Thursday, April 26, 2012

Prize Roundup: Heinlein Trust Award, Museum of Flight Activity, CanSats, Ocean Prizes, More

I recently posted about the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge.  Space Florida is also involved with another space competition: Space Florida and NASA-KSC announce the 3rd Annual Planetary Lander “Egg-Drop” Competition for Florida Elementary, Middle and High School Students.

$15,000 Space Commercialization Award to SolidEnergy, MIT for “Shipstone” - Heinlein Prize Trust

Boston student wins contest for XCOR Lynx spaceflight - RLV News

Updates and Info - Sample Return Robot Challenge - This post mentions a new forum and other topics of interest to the teams.  The event is less than 2 months away (June 15-18).

MoonBots heads to St. Louis for FIRST World Robotics Championships - Google Lunar X PRIZE Staff Blog

Here's some news from the Museum of Flight:

The Future of Space - I'm sure by now you know all about the introduction of Planetary Resources by X PRIZE Foundation Chairman Peter Diamandis and many others.

Planetary Resources and the Google Lunar X PRIZE - Google Lunar X PRIZE Staff Blog

Space Elevator Conference moves to the Boeing Museum of Flight! - Space Elevator Blog - According to the conference site (which is expected to be updated in early May), this includes the Strong Tether Competition and RoboQuest, a robotic climber competition for kids.  According to The Artsutanov and Pearson Prizes, a recent update at ISEC, the topics for the 2013 competition will be announced at this year's conference to give more time for entries.

Here are a couple of updates on CanSats:

Worldwide CanSat Competitions - De La Cosa CanSat Team

European CanSat competition begins - ESA

The X PRIZE Foundation is working hard to develop ocean prizes:

Robots of the Sea - neXt PRIZE - Erica Wagner from The X PRIZE Foundation writes about the advisory meeting for the James Cook X PRIZE, a potential future prize for autonomous underwater vehicles. 

Attention Heroes: Who Will Save The World's Oceans? - Forbes gives us some news from the X PRIZE Foundation Visioneering conference:

Wendy Schmidt, President of the Schmidt Family Foundation and spouse of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, announced her intent to sponsor a prize to address the issue (ocean acidification). ... To compete in the Ocean Health X Prize, winners must: Build and demonstrate the most accurate and reliable deep ocean pH sensors to help measure the global effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

Visioneering 2012 - X PRIZE Foundation - You can see a summary of this workshop and the top prize concepts there, as well as a number of photos of the event.

Nanosatellite Launch Challenge Draft Rules: Comments and Excerpts of Interest

Space Florida has released the draft rules (PDF) for the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge.  Current comments (PDF) from the interested public, including some who you may know, are also available.  Citizens in Space notes a part of the draft rules that allows systems that were designed or developed by a government, but considers that not to be a real problem for those who want to encourage private design and development since governments haven't been much interested in nanosatellite launchers.  I will also note the following excerpt from the rules that makes it even less likely to be a problem from that perspective:

Teams using Launch Vehicles based on U.S. Government or foreign government designs must certify to SFSSRC that these designs are available to all other competitors, and their vehicles will be available for commercial launch operations after the Challenge.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the total prize purse has been increased to $3M, spread across 3 potential awards.  In the area of prize funding, I also think the following section is interesting:

The SFSSRC, in cooperation with other Challenge sponsors, may offer Bonus Prizes to incentivize additional activities associated with the Challenge objectives. Initial Bonus Prizes are listed below. Other Bonus Prizes may be added before the Challenge is expired.
7.2.1 Space Florida will provide an additional $______ cash prize to a Team that wins the Challenge by staging both of its winning Challenge Launch Attempts from Florida. This includes the use of Cape Canaveral Spaceport or the Cecil Field Spaceport as a launch base for expendable or reusable Launch Vehicles, or as an integration site for Launch Vehicles carried aloft for air-launch.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Prize Events this Weekend

Visioneering 2012 - The Launch Pad - This post describes this year's X PRIZE Foundation event where problems and potential X PRIZEs to solve those problems are reviewed by prominent innovators.  It also gives some social media accounts to check to see how the event is going.  It's held April 20-21.  Participants include @AnoushehAnsari, @PaulGAllen, @gtwhitesides, and many others.

International Space Apps Challenge Is Happening This Weekend - NASAHackSpace

@SLI_1MILEHIGH - NASA Student Launch Initiative - Originally scheduled for April 21, this is being moved to April 22 due to weather.  See more at Student Launch Initiative.

