Monday, March 31, 2008

Masten Space at Space Access '08

Dave Masten talked about the first 3 years. The sequence was test stand, igniter, and then engine. He showed XA-0.1 pictures in the shop and in the field. The orignal was hard to maintain with all of the tanks. There were lots of test flight attempts from June to December, and eventually they crashed it. They showed a video of this in a tethered test. They decided to move to the next thing: XA-0.2.

This is bigger, and Lunar Lander Challenge capable at levels 1 and, with modifications, 2. It has a lighter frame, and is stacked vertically. Progress has been on and off. It has simplified tanks, 750 lb thrust engines, and half the chamber pressure. The engines are being manufactured off-site. Fabrication is to start on Monday.

Ben Brockert described their igniters. He showed a "50 igniter test" video. Various temperatures were used, and hundreds of tests were run (632 tests?).

They're using a more centralized computer setup, with 2 separate computers (1 in charge of valve controls, etc, and another in charge of various algorithms) instead of a more distributed arrangement. They have hired a Guidance, Navigation, and Control person, and doing this function in-house.

For more on this talk, see RLV News and Why Homeschool.

Here's the latest from the Masten Space Blog.

Armadillo Aerospace - Space Access '08

John Carmack represented Armadillo Aerospace. He started with a summary of last year's work. He began with a picture of a rocket test where the point of view moves away to reveal a grid of surrounding pictures of rocket tests. There are so many tests that the test pictures, each 1 rectangle, turn into the Armadillo logo.

John shows a test that would have won the Lunar Lander Challenge 90 second level if the rules allowed a non-X PRIZE Cup win. He shows the quad and module variants. Engine access is easier on the modules, but it's harder to travel with them sideways. The quads are easier to transport with no cranes needed, but there are no propellant balance issues.

Paul Breed from Unreasonable Rocket helped during the '07 LLC attempts with his display hardware.

A fun episode: he shows a rocket-powered crane truck.

They have a contract with NASA for a methane engine with numerous horizontal startup/shutdown tests.

Now they're boosting the altitude. They have 4 mods now. They expect failures.

John described the disappointment at the XPC results in detail, plus and analysis of what happened.

On the business side, they have about $500K in contracts for the NASA methane engine and an anonymous commercial customer. They have gone through the business/contract cycle with its successes and failures. They are getting stock prices. They are willing to sell complete components or systems like a full vehicle or a propellant system, but not parts. For example, $500K might work for a flight system.

He was worried that someone would have finished the Lunar Lander Challenge quickly, but it didn't happen.

He's thought about the Google Lunar X PRIZE. He doesn't think anyone is in a position to come close to win it. He would be willing to sell systems to GLXP teams, but he isn't too confident about the whole effort.

They have lots of commercial prospects from big aerospace, testing sensors, suborbital tourism, etc.

He had to put in 1 last funding round into Armadillo. He was hoping it would have been self-sustaining by now. It is close. Maybe they will be bringing 2 more people on full-time soon.

They have a trailer now (crane truck). They have machine tools.

The Lunar Lander Challenge arrangement is unfortunate. They're stuck in a decision bind. They want to make improvements to the vehicles, but don't want to mess with configurations for the LLC. They have to do their R&D in front of a crowd. The fact that this particular competition is a once per year event is a problem for them. They're ready for the LLC now. They have to keep spares, etc, for the LLC.

They learned a lot from the mod and quad work that allows good design ideas for the "6-pack", for example, in the area of propellant load balancing.

They expect an inflection point where they "do something" commercial and they become the suborbital leader. They had a phase 1 SBIR, but XCOR won the phase 2 round.

Q: What's the burn rate for cash? A: In 8 years, about $0.5M/year.

Q: For 100 km, use an aeroshell? A: Lots of extra mass for that. There are pros and cons. They would rather squeeze more out of the propulsion system.

Neil is full time, and others have token fees like $10/hour at times. They hope to change this this year.

Here's more on John's talk at Transterrestrial Musings, RLV News, Why Homeschool, and the Space Review.

Unreasonable Rocket - Space Access '08

Here's my version of Paul Breed's Space Access '08 talk on Unreasonable Rocket. Obviously it's going to be a flawed interpretation of the talk, given my limited technical rocketry knowledge, difficulty of capturing all vocal/video information in notes, difficulty hearing, etc. Similar caveats hold for interpretations of other talks.

Paul Breed Sr. spoke. Son Paul Breed Jr. isn't here today because he wanted to stay home and weld landing gear. They're going for the Lunar Lander Challenge in 2008.

They had to abandon a complete vehicle. Paul showed an April '07 video of a LOX/alcohol rocket. It was a symmetrical vehicle, and they had 1 segment done. They just needed to make 4 identical units. They thought they were done. They did it literally in their garage. After building 4 (3?) more, it didn't work so well. Paul showed a video with green flashing, meaning melting copper. He then showed a stability and control test vehicle video, where the vehicle flops all around. All of these setbacks happened on 1 bad weekend.

The rocket had 39 valves. It was too complicated. This year the plan is to "keep it simple". They're going for the 90 second Lunar Lander Challenge level.

Paul showed a big test setup that they built in 5 days. They're getting good at this stuff.

He showed the purple menace/leak.

They have a 13 inch sphere tank, butterfly valves, and no custom parts. They hope to test fire next week. For stability and control they use a big RC helicopter with GPS, telemetry, etc. This is convenient for testing, since they can do it 5 minutes from home rather than 4 hours away.

Paul shows him controlling the helicopter with various versions of the test.

The status is that the tank is complete, the motor, valves and fittings are complete (but untested), and the landing gear, permanganate tank, vane assembly, and test facility are 50% done. Software is flying the helicopter. In 2-4 weeks they plan to static fire test the full vehicle. In 8 weeks they plan a flight test.

Q: How many vanes? A: 3.
John Carmack comments that this might be a mistake.

You can find more takes on this talk at RLV News, Why Homeschool, and Transterrestrial Musings.

