a spacecraft to reach the ISS. If RpK fails, I'd take a very serious and skeptical look at how much time and NASA funding any follow-on company will need to achieve their business and technical objectives. I wouldn't just give them X dollars because that's what RpK left over.

I'd also suggest that orbital launch services aren't the only area where the COTS model is applicable. I'd probably try the COTS model in a few other NASA business areas - perhaps ones that are significantly less challenging (and costly) than ISS resupply, given the funding that NASA has available.

In summary, I'm glad Dr. Griffin is talking and thinking so much about economics and space. I hope he's thinking a lot more about what he can do to improve the situation now, while the time is right, and while he can do something about it at NASA, rather than letting most of the decisions to buy commercial space services or present incentives to space companies to make new services wait until after the NASA Moon base is built.

TechRanch on the 2008 Regolith Challenge Rules

Technology Ranch, one of the 2007 Regolith Excavation Challenge competitors, has some thoughts about the new 2008 draft rules.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Carnegie Mellon Lunar X PRIZE Team

There has been a lot of Internet discussion of the Lunar Rover team announcement from Carnegie Mellon University.

The CMU School of Computer Science issued a press release on the team's intentions. From the press release:

“Planetary exploration is a dream we pursue and a technology we create,” said Whittaker, the Fredkin Research Professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. “We have spent decades building and testing robotic technologies for just this purpose. We are also veterans of competitive technology challenges. These are the things we do, so combining lunar rovers with a competitive race to the moon is a great opportunity.”

They already have a web site. Here's more about their current rover work for NASA.

The Daily Galaxy posted on their earlier lunar rover work for NASA, and how that should help in the competition.

Universe Today covers CMU's current lunar rover work, and the challenges they'll have for that and for the Google X PRIZE rover.

If you want to follow a long conversation, here's a thread on the CMU entry at Slashdot. Unreasonable Rocket contributes to the conversation.

Beam Power Updates as the Date Gets Closer

From the Space Elevator Blog, here's an update on the Kansas City Space Pirates. They're doing well with final tests, they have merchandise (T-shirts, etc), and they're getting publicity.

Also, the dates for the EuroSpaceward workshop on the Tether and Climber aspects of space elevators have been set.

EarthBalls and MoonBalls at Space Prize Events

If you saw the Google Lunar X PRIZE announcement (in person or recorded), you probably noticed the big centerpiece globe of the Moon that was on display. (If you didn't see it, check here and the end of this video). You probably also noticed some big globes at the X PRIZE Cup. You may have been wondering where one gets a 16 foot globe. They don't sell them at the grocery store, do they?

Orbis makes these globes in giant and personal sizes. They're often used in museums or atriums, and also at events. Here you can see them at the X PRIZE Cup and other events. This page has an example of a Moon globe used at MSFC. Sometimes the globes even make it into space.

Exhibitor Online has an article about the 12 foot Moon globe that the company made for the Google Lunar X PRIZE announcement. Here's their promotional background:

"Utilizing the latest generation of NASA satellite imagery, Orbis World Globes produces globes and custom spheres for trade show exhibits. Orbis globes are the most visually authentic world replicas available on our planet.

In 1985, inspired by the early photographs of the whole Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts, Eric Morris founded Orbis. His goal was to bring to market photorealistic world globes and help change people’s perspective of our planet. Eric thought, ‘If everyone can see Planet Earth as the orbiting astronauts observe it, perhaps they will be similarly inspired.’

Orbis World Globes can be produced as large as desired, from 3 to 30 feet in diameter. They are perfect for permanent installations, such as corporate lobbies and museum exhibits, as well as temporary displays such as trade shows and conferences.

Orbis World Globes now makes Moon Globes, featuring NASA satellite imagery, and custom spheres of all kinds."

Usually when people think of commercial space, they think of one of 2 things: either big companies making telecommunications satellites, or startups trying to make cheaper launch vehicles. I think of commercial space as not just encompassing these 2 areas, and other businesses dealing with hardware intended for space or to support space missions, but also the many businesses involved with use of space data, space education, and many other related fields. This company is an example. Google is another example (with Google Earth, and search work with NASA Ames, for example ... they even have a page on what they're doing in space). It would be interesting to see what common interests this broader commercial space industry has, and whether or not they can speak with one, louder voice and achieve their goals.

List of Science and Related Competitions

The Science Museum of Minnesota keeps a list of competitions that pertain to space, science, and engineering. Many are for students; a lot of the others are for teachers. I've mentioned a handful of them over time, but many are new to me. There are a lot listed there, so I'm not going to cover them all; just check out the link if you want to know more.

Catching Up with Lunar Lander Challenge News

With all of the recent Google Lunar X PRIZE news, I haven't been keeping up to date with the Lunar Lander Challenge news. There's been a lot of that lately, too, but hopefully you've been keeping up with that news at HobbySpace/RLV News. Anyway, here's what's been happening:

The Space Fellowship has a discussion forum on the 2007 X PRIZE Cup. Some of the comments there deal with MicroSpace, and how they're continuing to work on the Lunar Lander although they won't be able to compete at the X PRIZE Cup this year. They're also interested in the Google Lunar X PRIZE as a "Lunar Lander Challenge follow-on".

Meanwhile, recently posted an article on this year's X PRIZE Cup. This year the even is expected to have even more continuous rocket events happening, and more displays.

As the event approached, and technical difficulties arose, some more Lunar Lander Teams have dropped out of the actual event this year. There's a discussion of this at NASASpaceFlight.

I already posted on Unreasonable Rocket not being able to make it to the competition this year.

Now, SpeedUp has also announced that they won't be able to make it.

Masten also had to make a similar announcement.

I'm giving links to both the RLVNews posts and the competitor announcements because both have interesting comments, so they're all worth checking out.

