Friday, April 04, 2008

Future Energy and Environment X PRIZEs

Recently I posted about X PRIZE Foundation energy and environment prize plans, such as the Biofuels Prize. These posts were based on talks by X PRIZE Foundation leaders like Tom Vander Ark and Peter Diamandis. Now I've noticed that the Future Prizes section of the XPF page has a spotlight on their Energy and Environment prizes, including the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, the Biofuels X PRIZE under development, and more. They have a nice Energy and Environment X PRIZE Suite paper that gives an overview of the process they'll use to select the prizes, the areas they intend to pursue, and the goals they want to achieve with the prizes.

There's no indication that they'll do this, but it would be interesting if they would put a space "flavor" into 1 or more of these Energy and Environment prizes. The space innovation community has demonstrated that it responds to these prizes, and there's no reason not to take advantage of that response in the Energy and Environment prize suite. For example:

- Solar Power or Relay Satellite demonstration: I'm not convinced the SPS is close to economically ready for mass energy applications, but it could be ready for less ambitious applications, like power relay, emergency power for disaster or other isolated areas, or satellite to satellite (or other space infrastructure) power. A prize for a demonstration of such capabilities could lead to real use at this level, which in turn could grow into clean large-scale SPS, as envisioned in the Google Lunar X PRIZE promotions, later.

- Environment Monitoring Using Suborbital Vehicles: Such a prize could include tasks like accurately sampling the upper atmosphere at various altitudes, taking calibration measurements of the Earth concurrently with various comparable environmental satellite measurements, simply taking accurate remote sensing measurements of the Earth's environment, and/or testing environmental sensors destined for space. Repeated, reliable, and accurate environmental measurements could be required. Such a prize could be an enabler for a diverse set of environmentally useful tools, and at the same time would give a helpful push to the suborbital vehicles under development that were in part inspired by the original Ansari X PRIZE. It would also help address one of the rather unthoughtful but politically dangerous criticisms of the suborbital vehicles as just "toys for the rich".

- Best Software Contest: Perhaps a prize similar to the Android Developer Challenge for what's judged to be the best environmental software application to use, say, the Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth platform (depending on the prize's title sponsor, of course).

You get the idea ... many other energy/environment prizes involving space could of course also be imagined.