Unreasonable Rocket has had several recent posts, including one with more hardware pictures, autonomous helicopter hovering, and related comments.

First Flagsuit Astronaut Gloves Sent to Orbital Outfitters

Maine Coast Now has an article about local space entrepreneur Peter Homer, the Astronaut Glove Challenge, and his new space company:

Mr. Homer’s gloves will be used for integrated suit testing and evaluation, and feature a patent-pending joint design that makes the fingers more flexible under pressure, increasing dexterity while reducing hand fatigue. The gloves are manufactured using a new process that eliminates time consuming adjustments to adapt the fit to the wearer's hands, producing a ready-to-wear garment that literally "fits like a glove."

Flagsuit is currently implementing a preliminary production capability with support from the Maine Technology Institute.

The commercial space suit gloves delivered last month are direct descendents of the design that won the 2007 NASA Challenge.

Cougar Rocketry Team

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an article about a Team America Rocketry Challenge team called the Cougar Rocketry Team. This is one of the elite TARC teams invited to participate in the NASA Student Launch Initiative. In addition to the technical work and fun of launching rockets, they're finding out that being a NASA subcontractor means paperwork, and being an entrepreneur means fund-raising work.

Diamandis at University of Akron has a article about the X PRIZE Foundation's Peter Diamandis giving a speech at the University of Akron. He's working on getting more cities lined up to host the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE:

Diamandis told the crowd of about 50 UA students, professors and community members that 10 U.S. cities would be chosen over the next few months to host tests for the cars in different conditions.
Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville, who was among those in attendance, asked Diamandis how Akron could become one of those 10 cities.
Diamandis said requests for proposals would be released within two weeks.
''I'd love to have Akron be one of the cities,'' he said.

In addition to XPF prize plans that I've mentioned in other posts, he mentions another class of prizes:

smaller-based prizes for local communities or groups to solve local problems

He also has other business in the area, including a Zero-G plan that might involve NASA Glenn:

While in Northeast Ohio, Diamandis was also planning speaking to Medina company RPM International Inc. about incentive programs and the Cleveland Foundation about flying top math and science teachers in Ohio on Diamandis' Zero-G flights.

Late March Google Lunar X PRIZE Roundup

Here's the latest on the Google Lunar X PRIZE. A lot of big news happens in a week with this competition.

RLV News has a press release, a news article, and related links on Celestis, Inc and Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor Odyssey Moon reaching an agreement to deliver memorial containers to the Moon or lunar orbit while they go for the prize. From the linked MSNBC article:

The cost starts at $10,000 for a small quantity of ashes from one person ... Chafer said he expected about 1,000 capsules containing ashes to be launched on the first lunar mission, expected in late 2009 or early 2010, and about 5,000 on future flights.

Here's more on the Celestis side from Sign on San Diego:

The Houston firm, on hand yesterday at the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association's meeting at the San Diego Convention Center, announced plans to launch capsules containing human cremated remains – at up to $30,000 a ride – to the moon as early as next year.

The article includes a pictures of a Celestis capsule.

Meanwhile, the Space Fellowship has an interesting interview of LunaTrex lead Pete Bitar. It's clear from the interview that they're not a "win the prize and go home" team; they want to make a small-sat support business. They want to use electric propulsion, and plan to start some robot prizes of their own.

PR Newswire has a press release announcing another Google Lunar X PRIZE team hopeful, PropelX. They have a sponsor onboard, the Embedded Systems Conference in Silicon Valley and a prototype lunar rover. They plan an official announcement at the conference. I wonder if they'd want to join one of the other teams with specialties in different areas?

The Carnegie Mellon University Tartan has an article describing the CMU team and Astrobotic. CMU has a graduate class "Advanced Mobile Robot Development" that seems to fit in nicely with the effort. Meanwhile, the contributions of the other university on the team, the University of Arizona, are described by the Wildcat Online:

The team will also pursue the heritage and distance prizes. The heritage prize will entail imaging man-made artifacts at the Apollo 11 landing site where Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon in 1969. For the distance prize, the team will attempt to get its lander to travel at least five kilometers on the moon's surface.

At the Huffington Post, Ben Rosen puts a spin on the work of his brother, comsat pioneer Harold Rosen, in the Southern California Selene Group (SCSG) team. The team's solution has some commonality with his early comsat work.

Finally, at the Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams page, there are new posts from Micro-Space, Odyssey Moon, and Quantum3 that go into the "why's" of the GLXP.

Back Online

I'm back from a trip with my wife that included Space Access '08 and various tourism and family visits unrelated to space prizes. I thought I'd have better computer access at certain times but didn't. At the conference, as usual I prefered to take written notes and get them on the computer later if useful. I took notes on Unreasonable Rocket, SpeedUp, Armadillo, Masten, LaserMotive, and "Miscellaneous" (i.e. quick prize-related comments during other talks). I'll post them as I get a chance if they seem to have unique content, or at least put up some links to other posts on the talks. This week will probably be a catch-up one for me at work, at home, and on this blog.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Garriott Science Challenge Student Patch Contest

Spaceref has a press release about a student patch or T-shirt art contest by the Challenger Center for Space Science Education

that celebrates the educational aspect of Richard Garriott’s upcoming flight

to the International Space Station. Also see this Space for All post.

I didn't notice a link to the specific Challenge Center page for the Student Patch Contest in the press release, so here it is.

Bob Richards on Space Resources

Google Lunar X PRIZE team Odyssey Moon's Bob Richards posts about space resources and energy, and how we need to use them to solve our problems here on Earth, just like an island economy needs to look beyond its shores.

Anousheh Ansari at Library of Congress

Personal Spaceflight notes that Ansari X PRIZE title funder Anousheh Ansari will be speaking at the Library of Congress next week.

More on the Automotive X PRIZE Rollout

X PRIZE Cars is a good place to find out about the Automotive X PRIZE rollout at the New York City auto show. Here's a post from there that links to lots of news articles on the rollout to give a sense of the amount of press coverage. At least one of the linked articles is by a space supporter.