Meanwhile, Unreasonable Rocket is already looking ahead to next year's Lunar Lander Challenge, and has a big to-do list for the next year. John Carmack recommends a functional backup vehicle in the comments.

As we all know, rocketry isn't easy. Hopefully everyone keeps at it for next year and reaches their goals.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More on Q-Music Suborbital Ride Prize

Personal Spaceflight has more on the Q-Music radio suborbital prize. The article includes some skepticism on whether the ride with become available any time soon (and Personal Spaceflight wisely doesn't challenge that skepticism), and also some strong words against suborbital vehicles (which Personal Spaceflight challenges).

California Clean Tech Open

In case you think Google's prize efforts are just directed towards the Lunar X PRIZE, you haven't noticed the California Clean Tech Open. From the site:

"The mission of the California Clean Tech Open is to encourage the development of clean technology companies that foster a healthy natural environment — companies that provide environmental benefits in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution reduction and resource protection and conservation."

They aren't the only ones helping with this prize, though. Here are the prizes - some in the form of cash, and some in the form of business services that a start-up would need:

"Each category winner will receive a prize package worth $100,000:

$50,000 from one of the following sponsors:

AMD Smart Power Prize
Environ Foundation Air Water and Waste Prize
Google Green Building Prize
Lexus Transportation Prize
PG&E, SCE and SDG&E Renewables Prize
PG&E, SCE and SDG&E Energy Efficiency Prize

Office space for 1 year from Plug and Play Tech Center.
Legal Services from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Recruiting services from People Connect.
Accounting services from Accretive Solutions.
Public Relations services from Antenna Group.
Insurance services from MacCorkle Insurance Service.
Marketing services from Tangibility"

There are a lot of other advantages for competitors listed on the competition page.

"The Awards Ceremony for the 2007 California Clean Tech Open will be held in San Francisco in late October."

Methuselah Foundation Gets More Supporters

The Methuselah Foundation, which sponsors the Mprize for increasing the life span of lab mice, as well as other anti-aging research activities, has recently gotten a number of supporters.

Is it a space prize? It's close enough to get covered here ... I guess if you've read space-related stories with characters with long lifespans (eg: some Heinlein stories), or considered what it might take to get to other stars, the connection gets closer. Then, if you see some of the space-related donors to the prize, the connection gets stronger still. This prize also fits the model of an innovation incentive prize that I usually (but certainly not always) focus on.

LaserMotive posts one More "Meet the Team"

This time, LaserMotive tells us about Tom Jordan, the actual LaserMotive blog poster. As he says, "what better time than when we’re extremely busy and in danger of going more than a week without a new post?" That's how I feel about posting at Space Prizes sometimes, too.

Friday, September 21, 2007

2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge Draft Rules

RLV News alerts us that the draft 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge Rules are available for comment. In fact, they've started a whole new look and feel for their web site for the 2008 Challenge. Don't worry, though, you can still look up the 2007 teams, sponsors, and all the rest here.

Here are some highlights from the rules and the associated introduction. It's tougher, but also keep in mind that this year the prize is 3 times larger: $750,000.

"The most significant changes include the addition of several rules which implement a mobility requirement for the excavators. We will also more closely simulate the lunar surface by including rocks, which will be placed randomly throughout the sandbox. Based on input from NASA, the new mobility requirement better reflects the needs of the lunar surface architecture currently being designed."

"The TEAMs that can autonomously excavate the most lunar regolith simulant (above the Minimum Excavation Requirement and within Excavation Hardware mass and power limits) from a supplied quantity of regolith within a specified Time Limit will win the CHALLENGE and are eligible to receive First, Second or Third Prize of US$500,000.00, US$150,000.00 and US$100,000.00, respectively."

"Minimum Excavation Requirement – The total Excavated Mass, 150 kg, that must be exceeded in order to win the CHALLENGE."

"There will be four large rocks placed on top of the compressed regolith surface within the
Sandbox before each of the Competition Attempts are made. Each rock will be approximately the size and weight of a bowling ball."

Check out the rules quickly; they'll compile the comments on October 1.

Here's an interesting school I ran across checking out the challenge. The Milwaukee School of Engineering is home to the Moon Rovers, a Regolith Excavation Challenge team that did their work as part of a Senior Design project. You can see more about them at the linked page. The other thing that you'll notice is that there are also all sorts of other cool-sounding design projects, including some for engineering competitions.

Google Lunar X PRIZE: Pomerantz Report, Botball Competition

Google Lunar X PRIZE - In the Pomerantz Report, William Pomerantz posts his first (of what may be many) blog entry on the Google Lunar X PRIZE. From the post:

"To some, landing a privately funded mission on the lunar surface might seem impossible. In fact, we think that it’s just at the outer limits of what we can achieve ... since announcing the prize on Thursday of last week, we’ve gotten well over 100 emails from teams around the world wanting to sign up!"

There should be opportunities to help with teams ones this prize gets rolling. The Automotive X PRIZE has an Internet forum where teams can meet volunteers, find service providers, and finer useful information. The X PRIZE Foundation may start something similar for the Lunar X PRIZE:

"Another extremely encouraging thing has been the number of people who have emailed us saying that they want to help out. They don’t care who wins, they just care that someone wins; and they’ve offered their brains and their labor to any Google Lunar X PRIZE Team that wants it. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll have ways that you can make these offers directly to Teams here on the Google Lunar X PRIZE site".

In the post, he also mentions Botball and FIRST. I recently ran across an article about BotBall and the Lunar X PRIZE, so I'll mention that. The BotNews Blog just announced that the X PRIZE Foundation is sponsoring the 2008 Research and Design Website Challenge for middle school and high school students, which is "The X PRIZE Lunar Rover Botball Design Challenge".

The mission? "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create a website about your conceptual mobile robot that will win the The Google Lunar X PRIZE." You can see all the details about the rules of the challenge and the prizes here.