X PRIZE Cars also interviewed a lot of the people at the event. Information for those interviews should be coming later, but already there's information about the X PRIZE Foundation continuing to look for more AXP-related funding. Similar efforts have been working out well for the Google Lunar X PRIZE (e.g.: Space Florida funding $2M for the winner if launched from Florida). Here are photos and podcasts from the event.

Back at the X PRIZE Foundation, William Pomerantz and the Google Lunar X PRIZE folks decide to do a little driving with a rover in honor of the Automotive X PRIZE. If you check the video at the Pomerantz Report, they have some pretty lofty goals, in terms of efficiency and location, for the rover. In the text you'll also see a difficult goal for the robotic rover involving the furry barking type of rover.

Also at the X PRIZE Foundation, here's a news post with videos from the event. Check the X PRIZE Foundation YouTube Channel, because there's already a bunch of other new X PRIZE Foundation videos there related to the AXP.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

March 20 Lunar X PRIZE and Lunar Lander Challenge Update

Here's the latest on the Moon-related prizes:

RLV News catches 2 articles on the Google Lunar X PRIZE, one from Cosmic Log that mentions that some of Arthur C. Clarke's hair may be sent to the Moon in a memorial capsule on a GLXP flight, and some thoughts by Jeff Krukin on who the real winners of the GLXP will be, and why, beyond the prize money and spotlight, they'll be winners.

The Space Fellowship has some news from William Pomerantz to any Google Lunar X PRIZE teams that would be considering registering soon and that would be interested in taking part in a big press event.

On the Lunar X PRIZE Teams site, Courtney Stadd of Quantum3 discusses being at the

Arthur C. Clarke Foundation's awards event where Peter Diamandis, cofounder of the X PRIZE Foundation and the Zero-G Corporation, among other ventures, received the Sir Arthur Clarke Innovator's Award.

Also at the Teams site, Deborah Castleman of SCSG tells us about new team members, design decisions, propulsion system engineering tradeoffs, and meetings. This post also mentions a note Arthur C. Clarke wrote praising one of the SCSG team members for pioneering communications satellite work.

For the Lunar Lander Challenge, RLV News has the latest data, and a purple-tinged video, from Unreasonable Rocket.

Future X PRIZEs

A few weeks ago I posted about a podcast from last Fall where the X PRIZE Foundation's Tom Vander Ark discussed, among other things, some possible future X PRIZEs.

Cosmic Log has an article that covers the various prizes of the X PRIZE Foundation, including recent comments by Peter Diamandis about where the Foundation is now with those future prizes, and how they are logically organized. The deep sea exploration prize I first heard of in Tom's interview is mentioned again here, which is encouraging. The article also mentions a longevity prize. I wonder if they're talking with the Methuselah Foundation? Woodrow Wilson Smith would be proud.

Aero-News has a review of Peter Diamandis's career, including the various prizes (that he helped organize, and that he won) and space businesses. There's a brief comment here about plans for future X PRIZEs, too. This article is in the context of a speech at the Women in Aviation International Conference.

Since we're on the topic of possible future X PRIZEs, here are more details from an earlier Space Prizes post on one possible future X PRIZE (and maybe part of a line of related prizes).

Automotive X PRIZE Rollout

Today is the anticipated day of the rollout of the Automotive X PRIZE at the New York Auto Show. If you check out that link, you'll see that the title sponsor of the prize has already been effectively announced. You'll also see a Teams page with a lot more details about each team than the original bullet list.

X PRIZE Cars is also covering it already, and I'm sure many other sites will be taking part too over the course of the day.

Update (later March 20): X PRIZE Cars has a detailed update on the day's announcements, including a $3.5M Department of Energy grant (pending Congressional approval) to the Automotive X PRIZE to

create a national education program that will encourage young people to pursue careers in energy-efficient sciences and technology.

The linked press release describes the kinds of educational efforts that will happen. It sounds like student competitions will be part of it, and math, science, engineering, and teamwork skills will be emphasized in the context of fuel efficiency.

X PRIZE Cars has more on the title sponsor Progressive Insurance, the host city New York for the start of the race, and more information on the prize sponsors and other organizations helping the Foundation and teams. The post also covers the teams that showed up (more to come tomorrow), and promises a podcast of the event later.

Space for All also has a post on the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE and other fuel-efficient car efforts, including those by a well-known space entrepreneur.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Remember Arthur C. Clarke

CNN reports that Arthur C. Clarke has died. He leaves behind a rich set of novels, short stories, and space technology achievements. He also leaves behind the Clarke Foundation and its Arthur C. Clarke Awards to promote satellite communications, science, and the arts, the Arthur C. Clarke Challenge to inspire students to come up with ideas to improve commercial communications satellites, and space-related student scholarships. The most recent thing I've read from him - not too long ago - is a description of the results in Sri Lanka of the 2004 tsunami.

Update (March 19): Here's more:

Arthur C. Clarke Passes Away at Age 90 - X PRIZE Foundation news
Clarke, Space, and Science Fiction - The Pomerantz Report about finding ways to pay respect
Dear Friends, Earthlings, Extraterrestrials (as Arthur would often say)… - Peter Diamandis

For many more links and personal thoughts on him see RLV News.

Leroy Chiao at Heinlein Prize Trust

Astronaut and space entrepreneur Leroy Chiao posts about the Heinlein Prize Trust. He's the leader of their "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" program to get students interested in space. He's also their new spokesperson. Does anyone have ideas to strengthen the program he describes? Maybe Flagsuit would want to participate in the spacesuit/glove reward the students get.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Space Prizes General Catch-Up

Usually I like to post on individual subjects, and if I'm going to discuss a bunch of things in the same post, they'll at least be on a related topic.

Not today.

I'm a bit behind on things I want to mention on the blog (no excuses, just having non-space-prize fun), and short on time, so it's going to be a brief roundup today. So, on with the updates:

Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Astrobotic has posted several pictures and videos on the GLXP here, here (use their link to get to the YouTube video), here, here, here, and here. If you're checking this post not too long after March 17, 2008, you can probably just see them all at the top of the Teams site Latest Team Announcements.

RLV News has been keeping up with news related to Centennial Challenges. For the Lunar Lander Challenge, this post includes updates from BonNova (including a video of a hot-fire test), Unreasonable Rocket (chronicling another confrontation with the purple monster), and Armadillo Aerospace methane engine test videos (including 1 cool one with 4 perspectives).

Meanwhile, this RLV News post gives a lot of information about Flagsuit LLC, a company that 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge winner Peter Homer formed that works with Orbital Outfitters. You can see how this Centennial Challenge has paid off not only in innovation that helps NASA, but more importantly in advancing the space industry, the economy, and thus the taxpayer.

Not only that, but the Flagsuit LLC site is a great place to find Astronaut Glove challenge information and videos.

The Space Elevator Blog has news about the winners of what's described as the Junior Space Elevator Games. This is the same competition, held this year at 2008 Earth and Space Conference (along with another space competition on active vibration control) that I mentioned earlier.

Also in the Space Elevator world, the Space Elevator reference now has a Twitter channel, including SE Blog posts.

I'm not sure how old this news is (I don't see a date on it, and it popped into an automated search that sometimes gives old news), but as a special project, SEDS is interested in the NASA Means Business Competition, possibly among others:

SEDS will be promoting a series of prizes to encourage students in non-standard majors to get involved in space exploration. ... One of these planned prizes is a monetary prize for the best submission to the NASA Means Business Competition. In its preliminary form, the prize looks like it will entail a monetary award to the best submission from a school with a SEDS-Chapter. There will also likely be a award directly to the SEDS Chapter whose school does best in the competition, to promote SEDS chapters encouraging students at their schools to participate.

The Oregon Space Grant Consortium posts on the NASA Space Settlement Design Contest and the an Aeronautics Competition for high school students run by the Fundamental Aeronautics Program of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. The deadlines are March 31 and March 15 (oops, posted it too late), respectively.

RLV News posts a press release on the National Space Society's ISDC 2008 Conference detailing the themes and speakers. Prize-related speakers include Robert Bigelow (America's Space Prize), Peter Diamandis (X PRIZE Foundation), Anousheh Ansari (Ansari X PRIZE), and undoubtably more (particularly undoubtably if you're not too strict in how direct you want your space prize connections to be). There is also a Google Lunar X PRIZE panel.

The New York Times had an article this weekend that compared innovation prizes to reality shows, albeit with a useful twist. I tend to think of it the other way around, having heard of the X PRIZE back in the '90s before reality shows, but I suppose the NYT readership is probably much more familiar with the TV shows than the innovation prizes. Here's what one commenter says:

“Creating useful innovations ought to be self-rewarding,” says Robert Friedel, a historian of technology at the University of Maryland. “If you need a prize, then maybe it’s not an invention worth pursuing.”

Hmmm ... if creating useful innovations ought to be self-rewarding, then maybe we don't need to bother with R&D grants and contracts, or patents for that matter, either? Maybe you need a prize because the other innovation mechanisms simply aren't working in a particular case? Here's another comment:

Skeptics say that prizes often merely confirm what has already been done in the lab — and that too often they shower attention on the contest’s founders. Look at all the free advertising Google receives for its role in the moon-travel prize, for instance.

I'm not sure what the disadvantage is of free advertising going to prize sponsors, as long as the prize is useful. Sounds like sour grapes. I also don't see what's wrong with transforming something that's been demonstrated in the lab into a form more oriented towards consumer or business usefulness.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Automotive X PRIZE March '08 Roundup

It's been a while since I linked the latest from X PRIZE Cars, but by now you should be checking there for your Automotive X PRIZE updates anyway. I check there frequently, although I don't post about it regularly (since, as I said, you should be going there by now). Here's the briefest of brief overviews; if you check out the X PRIZE Cars posts, and then check the links, you'll see that there's a LOT of activity in the AXP arena:

Automotive X PRIZE to launch at New York Auto Show - The official announcement of the Automotive X PRIZE is on March 20 at the NY Auto Show. The most anticipated announcements are probably the title sponsor and the prize amount and breakdown, but a lot of other details will be announced, too. Check the post if you want to ask X PRIZE Cars to try to ask the AXP folks a question at the event.

Waiting Lists for Green Cars - X PRIZE Cars does some homework to find out how many orders have been made for some of the super-efficient cars like the Tesla Roadster, ZAP Alias, Aptera, and more. Will the AXP cause the already-long waiting lists to get even longer?

Green Cars Lexicon - The blog makes a dictionary for those AXP terms

Commuter Cars Corp. Tango - another spotlight on a company and car

About X PRIZE Cars - an overview of the AXP and the blog, with some good starting articles, including what's also my favorite so far (I think I even blogged so at the time), the Wired article.

Comparing the X PRIZE Cars - a handy and presumably still growing reference chart with links to the details about each car

The meat and potatoes are in the news roundups - for example, from March 9, March 2, Feb 24, and Feb 18.

I should also mention the latest news coming out of the Automotive X PRIZE itself: a U.S. Senate resolution praising the Automotive X PRIZE. That follows a similar resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives. It would be cool to see similar support for the AXP from other countries.

Armadillo Igniter; Unreasonable Work and Paperwork

RLV News catches us up with the latest from some Lunar Lander Challenge teams, Armadillo Aerospace and Unreasonable Rocket. The updates include test video and photos.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Today's Lunar X PRIZE and Lunar Lander Challenge Update

Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor LunaTrex discusses the importance of the lunar landing itself, while Micro-Space looks ahead to human lunar (and beyond) landings.

Meanwhile, William Pomerantz discusses student contributions to the Google Lunar X PRIZE, including the winners of the X PRIZE Lunar Rover Botball Design Challenge.

On the Lunar Lander Challenge side, RLV News points out, among other things, a post by Ben at Masten with some nice Mach diamond photos. I'm not sure if I'm justified in posting about Masten under the LLC, because I don't know if they'll compete this year, but hopefully they either will, or will be too busy doing even bigger and more ambitious business to enter the fray.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Florida RLV Prize Bills

Spaceports has been working on the V Prize in Virginia, but recently posted on another space access prize proposal in a different space state.