As for FIRST, I don't know if it's going to be involved with the Google Lunar X PRIZE, but it also has a robot competition for high-school aged students.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Space Elevator Blog on the Upcoming Games

The Space Elevator Blog points us to some views that show just how high those beam-powered climbers are going to have to go. This shows how really a unique event this will be.

Here's a post on some press coverage for team USST.

This one has a brief video (more is expected) from the McGill Space Elevator Team.

Here's one that points to a news article on the NASA announcement of the Space Elevator Games. The article points out that all sorts of practical innovations can be expected to come out of pushing technical envelopes with technical competitions like this.

On the SpaceWard (Space Elevator Games sponsor) site, you can see a flyer for a talk by Ben Shelef on the Space Elevator concept for this Friday (Sep 21) at the University of Utah Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. I hope this generates a lot of local interest in the games themselves, and that the upcoming games in turn generate a lot of interest in that department and others for the Space Elevator Games.

The SpaceWard site also has an interview of Ben Shelef where he describes the Space Elevator and the Space Elevator Games. He goes into a fair amount of detail on the history of the games and the Tether Challenge. I'm glad to hear about the Tether one, because it's a tough challenge, but also has a lot of near-term applications. He's also enthusiastic about the level of improvement expected in the Beam Power competition this year.

Google Lunar X PRIZE All Over the News

The X PRIZE Foundation news ticker has a number of links to major and minor news media articles on the Google Lunar X PRIZE. This is just a sample of the attention the prize announcement got. I think their point in linking to so many articles on the same event is to give potential teams and sponsors a sample of the publicity that could be theirs if they make a serious attempt to win the prize in the public view, actually make a launch, or even win the prize. One might imagine that these more exciting events (compared to the announcement of the prize, which is probably more of interest to Space Prize bloggers than the general public) would generate an even greater amount of publicity.

Google bankrolls prize in moon race - The Boston Globe

Google to sponsor space race to the moon LA Times

The LA Times article has some good information I haven't seen in other "prize rollout" articles. Check it out. Some details from the LA Times article:

"Before Google held its initial public offering in August 2004, its founders cautioned that they were not running "a conventional company." Spending corporate earnings on moon missions puts that pledge to the test.

But that philosophy has carried Google investors on a rocket-ship ride of their own -- those who bought IPO shares have since seen their holdings rise 517%.

Plus, $30 million is a rounding error for a company that generated $11 billion in revenue last year and is still growing fast.

Google's shares gained $2.13 to $524.78 after the announcement.

"This will probably frustrate investors at first glance, but when they see what this does for the Google brand, I think they will get their money's worth," said Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. "If you are going to do something creative with your marketing dollars, you might as well shoot for the moon -- literally."

Here's another interesting piece of information from the LA Times article:

"Google products including Google Earth, which was recently updated with moonscape images, and YouTube will support the teams building the moon rovers, said Dylan Casey, Google's manager for the project."

Google to Sponsor $30 Million X PRIZE -

Next X PRIZE: $20 Million for Moon landing - Discovery Channel. This one also has some interesting information. I like this quote (although his name is spelled wrong):

""I think there will be a lot of potential customers if this works out," said Pete Warden, the director of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., and a long-time proponent of lunar development.

"There's a lot of scientific interest to put hardware on the moon if you can get there affordably. NASA can eventually become a customer," he added".

That would be great if it happens that way. I hope NASA steps up to the plate on this one. I thnk Worden wants it to.

I wonder if organizations like National Geographic will get involved, either during the challenge or using the resulting capabilities after the prize is won?

From the same article, here's some good, and possibly very important, news on those bonus prizes (which I realize are not set in stone right now):

"The X Prize Foundation is working on raising additional funds for other incentives, such as for the first team to get its rover to the launch pad."

Here's an interesting comment from Elon Musk, who is offering discount rides on the Falcon 1, which has made great progress, but still needs to prove itself as a launch vehicle.

"Hopefully it (the rover) won't blow up on our rocket," Musk said. "I'd have a lot of people chasing me. I'd have to hide."

Such is the way of life in the rocket launch business, especially the "new rocket" rocket launch business.

Google Offers $20 Million Prize for Private Moon Mission - Fox News

Google: Put a Rover on the moon, win $30 million - brief overview from CNN (the X PRIZE Foundation ticker link makes it seem like CNN gave a lot more details, but I don't see them when I bring up the link

Lunar Miners Regolith Team Mentioned in Wired

The University of Missouri-Rolla Research news site has a post about their Regolith Excavation team getting some press in Wired.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Delving Deeper into the Implications of the Google Lunar X PRIZE

The unofficial Google Earth Blog has some thoughts about the Google Lunar X PRIZE. They give some background on the prize, but by now, you probably already know all of that, so you might be able to just skip to the bottom of the post and read the speculation about what the implications are for Google Moon.

One question that comes up is whether or not Google Moon would have more of the features of Google Earth (eg: higher resolution, 3D). The links they give in the post seem to be lunar data layovers for Google Earth. I've seen other similar Google Earth data overlays for other planets. Google Moon is, I think, more of a Google Maps application. (I expect them all to be integrated together some day). As they say in the FAQ, "Google Moon only has as much data as NASA was able to give us, so there are limitations (for now) on how close to the surface we can zoom."

I would imagine that the Google Moon limitations (whether overlay or maps) are based on the available data. The lack of 3D capabilities are probably related to the absense of digital elevation model (DEM) data availability. I don't really know what lunar data has been collected, but it seems likely that's the case.

I probably would have guessed that, if Google were to have a lunar prize, it would be to gather data that could fill in Google Moon. However, one of the upcoming government lunar orbiters may already have plans to take care of that. Is anyone keeping track of this? Sorry; I haven't been.

All of this makes me wonder how long it will take for someone to make some Google Moon and SketchUp models with rovers. I'd like to see that.

Meanwhile, Selenian Boondocks has some analysis about what the Lunar X PRIZE may accomplish, with the appropriate business and engineering skills applied to the problem.

RLV News is also following the discussions and making suggestions on how the prize might be won:

John from Armadillo Aerospace has some ideas on how their post-Lunar Lander Challenge plans might fit into a Lunar X PRIZE attempt. There might also be groups with experience with small satellites that can help.

Here he posts on an earlier attempt at a lunar rover, Blastoff!

In the final RLV News link of this post, here's a discussion of some low cost lunar missions that may be useful case studies for any Lunar X PRIZE competitors.

The last post refers to some small, low-cost NASA Ames lunar lander proposals that were cancelled, but apparently not for technical reasons. The recent Space Show interview of NASA Ames Director Pete Worden has some interesting comments, not on the past, but the future he'd like to see for this type of mission.

Several Space Elevator Game Competitor Posts

Andromeda Connection posts about a new member of their team with an aerospace engineering background.

Meanwhile, USST recently posted several brief notes about "outreach" events: a breakfast presentation, a news show, and university orientation.

LaserMotive has been posting a lot. The recent posts:

Using the concept from the model recently presented by the Kansas City Space Pirates (see the link at the bottom of this post), they have created a Google Earth/SketchUp model and animation of their climber and the test area.

They also posted about the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and, although it sounds fun, they might be better off tackling one space prize at a time.

Finally, they note how restlessly cool being in the competition is.

Lunar Lander Challenge Updates from Unreasonable Rocket and BonNova

Lunar Lander Challenge competitor BonNova adds a comment about their interest in the other Lunar Lander Challenge, the Google Lunar X PRIZE, to their news section. They also give a link to a Cosmic Log article that has the comment.

Meanwhile, Unreasonable Rocket posts that they encountered some problems, and are out of time for the 2007 Lunar Lander Challenge. That's disappointing, but everyone knows this is an incredibly difficult challenge, especially for a small team. From here it looks like they've done a great job.

They give details on what happened this weekend, and what they think the prospects are for the Challenge at the X PRIZE Cup this year. They plan to continue going for the prize in 2008 if there is still money in the pot.

Good luck to Unreasonable Rocket - take a break, get the day business in order, and hopefully show everyone how far you've progressed already at the X PRIZE Cup. Also, be back next year!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Skepticism on Google Lunar X PRIZE

The Space Cynics have fired a warning salvo on the Google Lunar X PRIZE. If you think this is going to be an easy prize to win, or, even more, to win while making money or starting a business, you'd better keep checking there for a dose or 2 of skepticism.

In earlier posts on this prize (see the tag below) I've pointed you to some blog discussions debating whether or not the prize is winnable by a business. There are varying opinions so far, but in keeping with the tone of this post, I'll present an excerpt from one of the informed but skeptical ones from comments at RLV News; see the link for the full comment:

"It will be interesting to look at. One thing that is clear, unless the team is very well funded this is going to be extremely difficult to make work ... It really has to be done for less than [the prize amount if you want to make money at it]. Therefore there will really only be two classes of people who go for this.

1. High net worth individuals who are true believers ...
2. Corporate sponsor for the marketing boost.

This is barely possible but not to be discounted.

No one is going to fund a business plan based on this although you will probably hear much hoopla that some people claim this. Stay far far away from anyone who does make these claims."

I've also been thinking in similar terms. A prize tends to be easier to win if there's an identifiable market that can also be addressed if you win (or are close to winning) the prize. This would be the case where there's some kind of technical barrier to a market that noone has invested the needed energy, money, time, or imagination to overcome before the prize. For example, for the Ansari X PRIZE, there's the prospect of suborbital tourism, remote sensing, reconaissance, and other markets. These aren't certain markets, but an argument can be made for them. I'm having a more difficult time imagining the lunar rover market that this prize would open up. Perhaps it's a failure of imagination on my part, but perhaps not. There could be government business, but NASA, for one, is concentrating on huge rockets, so that market might not appear. There could be private markets for the rovers (people or even corporations wanting to buy pictures from the Moon, science organizations wanting data, etc) but will there be enough interest to justify the investment? A rover that carries sophisticated science instruments, or lasts and roves long and far enough to continue to bring new data to buy will tend to be even more expensive. So, how can we make sure this becomes a good deal for investors?

I think more pieces need to fall into place, or possibly need to be deliberately put into place by people interested in helping the model work ... that model being that investors, sponsors, and teams are attracted in sufficient numbers, the prize is won, and the efforts continue after the prize win as a new industry.

I don't know what those pieces are, though.

Does NASA Centennial Challenges need to add more "bonus prizes" to any rover that achieves goals that NASA is interested in inspiring? Do space groups like the Planetary Society, Mars Society, or National Space Society need to do the same, or organize themselves to tackle a piece of the technical problem? Does a movie-maker like James Cameron need to raise the profile of the challenge by making a film of the team efforts, or of the resulting Moon photos and videos? Can science museums or other educational institutions help? What are the potential sponsors? LEGO, Hot Wheels, or Matchbox? Will part of it have to be solved with cheap grad student or hobbyist labor?

Fortunately it strikes me as a problem that can be broken into multiple components that could be solved by different groups. I could imagine teams with different interests combining to solve it: maybe some hoping to make a business on Earth out of solving some piece of the challenge, others who are "true-believers" hoping to help the space effort, others hoping for public relations or advertising, and others hoping for graduate thesis material. However, the contributions of each team would all have to work together, and the contribution of each would have to be thoroughly tested. That's not easy!

Google Lunar X PRIZE Announcement Photos and Video

Here are some links with photos and a video from the Lunar X PRIZE announcement at the Wired NextFest:

Wired has photos with the 2 Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, as well as Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk, and others. The photos have comments, which is always good.

Personal Spaceflight also has lots of pictures of the event.