Two bills in Florida attempt to create a reusable launch vehicle prize in the amount of $40M ($20M from the state, $20M from private sources). It's not clear to me what the specific RLV goal, if any would be (eg: suborbital or orbital, manned or unmanned, etc), or whether or not the vehicle would need to launch from Florida, teams would need to be from Florida, or any other such restrictions. I assume that Florida taxpayers would expect local benefits, of course - I would.

Here's an excerpt from one of the bills:

Section 4. Reusable Space Vehicle Industry Prize Program.--

(1) The Legislature finds that awarding a prize for achieving a specific goal stimulates entrepreneurial investment in the state, which ultimately produces a significant monetary return on the prize purse as well as considerable social benefit.
(2) There is created within the Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development of the Executive Office of the Governor a Reusable Space Vehicle Industry Prize Program.
(3) The program shall award a one-time cash prize in the amount of $40 million, including $20 million in state funds and $20 million in funds provided by private sponsors, to the firm or individual in the private sector providing the most significant advancements within the reusable space vehicle industry during the period beginning January 1, 2009, and ending January 1, 2014.
(4) The Lieutenant Governor of Florida shall serve as chair of the program and appoint a committee for the purpose of establishing or adopting an application form, criteria on which
the decision to award the prize will be based, and any other rules or guidelines related to the entry, judging, administration, or results of the prize program.


(5) The structure and operation of the program shall, to the extent practicable, mirror the Ansari X Prize program as awarded by the X PRIZE FOUNDATION on November 6, 2004.

Micro Aerial Vehicle Challenge

Nature has an article about a micro aerial vehicle (MAV) challenge in Agra, India. The task in the challenge has a military/anti-terrorism flavor - using tiny aerial vehicles to find mines, hostages, and the enemy using various sensors and positions (eg: flight, hover, rooftop). The challenge is co-sponsored by DARPA, and has international competitors.

You can find out more about the challenge, teams and judges here. Also, here's the general MAV 08 site.

Odyssey Moon Wants to Use Extra Mass for Business

Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor Odyssey Moon has an RFI (Request for Information for those not familiar with this type of business) to see if anyone is interested in starting discussions about

an opportunity for the international lunar community to place scientific or technology demonstration payloads onboard the initial M-1 mission.

Anyone interested? National Geographic? Universities?

(Originally noted from RLV News).

International Cansat Competition

The Space Generation Advisory Council mentions that the 1st LEEM International Cansat Competition to be held in Madrid has had its registration date extended for non-Spanish teams.

This is not to be confused with the 2008 Texas Annual Cansat Competition. It's pretty nice, actually, to have the possibility of confusing one Cansat competition for another (and these 2 are not the only ones). The more the merrier.

LunaTrex Outreach; Quantum3 at Goddard Memorial Dinner, and More GLXP

The X PRIZE Foundation news ticker points to a press release about Google Lunar X PRIZE Team LunaTrex and its sponsorship of University of Dayton Advanced Rocket Team (UDART). The information is also in a LunaTrex post on the GLXP Teams page.

Here's some information from Orion Propulsion, part of the LunaTrex team, about community outreach with the UDART team (among other outreach efforts).

Quantum3 also gives us an update on the GLXP teams page on thoughts on commercial space at the Goddard Memorial Dinner.

Meanwhile, RLV News gives a link to an Areo-News video on the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams announcement. A full (~1 hour) video of the presentation is at YouTube, too, although there are some differences in the different filmings.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

X PRIZE Foundation and Biofuels Prize

Recently I posted about a late 2007 podcast featuring the X PRIZE Foundation's Tom Vander Ark discussing various initiatives at the Foundation, including (to quote my paraphrase of the interview) "4 to 6 energy generation, storage, distribution, and efficiency prizes with a Bay Area energy-related organization potentially sponsoring $100M+ in prizes".

Now, the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker points to an article by the Santa Monica Daily Press about a Biofuels Prize announced at WIREC 2008 (Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008) to be run by the Foundation and Lee Stein's Prize Capital. The Biofuels Prize is meant to

spur the creation of a new technology that is energy and cost-efficient, sustainable, versatile, easy to scale and decentralized.

It sounds like the prize isn't going to be a pure "innovation prize", but rather a combination of innovation prize plus investments - perhaps similar to how the DARPA Urban Challenge was implemented - to allow certain contestants with a good idea but without capital a better chance to make productive advances:

The $10 million prize purse will be awarded to the team that wins a series of challenges designed to test efficiency, scalability and sustainability of new biofuel liquid transport technology. To finance the Biofuels Prize and other prizes, Prize Capital will be creating a series of investment funds to provide capital for select contestants. For investors, this reduces the risk of having to seek out suitable investment candidates.

Of course this mixes the pros and cons of prizes and grants to some degree. It would be interesting if the prize were designed in such a way that contestants with great ideas but little funding could "earn" investment money in the "prize" sense (rather than the "grant" sense) by demonstrating easier versions of the main prize to show they're serious and capable. In Lunar Lander Challenge terms, maybe a few ~$50,000 prizes could be awarded for, say, a single 45 second, low payload up-over-down in one piece flight to get low-budget but inspired teams a chance to win some cash to work with, to say nothing of getting more teams into the competition for the fans to see.

You can read more about the Biofuels Prize at Lee Stein's Bio:

“Somebody affiliated with the GEF, the Global Environment Facility [the largest independent financier of environmental projects worldwide] was visiting and we shared with them confidentially what we were doing with the X Prize and the risk mitigation model and how we were going to apply it to prizes dealing with energy and the environment.”

Since its inception in 1991, the GEF has disbursed nearly $7 billion in grants to developing countries for more than 1,300 projects implemented by UN agencies and the World Bank Group.