The X PRIZE Foundation has posted this video of highlights from the rollout to their YouTube channel. It includes excerpts from the X PRIZE Foundation folks, Larry Page, Buzz Aldrin, NASA's Shana Dale, and an appearance by the Moon.

Google Lunar X PRIZE Marketing and Public Relations

This article comments on the Google Lunar X PRIZE in terms of marketing. "This is the sort of brand and market development that continues to put Google head and shoulders above any other publishing enterprise for vision and return on investment". Google is known for not spending on traditional advertising, but rather relying on word of mouth and simply doing things that get people interested in them. Of course they have an advertising product AdSense, but that generates revenue for them. Clearly the public relations and marketing aspects are key at every level of this prize - the sponsor, the prize-running organization, other organizations like SpaceX helping with the prize, the potential competitor teams and their sponsors and possibly blogs, and of course the media effect if the prize is won and videos are sent from the rover to Earth. Marketing, public relations, public approval and recognition, and creating general energy and enthusiasm are central to most, if not all, innovation prizes (or even other prizes).

As a non-scientific assessment of how the initial media campaign is going, my wife happened to mention the Lunar X PRIZE in a class. I guess I must have been talking about it: "Let's go for a walk AFTER I finish this Lunar X PRIZE post ... just 10 more minutes ...". From her discussion, it sounds like the professor and most of the class knew about the prize already, and were able to discuss it in the context of government and private efforts. This is not a space or engineering- related class or school, so that's pretty amazing to me, given the low visibility of some other, much (MUCH!) larger space efforts.

One question this naturally brings up is will other large corporations, perhaps corporations that want to develop (or keep, or in some cases re-develop) a forward-looking, exciting, high-tech image, invest some of their advertising budgets in high-profile innovation prizes in attention-getting areas like space, robotics, environment, health, and others?

... or ...

Will they start to more often see innovation prizes as tools to help them solve technical problems that they would find advantageous for business reasons to have solved, but that they don't have the resources to reliably solve using in-house R&D or traditional R&D contracts or grants?

In either case, will they find it to be cost-effective to partner with like-minded foundations like the X PRIZE Foundation to help them manage the prize?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Unreasonable Laptop Adventures

Unreasonable Rocket makes more progress, but also runs into some problems that fortunately can be overcome. When I say "runs into", I mean that literally, sort of.

Mars Society 2008 University Rover Challenge

The Mars Society has updated its University Rover Challenge site in anticipation of the 2008 event. They will be offering "transportation, lodging and admission for 5 team members to the11th Annual International Mars Society Convention in Boulder, CO in August, 2008, and large cash prizes".

Draft rules and a video for the challenge have also been posted. There are challenges in several categories that the rover needs to meet: Geology, Biology, delivery of emergency supplies to a simulated distressed astronaut, and construction.

More Coverage of the Google Lunar X PRIZE Rollout

The coverage of the new prize is overwhelming ... see my earlier posts to get a sample. I'll give some more examples below.

The Planetary Society posts a supportive message on the Lunar X PRIZE. They note how well this effort ties into other lunar exploration efforts they've been following and even getting involved with. They emphasize their support for private lunar missions.

Unreasonable Rocket thinks the prize is too difficult for the incentive, and it may go unwon. There is controversy about the same question in discussions at sites like Hopefully a low-cost Lunar Lander Challenger like Unreasonable Rocket gets to take part in winning the prize using the foundation they've achieved already in rocketry. It certainly won't be easy, but that's why there's a prize.

PC Magazine has an article that gives you the basics about the prize. From the article:

'"Now you know we were serious when we introduced Google Moon, a few years ago," Larry Page told the crowd. "Science has a serious marketing problem, and I think this is the antidote."'
GearLog has a detailed account of the actual WIRED NextFest opening ceremonies, which includes the Google Lunar X PRIZE announcement. The start of the X PRIZE part is about half-way down the page, but the rest is interesting, too. There are comments on the prize rollout made by many people: NASA's Shana Dale, SpaceX's Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, Peter Diamandis, Google's Larry Page, James Cameron, and the X PRIZE Foundation's Bob Weiss. There's also an interview with Larry Page on the prize.

Here are some video words of support for the private Lunar X PRIZE from explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, as well as science fiction author and comsat visionary Arthur C. Clarke.

I should have checked at RLV News (as I usually do) first thing in the morning, because I see a lot more comments and discussions there. I could have just pointed you to some of the above links, too. Check them out because there are some there I haven't seen, or posted about, yet (and I'll have to head out soon):

Lunar Prize Follow-Up at RLV News

Reactions to the prize from several perspectives, also from RLV News. He takes apart some of the objections to the prize from on artcle.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Google Lunar X PRIZE Announced!

My first question: Where is Microsoft? Where is Bill Gates? You guys don't want to become anachronisms, do you?? It's time to step up to the plate ...

Well, now that I'm back at the computer, there are already a ton of sites, videos, and discussions about the new Google Lunar X PRIZE. Since I don't have much time, I think it's best for me to just provide some links to what's already out there, for the time being. In all likelihood I'll add to this post later, since I have some thoughts of my own about it, and there's more to link to than I can right now.

First for the main site: Google Lunar X PRIZE - Moon 2.0. I like how they make it sound like a software release, with the implication that the first round was just a test version, and this one will be much better (private and government together, sustained, etc). There is too much on this site to describe, and I haven't even seen much of it yet, so you'll just have to explore on your own.

Here's an X PRIZE YouTube Channel with a lot of videos about the new prize: X PRIZE YouTube. Some of the videos there include:

Google Lunar X PRIZE - or "GLXP" - introduction video, which gives an introduction to the prize, shows a scenario of a team winning the rover prize (including the bonus prizes for things like surviving a lunar night and imaging past lunar mission hardware), and gives some motivation for why the people on the Earth need the Moon to solve problems here.