As a result in June 2007, the GEF gave a $50 million green light for the formation of a pilot public private partnership (PPP) to jointly fund global prize competitions. That led to tying the GEF and X-Prize together directly. The X-Prize board in October of 2007 agreed to the implementation of planning as the prize awarding entity for the GEF/Prize Capital biofuels prize.

The first GEF/Prize Capital competition will focus on bringing second generation biofuels for transport production technology to developing countries.

The GEF document Second Meeting of the GEF SAG has some notes about the prize as it was being considered at that time:

30. The GEF Secretariat presented the GEF’s progress in engaging the private sector. The evolving private sector strategy complies with previous guidance of the GEF Council, and has the following requirements for its operations: absorption of risk that the private sector will not absorb on its own to generate global environmental benefits; using GEF resources to leverage high levels of private investment; catalyzing new investment areas and mechanisms for financial and other institutions to then adopt; and a focus on specific environmental problems. Examples of proposed platforms for this engagement were given: a $10m biofuels prize which would generate a series of technological innovations through a $100m investment fund managed by a fund manager; a water purification system for coastal areas prize; and financial instruments to influence the creation of portfolios and risk mitigation instruments upstream (for example contingent grants through energy efficiency portfolios).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dr. Griffin Paraphrased on Google Lunar X PRIZE

StarStryder has some comments by NASA Administrator Griffin at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. This is mainly about science, but commercial space comes up a few times. The comments are paraphrased by StarStryder, and I wasn't there, so I can't tell how closely the comments match what Dr. Griffin actually said:

He is outlining the tests of the new launch vehicles, launching from Kennedy and the New Mexico spaceport. He is challenging us to find uses for these new vehicles, and he is challenging us to find ways for NASA to stay first in space and first in the world.


From depressing badges to Google Lunar X-Prize - How will NASA deal with a commercial winner? Will there be commercial contracts? asks someone from the commercial space race (he didn’t say which company). Griffin: Yes. And we’ll use a certain amount of government money to seed it and will hirer folks.


Women: Thank you for restoring outer solar system missions and the servicing mission to Hubble. What is being down to increase access to launch vehicles and power systems?

Griffin: Paraphrasing - We’re developing new technologies. As for launch vehicles … government is not very efficient. I’m hoping that the commercial space agencies will drive innovation and lower costs. Government can be efficient under stress (when things get streamlined), but it can’t be successful when trying to meet the needs of everyone in all of government. For instance, the system of procurement is designed to be fair but not to be efficient. … We need to empower a group to efficiently run the space race. I hope that it will be NASA, but it may be the commercial agencies…

Masters of Doom

RoboRocketry has a post about Masters of Doom, a book about John Carmack's software work (a book I didn't know about until this post). Naturally on a blog called RoboRocketry Armadillo and the X PRIZE Cup are featured in the post.

Unreasonable Rocket Helicopter, Tanks, Shuttle, and Parts

This is a catch-up for 2 Unreasonable Rocket posts on pictures of unreasonable rocket parts and fighting to make progress with the helicopter and tanks.

There's also a section about wanting to watch the Shuttle launch. I have to say as a spectator to all of this rocketry stuff I'd rather see a couple X PRIZE Cup Unreasonable Rocket and/or other successful Lunar Lander Challenge launches and landings than a Shuttle launch, and I don't stand to win a cent on the LLC. I'm also not nearly as "1 track minded" about space prizes as you might think from my selection of niche for this blog. In spite of having a critical attitude about the Shuttle and the ISS, I'm quite enthusiastic about this phase of the ISS construction where habitable nodes and labs are being added and ISS capability is growing considerably.

Nevertheless I think Paul made the right decision. He doesn't have to go to Florida to see a really cool rocket.

Sustainability in Space

Jon Goff at Selenian Boondocks has some thoughts about OSTP Director Dr. John Marburger's recent speach that features Centennial Challenges as a small effort that NASA is doing that's in the right direction, and an idea about an orbital propellant depot prize. These are minor parts of the overall discussion, though. He also has related comments about sustainability in space efforts. There are related links at RLV News, Transterrestrial Musings, and Curmudgeon's Corner (go to the Sunday March 09, 2008 posts for the last link - I'm not sure how to get the permalink on that one).

20 Teams Registered for 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge

The California Space Authority sent out a notice of 20 teams registered for the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge. Check the Teams page for a list of them. Most of them have links to the team site on the CSA regolith page, which sometimes (not always) has a link to a separate site for the team ... or an address that might one day be a team site.

The registered teams include the ones from last year's event, like UMR Lunar Miners and Tech Ranch. Terra Engineering is related to last year's Mendenhall BDF. This team was also in the DARPA Grand Challenges. According to the press release, Team of One is led by Geoffrey Pulk from last year's competition, rounding out all of last year's competitors that made it to the Challenge event.

Check out the latest team map.

I imagine the press release will appear on the CSA regolith page soon, but I can't find it there, so here's a cut-and-paste of the main part:

20 Teams Competing in Regolith Challenge
Competition for $750,000 NASA Prize Ramping Up

Washington, DC – The California Space Education and Workforce Institute and California Space Authority announced today during a ceremony at NASA Headquarters that 20 teams have registered to compete in the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge. The teams competing for the $750,000 prize purse hail from 12 states and represent a variety of backgrounds; including universities, seasoned private sector robotics teams, and industry based competitors. The Challenge event will take place during August 2nd and 3rd on the campus of challenge co-host California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo College of Engineering.

”We are pleased to have robust participation in the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge. It creates a great opportunity to make the excitement of space exploration tangible for the many students, professionals and other enthusiasts who are following the competition.” said Jack Gregg, Ph.D., Executive Director of the California Space Education and Workforce Institute.