Earth Offshort Island - Part 1 - an educational piece about the Moon, emphasizing the interactions and interdependencies between the Moon and the Earth (and of course the Earth's fragile biosphere). Environmental applications are described, such as Solar Power Satellites built using resources launched from the Moon, which is easier to launch from, in energy terms, than the Earth. Other Lunar resources that would make lunar development easier, and may be economical resources, such as oxygen and the possibility of ice, are described.

Here are some words of support for the prize from James Cameron and Arthur C. Clarke.

Now for a number of blog posts with conversations and comments about the new prize:

NASASpaceFlight has started a thread on the prize with some technical speculation about how one might win the prize without blowing the bank. The posts are pouring in even as I type.

SpaceForAll - on the Google Lunar Legacy, a way to get a picture to the Moon via the rover competitors, and at the same time to support the Lunar Rover Prize and educational activities.

RLV News - introduces us to the Lunar Prize. There's a heated debate about the value of the prize. My point of view closely matches that of, but in a more easy-going way.

RLV News - brings us a number of good links to more articles about the prize. The interesting and controversial comments continue.

Cosmic Log has what I think is the best overview of the prize, and the background leading to the prize, that I've seen so far. Impressive. There are some rather loopy comments, but the article goes into so much detail that you may need even need to bother with them.

That article gave a hint about a Carnegie Mellon University team that's already planning to enter the competition. CMU is well-known for its robotics capabilities. Here's their news release.
MSNBC also has another article on the prize. This one has some interesting comments by Pete Worden on NASA's role as an "interested observer" for the prize. I guess NASA is too cash-strapped with Ares I to get into the prize, but Dr. Worden is, I think, the most credible NASA spokesperson for talking about low-cost lunar missions and working with commercial companies like Google.

Rand at Transterrestrial Musings isn't too impressed, since he's more interested in human space flight. However, he does see the benefits of the prize. Personally, I'm more interested in robotic space flight, because I'm interested in advancing all sorts of existing commercial and government robotic space applications (comsats, GPS, remote sensing, rovers, and on and on). I'm also into computers (even though I'm not into spending a lot of time making this blog fancy). It's just a personal thing, and I certainly am pushing all out, with skepticism in the short term but confidence in the long term, for the commercial human space flight folks, whether NewSpace or, if their accountants get interested, traditional big companies. I'm sure the X PRIZE folks are supporters of this, too, but Google may be more excited about the automation and searching of a lunar lander.

Personal Spaceflight discusses an article in the Huffington Post with an early sneak preview about the prize. There's a family connection that might have helped get the word in that direction out a bit early.

I think this must be the Huffington Post article just described. This one goes into some of the educational benefits of having this challenge. It should inspire a lot of interest in science and math for today's upcoming generation, which is more interested in things like Google and the possibility of getting rich through entrepreneurial work and cautious risk-taking, just as the generation of current leaders were inspired by the original, ground-breaking large government human space program. There are a number of educational efforts associated with the prize.

Yes, it is true; I read the article the first time around. Mark from Curmudgeons Corner had a detailed article that advocated a space prize for a lunar lander. Maybe he should write a few more articles like that and see what happens? It can't hurt ...

Here are some articles without the discussions:

NASA Watch "Google Sponsors Lunar X PRIZE to create a Space Race for a New Generation" - Press release about the prize from the X PRIZE Foundation. It gives an overview of the goals of the prize, rewards for achieving specific objectives, and help that might be gained from SpaceX and the Allen Telescope Array. This is a good place to start to learn about the prize.

Wired has several articles about the prize:

Google Offers $20 Million X Prize to Put Robot on Moon - This goes back to the days when Google headquarters had a fundraising effort for the X PRIZE Foundation, complete with the replica of SpaceShipOne. Apparently this was a good time for some "networking", and the Foundation wound up convincing the Google team to sponsor the prize. I thought Larry Page would have been the Google founder most interested in the prize, but this article makes it sound like it was Sergei Brin. (They both have space interests and connections). I like the closing paragraph. It would be good if a lot more companies started thinking this way when they're ready to spend on advertising:

"Which raises the question: What's in it for Google? Lunar data centers? Google Maps Street View for Tranquility Base? For the record, Mountain View's corporate feet are planted squarely on terra firma. "Companies today spend more on stadiums and sailboat races than we will spend on this," says Brin, who was barely out of diapers back in Moscow when the last — Soviet, as it happens — moon lander, itself a robot craft, sent a scoop of soil back to Earth three decades ago. "Expanding science and technology is a far better way to reflect Google's values," he says. Plus there's the possibility of putting a Google logo on the moon."

Also, yes, the total prize money is $30M, but the big prize for first place is $20M as the article title says. There is $5M for second place, and $5M for bonus challenges.

Your Face on the Moon, Thanks to X Prize Foundation - Explains how you can help the X PRIZE Foundation, and at the same time send a picture to the Moon, if your competitor in the challenge makes it there.

How to Win $20 Million - Gives a big, commented pictures, and step-by-step instructions, for how to build that lunar rover and get it to the Moon to win the money.

New Space Prize Hints on X PRIZE Foundation Web Site

Well, it's a bit earlier than expected, but the X PRIZE Foundation has posted a press release on the new space prize. Actually, all I can see is the title of the press release, not the contents, but maybe the contents will appear there later. The title reveals a lot about the sponsor and the nature of the prize. Check out their page at X PRIZE Foundation and on the left side you'll see, if they haven't moved it, the press release title. The location is here.

If you were following my earlier speculation posts on the prize, I thought I could guess who the prize sponsor was. As it turns out, I was right ... more on that later (just in case they pull the press release title, I'm not going to actually name them). As I said earlier, my guess was based on an earlier grad school paper on one of this company's products I wrote before I got into prizes. There was enough in that paper to make me guess it would be them already, and their interactions with the X PRIZE Foundation after I wrote the paper just made it seem even more likely it was them.

I think the fact that it's them will make an even bigger media stir than might be expected, since the general public doesn't think of them as a "space" company. However, my paper was on them, and it was all about space ... it IS an entrepreneurial space company folks, and a quite smashingly successful one! I think many of the most successful entrepreneurial space companies will be integrated and symbiotic mixtures of "space" and "Earth" applications ...

More later as details are revealed ... after I get back! Until then check RLV News, NASA Watch, etc...

Update (post annoucement): Yes, the company is Google. What was that paper I wrote about? Well, it was on Google Earth, of course. Yes, I speculated that they would make a "Google Moon", "Google Mars", "Google Astronomer", and "Google Video Games" based on Google Earth, as well as other obvious moves to integrate Google Earth into their other business lines. During the research I also noticed that the 2 Google founders had all sorts of other interests and relationships related to space and NASA, and they obviously have the entrepreneurial spirit. They have the money, too, of course, and they don't spend on traditional adversising. They like "word of mouth" advertising, and what else is a big space prize?? It seemed a natural fit even back then before I got into space prizes for them to sponsor one. Then next semester I did a paper on space prizes, and started this blog. They continued their interest in the X PRIZE Foundation (SpaceShipOne replica, being on the X PRIZE Foundation board of directors, fundrasing event at Google Headquarters for the X PRIZE Foundation, etc) so it seemed even more likely that it was them. I'm surprised that I don't see a Lunar Rover on the main page letters right now!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

George Washington University Award to Ansari

From the X PRIZE News Scroller:

Ansari X PRIZE supporter Anousheh Ansari is one of the winners of the George Washington University Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards.

Compilation of Automotive X PRIZE Updates

There's a lot going on at the X PRIZE Foundation (new Space Prize, Lunar Lander Challenge approaching, new Space blog), but it isn't all space-related by any stretch of the imagination. Here's another set of Automotive X PRIZE updates:

Cosmic Log recently gave another overview of the Automotive X PRIZE. The big news this time was that Malcolm Bricklin plans to compete for the prize. The vehicle is the "Visionary Vehicles electric plug-in hybrid".

Autoblog also has an update on Bricklin's plans, including the competition.

The Washington Post has an article on the revolution in small auto makers inventing and marketing fuel-efficient cars, in part inspired by the Automotive X PRIZE.

Don't Forget the New Space Prize Announcement Later Today

Yes, the announcement of the details about the new space X PRIZE, noted here and here on my site, and also on numerous other sites, will be tomorrow (September 13) at the Wired NextFest. I expect to be away from the computer during the announcement, so if you can't wait, check the other space blogs, or any number of other news sources, and I'm sure you'll hear the news before I do. (Yes, I have other responsibilities and interests that have nothing to do with space and/or prizes). I'll post the details when I get a chance, as well as some links to discussions on the news if I find any. Most likely there will be a new link on the right hand side of the Space Prizes blog for it, and a new tag so you can find all my posts on the new prize over time.

Update (Early September 13): NASA Watch has more hints about the prize. Check out the link, and if you're doing it before the announcement, check it again later. Some interesting hints from the NASA Watch post:

"Editor's note: This announcement will knock your socks off. Indeed, paradigms will shift before your eyes. Check in here after 2:00 pm EDT for updates."

"NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale will unveil the agency's 50th anniversary logo and participate in an X PRIZE Foundation announcement at WIRED Magazine's NextFest".

As I indicated in those older posts linked at the top of this one, NASA has a large presence at the NextFest. The NASA Watch article (a NASA press release) goes into some detail on their activities there. This quote, though, hints that NASA might be involved with the prize announcement. In what form, though - inspirational only, or as an active participant? The prize sponsor is supposed to be a Fortune 500 company, but there are many roles that NASA could take - Centennial Challenges prize supplementer, supplier of test facilities and data, purchaser of data or future missions based on the prize winner, etc. Of course it all depends on what the prize is in the first place.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

X PRIZE Foundaton Pomerantz Report and More

Either the X PRIZE Foundation is making some changes to their web site, or I'm running into some areas I've never checked before. (I check out certain pages fairly often, but I'm sure there are spots I've never gone to). The biggest change I noticed is The Pomerantz Report, a blog by William Pomerantz, the X PRIZE Foundation's Director of Space Projects. The link I've given is to the "Hello World" blog post for the report (I guess somebody's had some experience in computer programming). This first post gives an idea how he got interested in space and wound up at the X PRIZE Foundation. It also gives a hint about what the next post will be about - the Lunar Lander Challenge.

There's also a Media Center, but at the moment the photo gallery and video archive aren't showing contents for me. Just check back in a while and see what shows up.

If you click on the Space tab at the top of the page, you'll see sections for "Wirefly X PRIZE Cup 2007 " and "Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge 2007". Those links weren't working for me today, nor was the Privacy Policy here or at the main Foundation page (hey, I got curious about what was and wasn't working). I'm sure they'll get those links working, and anyway you can get to them from the selections under "Events and Challenges" and (for that policy - the one on the Automotive X PRIZE works) here. I also never noticed the Space Media Center before, but I'm getting an "Error on page" message in the bottom left of my IE browser, as well as some "shaking" of the letters, when I highlight or slowly hover my cursor over the article headings. I don't get this symptom in Firefox, though.

Anyway, sometimes when you catch a site in transition, in a few days you find it's all been fixed and even more cool stuff has been posted. Check it out over the next few days and see what you can find!

Space Elevator News Bulletin and More

The Space Elevator Blog has a detailed newsletter update on the Space Elevator Games and more from the Spaceward Foundation. The newsletter has a lot of pictures and hints about the venue and what will happen at the different locations that make the games sound even more exciting. There is also a roundup of the numerous competing teams, each with its own strengths and "personalities".

Another Space Elevator Blog post is about an update from LaserMotive in their "Meet the Team" series. This one is on Jordin Kare, Chief Engineer of the team.