All four of the teams that participated in the Challenge event in 2007 have returned for the 2008 competition despite the increased technical difficulty that this year's rules provide. Technology Ranch, led by Jim Greenhaw, Team of One led by Geoffrey Pulk, Terra Engineering led by Todd Mendenhall, and the Lunar Miners led by Cory Smith represent the four returning teams. New this year are Poiesis Research, Toy Garden, Boppers, UBC Tread Robotics, Green Cheese Solutions, Lunaccretion, Team Terrich, Ajax Laboratories, Kingfish Tech, LREX ONE, Mocha Boca II, Sandstorm, Dig-It, LunOREDIGGERS, Sileas Research Mining and Full Scale Robotics. The teams hail from California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Like last year, teams will be required to build autonomous excavators, but new this year is a requirement that the excavators be mobile and navigate their way through obstacles. This change requires that the teams address some of the obstructions and other operational constraints likely to be encountered on the lunar surface.

Update (March 11): I don't see the announcement yet anywhere but in my email, but San Luis has a brief mention of it.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Astrobotic, LunaTrex, and ARCA Lunar X PRIZE Videos

A couple of videos from Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor Astrobotic were recently posted to YouTube here and here. You may have seen one of them at the GLXP Teams site before.

There are also some videos that were added a bit longer ago - around the time of the GLXP teams announcement - one from LunaTrex and several from ARCA.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Meet the New Centennial Challenges Leader

The Space Elevator Blog has a post that I'm presenting not so much because it has to do with the Space Elevator Games, but rather because it introduces the new person in charge of Centennial Challenges (among other responsibilities), Andy Petro.

Consolidated Lunar and Glove Prizes Post

For the Google Lunar X PRIZE:

The Space Fellowship has had a series of interviews and articles on the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams. Here's one on Team Italia.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams site has an update from Micro-Space that also has some Space Fellowship content.

For the Lunar Lander Challenge:

RLV News has the latest updates from Masten Space Systems on a new employee's job and igniter tests, and Unreasonable Rocket showing data from a test. Actually, RLV News already has an even newer post on available summer interships. I'm not sure if Masten is still going for the LLC prize this year.

For the Astronaut Glove Challenge:

RLV News links to another cool article from NASA ASK by 2007 Astronaut Glove Challenge winner Peter Homer where the "incremental failure" approach, applicable in many other design situations, leads to a win:

I decided to focus all my effort on just the finger element. If I couldn't come up with a more flexible finger, there was no point in spending time on the rest of the glove, I reasoned. So I devised a simple test fixture that allowed me to build and pressurize finger elements in about twenty minutes, and I spent the next few weeks designing and making glove fingers. A lot of fingers. Probably three dozen in all. Every one of those fingers (except the last) was a little failure, but every one taught me something about what did and didn't flex easily, or about how to streamline the fabrication process, or what materials and design elements were or were not important.

Here's another lesson that's might come in handy:

By remaining aware of the big picture, continuously asking myself, “Am I converging on a solution?” and “Am I converging fast enough?” I was able to see that my original design was not going to succeed, leading to the decision to start over.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ken Davidian on Commercial Space Development and Centennial Challenges

Former NASA Centennial Challenges manager Ken Davidian recently appeared on the Space Show. Most of the interview was on his new assignment, which deals with a new NASA ESMD policy favoring commercial space development. Towards the end of the interview he also discussed each of the existing Centennial Challenges prizes, including questions of where the next Lunar Lander Challenge would be held, when would this year's Astronaut Glove Challenge rules be revealed, and more.

Reasonable Blogging Tools for the Lunar Lander Engineer

Unreasonable Rocket is testing new blogging software tools and showing how windy it was during tests from the previous post.

Lunar X PRIZE, Universities, and Cringely

RLV News posts on 2 Google Lunar X PRIZE articles. The first, from the Tucson Citizen, is on the University or Arizona's contribution to team Astrobotic. Here's one snippet from the article showing how it's going:

The project has $1.5 million in hand donated by UA, Carnegie Mellon and Raytheon to fund design work and develop a business plan needed to raise funds to cover the project's $100 million price tag, Lauretta said.

What does UA have to gain from the competition?

"The X Prize is not the only revenue stream. We will have a system for pinpoint accuracy delivery to the surface of the moon or other planets. Others will come and pay for that. We really believe in the vision of the Google Lunar X Prize to make lunar surface activities routine."

... and ...

"Instead of being the group that provides the science instruments, we will be able to provide an entire spacecraft and run an entire mission," Lauretta said. "UA will be capable of building and operating entire space missions for NASA. We'll have a bigger share of the workload.

The other article is from the Space Fellowship, which has been interviewing GLXP teams. This time the interview is of Team Cringely.

Finally, here's a GLXP article from Design News on universities and the GLXP.

X PRIZE Foundation Newsletter, Feb 29, 2008

The X PRIZE Foundation sent out its latest newsletter, the February 29 edition. The link-rich email includes a summary of the first 10 GLXP team and Space Florida announcements, and a featured GLXP Lunar Legacy photo. There's also a bit about the Automotive X PRIZE at the New York International Auto Show where

The exhibit space will include videos about the Automotive X PRIZE, showcasing of potential teams and their vehicles and new, exciting announcements about the prize.

Finally, there's a section on a dinner honoring new X PRIZE Foundation Vision Circle members:

The X PRIZE Foundation welcomed the latest members of the Vision Circle, Sergey Brin and Ann Wojcicki; Ray Sidney; and Barry and Trudy Silverstein whose son, Jake, will represent the family. The dinner was hosted by Bita Daryabari at her home in Atherton on February 16.

Pomerantz on Lessons Learned and a New SEDS Contest

William Pomerantz at the X PRIZE Foundation posts on an article he wrote for NASA's ASK Magazine on lessons learned from the entrepreneurs going for the Foundations' prizes. I'm not sure if NASA will be able to take advantage of these lessons learned, since it's if anything tending to go for even fewer, bigger missions, like the Ares rockets and associated NASA lunar transportation systems, very large Mars robotic missions, etc. Lessons like "Build, Test, Fly, Destroy, Repeat", "(Small) Size Matters", and the others are tough to fit into these kinds of programs. Good luck to NASA on finding and fostering some niches where these lessons can be applied while at the same time tackling the big programs.