Here's one on the pros and cons of holding multiple events together. I can see the downside of holding them together; I wonder if the X PRIZE Cup will have a similar experience within the Holloman Air Show? We'll have to wait and see how that works out. It might be ideal if related events could be held separately (in space and time), but close enough (in space and time) to easily get from one to the other. I guess the X PRIZE Cup and Personal Spaceflight Symposium are an example. I also liked how the Heinlein Centennial was set up to make a couple related events accessible. This comment may actually apply more to some of the other Centennial Challenges, since the Space Elevator Games seem to be growing each year, and this year have a full-blown festival-like event for the public planned.

Finally, who know these 2 were Space Elevator fans?

I've become a big fan of Google Earth and SketchUp. The Kansas City Space Pirates show us an animation of the Space Elevator Games area, with the huge climber test rig set up, in Google Earth using the modeling capabilities of SketchUp.

An Important Milestone for Unreasonable Rocket

Unreasonable Rocket posts on completion of the hardware configuration.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Several Articles on DARPA Urban Challenge

I'm giving a bunch of links on the DARPA Urban Challenge, not only because it's a prominent innovation incentive prize program that will undoubtably show a lot about how (and perhaps a bit of how not) to run such competitions, but also because I can imagine this type of robot car technology being featured in space applications (rovers, Moon buggies, etc) or even space prize competitions.

Here's the best site I've seen on the DARPA Urban Challenge. Control Engineering has a blog that's covering the Challenge. Among other things, this blog has a series of detailed posts on dozens of the teams competing in the challenge. It's full of pictures, too. I recommend starting in the archives so you can pick up with Team #1.

There are a lot of other articles on the challenge. Many of them are on teams passing DARPA's on-site review.

Autonomous vehicles: Leave the driving to the car - also in Control Engineering; discusses the University of Minnesota team's Lone Wolf racecar.

Minnesota Public Radio also has an article on the Lone Wolf. They also have a cool video of the robot racer instead of much driving around the race track.

Technology Evangalist also put together a video with background on the modified Lotus than going around the track.

Team Oshkosh and TerraMax Chosen to Compete in DARPA Urban Challenge, by Motor Trend's "Truck Trend". This one's a big truck by Oshkosh Truck Corporation.

Space Daily has a DARPA Urban Challenge story in their "Robo Space" category titled "Drive-By-Wire And Human Behavior Systems Key To Virginia Tech Urban Challenge Vehicle". "VictorTango has converted two Escape hybrids donated by Ford Motor Co. into autonomous vehicles by outfitting them with a "drive-by-wire" system, a powerful computer system, laser scanners, cameras, and a GPS" according to one of the team members. This is one of the teams that got $1M to help them in the challenge, and they've also gotten $100,000 from Caterpillar, and also other sponsorship funds.

KCPW News in Salt Lake City has a post about 3 Utah teams that advanced in the challenges. They emphasize that the current steps in the technology can be put to business use even before the technology meets the needs of the challenge sponsors. For example, they can already configure a tractor to plow fields without a driver with the robot car technology. That's a good lesson for folks with ambitious space plans - get to your big goal using steps that pay for themselves.

DARPA Names MIT's 'robocar' a semifinalist - from MIT news. "The MIT vehicle uses multiple laser range scanners, high-rate video cameras and automotive radar units to perform autonomous planning and motion control."

Here's a collection of photos of the MIT entry sprouting all sorts of sensors. It's probably easiest to view them as a slide show.

TG Daily has some good DARPA Challenge posts. It sounds like they may continue the series of team interviews.

Shoestring budget won't stop Princeton Urban Challenge team - They had a good way to figure out what kind of vehicle to use - a Ford Escape Hybrid. "We picked it because it was free". There are some interesting tradeoffs the team has made to enable them to solve the problems in the particular environment they will encounter without spending much money on hardware. It goes into some technical details (without being at all difficult to read) like GPS (which every space person should understand) and image processing to distinguish different types of features. I liked this one.

Axion Racing Interview - This one also goes into the sensors, like laser range finders, cameras, FLIR (I think that's foreward-looking infrared radar), and radar. It covers things you might not thing about at first, like having the computers ignore windshield wiper imagery noise. This one's a sturdy armored truck, so they're not worried about crashing into the light racecars ... but that Oshkosh giant is another story.

Car Buyer's Notebook has an article about "Junior", a Passat wagon that's in the Challenge.

Space Lifestyle Magazine

Space Lifestyle Magazine has its first issue, and there are some space prize stories to tell. In summary (check out the magazine to get more details):

- subscribe and get a chance to win a parabolic flight - not a bad space prize
- the X PRIZE Cup is featured briefly
- read an article that was part of an earlier contest the magazine ran

This is all based on the online version only.

Anti-Aging Prize: New Competitor, Dinner, and Book

The following are all from the Methuselah Mouse Prize Blog. The prize is for teams that can extend the lifespan of lab mice.

Professor Andrzej Bartke Re-enters the Mprize Competition - Professor Barke, "Professor of Physiology and Internal Medicine, Director of Geriatric Medicine and Distinguished Scholar at Southern Illinois School of Medicine", won the Longevity Mprize a few years ago for a mouse that lived 5 years. The article describes some of the lines of research the professor is currently undertaking.

Ending Aging Hits the Bookshelves - This is by Aubrey de Grey, chair of the Methuselah Foundation, and Michael Rae. From the review: "By demystifying aging and its postponement for the nonspecialist reader, de Grey and Rae systematically dismantle the fatalist presumption that aging will forever defeat the efforts of medical science".

At the Three Hundred Member Dinner - This post has some pictures of the special dinner for major donors to the Foundation.

Update (Sep 11): Between Presentations at SENS3 - This one is on the Third Conference on Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senesence, includes a number of pictures of the conference.