Will also posts about a new SEDS Lunar Rover Design Competition. The first round will be held at the UK Space Conference 2008, which, if you check my earlier post at that link you'll see has a lot of other interesting prizes, competitions, and awards.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

National Space Society Short Story Contest(s?)

The National Space Society's Downlink #85 broadcast email has some prize-related news I've covered before (Google Lunar X PRIZE team announcement, NSS Space Elevator Team), but it also has a new prize article. This one is on the 'Return to Luna' Short Story Contest. Among other prizes, the winners will be in a Science Fiction print anthology called 'Return to Luna'. They're looking for a certain flavor of story you might expect the National Space Society to prefer; see the link for more details. Judges include some well-known space-oriented Science Fiction authors. Here's more on the publisher.

Spaceref and Space for All also are helping get the word out on the contest.

Also, although I can't find any confirmation of it on the NSS site (so make some phone calls before writing that story!), the site linked ahead states that the NSS is also still part of the 2nd Annual Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest.

60's: Purple Haze; 80's: Purple Rain; '00's: Unreasonable Purple Rocket Cloud

RLV News points out the latest update - with a YouTube video - from Unreasonable Rocket. Armadillo Aerospace's John Carmack makes a suggestion in the comments.

Apophis Competition on Planetary Radio

The feature segment on the Planetary Society's Planetary Radio broadcast for March 3 covers the Apophis Mission Design Competition.

Monday, March 03, 2008

TRUMPF Gets 2 More Laser Teams

According to the Space Elevator Blog, two more Beam Power teams are going with TRUMPF lasers: the National Space Society Space Elevator Team and TXL Group.

Update (Mar 4): The SE Blog also has an update from E-T-C.

Update (Mar 5): On top of that, the SE Blog also has an update from the McGill Space Elevator Team, including a new logo and an SE Blog email interview. Here's the blog's summary of the 2008 team status so far:

So this makes at least seven teams (USST, Lasermotive, the TXL Group, the Kansas City Space Pirates, the Queens Space Engineering team, the National Space Society and the McGill team) that are planning on using lasers to power their climber this year.

Update (again!) (Mar 7): MClimber from the University of Michigan is also going to be using TRUMPF. They're going to try to win in 2009, with 2008 as a test run.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Tom Vander Ark Podcast on X PRIZE Foundation

The Technology Alliance has a podcast speech of the X PRIZE Foundation's Tom Vander Ark from Oct 12, 2007. Here's more about it. It's a comprehensive and detailed talk that covers the range of X PRIZE Foundation history and prizes, including space prizes like the Ansari X PRIZE, the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and the X PRIZE Cup. He also discusses where prizes fit in the philanthropy landscape.

In part of the talk, he discussed some prizes that they hope to kick off in the future. Some sound like they're in advanced stages of formulation with sponsors, and others sound like they're in the process of deciding how they want to implement the prize before getting a sponsor. Some possibilities, which may have changed one way or the other in the time since the talk:

- a deep sea prize with possible sponsorship by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Now that's a type of prize that appeals to the same brain cells that like space prizes. It would be interesting to see a "NewDeepsea" movement like NewSpace ... and the 2 could someday combine in the oceans under some of our solar system's moons. In the short term, maybe some of the technology and business organization from such a prize would be applicable to the space community, or vice versa.

- 4 to 6 energy generation, storage, distribution, and efficiency prizes with a Bay Area energy-related organization potentially sponsoring $100M+ in prizes

- 2 concepts for education prizes were discussed. One was a software education tool, like a tool that could help students with math trouble learn the equivalent of 2 or more years of algebra over the summer. Another concept was a city-wide education competition, where the prize winner would be an outside educational improvement provider.

- The prize model may need to be modified to address international development prizes. Such a prize might need to contain an access to capital component and a market development component. One idea is for a village utility module to handle various needs like water and electricity, with a prize for a technology demonstration and another for deployment.

- In the medicine field, a possible cancer prize with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was mentioned.

- I've mentioned this suggestion in other posts based on articles I read a while ago, so discussions must have been ongoing. A possible healthcare prize sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was brought up. This (and some of the other ideas) is also mentioned here.

Space Communicator Award; Space Technology Hall of Fame

Spaceref has a couple press release posts on space awards: one for Neil deGrasse Tyson winning the 2008 Space Communicator Award from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement, and another for 3 space technologies joining the Space Foundation's Space Technology Hall of Fame. Check out the link to see how these 3 space technologies are also finding important uses on Earth.

TRUMPF Makes Another Laser Beam Team Deal

The Space Elevator Blog tells us which laser the Queen's Space Engineering Team is going to use. Also check the QSET link for new positions that are open on the team.

Google Lunar X PRIZE Articles Keep Coming In

Yes, the Google Lunar X PRIZE media storm seems to be working, and the GLXP articles and interviews keeping arriving. Here's a sample, and that's after filtering out lots of articles that I didn't think added enough new information, or at least a new or interesting spin on old information, on top of all the other articles I've linked to:

NPR talks to the leader and namesake of open source Team FREDNET in a radio interview. It sounds like they have members from lots and lots of countries.

The Sunday Herald discusses an as-yet unregistered team from Scotland's Glasgow University, led by Dr. Gianmarco Radice.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a local take on Red Whittaker's career and life, including a great deal about the Lunar X PRIZE team work.

On the Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams page, SCSG posts about funding. Their estimate to meet the prize requirements is $20M. They'd like to find a sponsor for the whole amount rather than raise the money piecemeal (possibly leaving an early sponsor paying without having enough money to finish), but for now they're working on it as is. Probably one of the more well-known team members, Rex Ridenoure, CEO of Ecliptic Enterprises, is mentioned in the post. I didn't know this, but according to this Space Show bio, Rex was

Chief Mission Architect and VP for Commercial Payloads at BlastOff! Corporation, which made the most progress to date toward sending the first commercial spacecraft to the surface of the Moon.

Also at the X PRIZE Foundation site is a link to a Science Magazine article about the GLXP teams, especially SCSG, Odyssey Moon, and Astrobotic.