Create NASA Earth Day Video, Win Seats To A Launch - NASA Earth

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Space Access '12: Paul Breed - Unreasonable Rocket

Paul did a lot of "show and tell" with various displays of hardware. The printed motor from last year's conference is now passing his tests.

He has a GPS IMU test bed that has run 35 flights. He is trying different IMUs. The low cost ones don't work well with rocket vibrations.

For tank development, he had tests. This includes test tanks. He showed 1 tank rated for 500 PSI that failed gracefully at 550 PSI. Now, he is having problems with the resin vendor, so he's working on different types of tanks.

For rocket recovery, a lot of flights at the FAR didn't recover successfully.

Paul got a Tripoli Level 3 certification with a Mach 1.2 15,000 foot flight with a successful recovery.

In the future, he plans to combine the motors, tanks, and guidance and control into a vehicle and fly it. He would like to win the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge.

Space Access '12: Tim Pickens - Rocket City Space Pioneers (GLXP)

Tim overviewed the RCSP team member companies. Then he presented their concept of operations. They would launch on a Falcon 9 rocket, and use an ESPA ring to deliver several secondary payloads to GTI and LLO, allowing them to make some money. It seemed like it would save customers 50% compared to other ways to reach their orbits, but they aren't getting those customers. They want to learn while doing this project, so they built lunar lander hardware for MSFC. They made hdrogen peroxide/kerosene "green" engine. Tim showed an ILDD test firing. STEM and social media ar important to the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Significant sponsors require having a following so they are trying to boost intest For example, they made a free Ipad game. They figured there would be science and robotic precursor missions to the Moon, but that's not happening. With ride shares, they would get to about break-even even if they didn't get to the Moon. They are running short on time with the GLXP schedule. They already spent lots of resources on marketing, modeling, etc. Sponsorship opportunities are limited. The GLXP is not American Idol, the NFL, etc. They need to get away from the current model. They need to make it fun, mainstream, and relevant to lots of people. They could become a secondary payload to save money on the mission. What about the business model? That was rideshare, so that would go away with such a switch. They could team up with another team. They don't want to just let the project hang around on life support. With sponsors, they got lots of value in software tools, but hard cash is hard to come by. This is a long shot for sponsors because they have to actually get to the Moon to get big results for the sponsors.

Why was there a problem with GTO ride shares? The customers didn't know who they would be sharing a ride with, or if they would show up at all. They don't want to be left without a ride because of that. They are also used to working with current vendors.

Space Access '12: Percy Luney - Nanosatellite Launch Challenge

I'm not sure that I caught all of the details on the prize since there was a lot of back-and-forth across the room in this presentation, so I'd encourage readers to consult with the actual rules. I may have missed or mis-interpreted a few things.

Draft rules are expected to be published by next Tuesday on the Space Florida website. They are managing the competition, but competitors don't have to launch from Florida. They need to launch from U.S. territory (it sounds like sea launch is allowed). They have had negotiatons with FAA, NASA, and the Air Force on the rules. Those interested can register for weekly updates on their website. They can also comment on the team agreement. There is now $3M in prize money available in the competition. (I'm not sure if the $1M increase is related to the cancellation of the Beam Power/Climber prize, but that would have been for a similar amount). There are 3 prizes, $1.5M for 2 nanosatellite launches within 7 days from the same launch site, $1M for the first air launches meeting these criteria (assuming the overall winner was a ground launch), and the remainder for the 2nd by the "other mode". I'm not sure how this works out with various scenarios. Registration fees are for things like judges wherever the launches happen. Space Florida is taking care of all costs to manage the competition, with NASA prize money.

This was a short presentation with an extended Q/A session. There was quite a lot of interest in the competition, judging by the number of questions. Q/A:

What is the registration fee? It will probably be ~$10,000 (ballpark figure). There would also be a fee for registering a launch.

Will they help with range costs? Space Florida is willing to work with teams on launching from Florida. They can provide help with range requirements. It sounds like this would be Space Florida wearing a different "hat" from running the competition.

Are fees the same regardless of where the judges have to go? It seems like the costs would be different for more expensive trips. A: They wil have to take that one under advisement.

The $10,000 covers overall management of the competition.

Would there be any relief in the 7 day window for things like weather, FAA certification delays, etc? A: Weather: yes, FAA delays: no They aren't an intermediary for FAA, etc.

What are the range costs? It's $25,000 for the Eastern Range. They have been working with that range on lowering range costs. This covers Eastern Range and Space Florida costs. Costs could be different at different locations.

Are they looking for sponsorship? A: They will try but it's hard to do because they are not launching from a specific predefined location.

They can't control other launch sites, etc.

The timeline for the final rules is by the end of May.

Would the $25,000 range costs have to be paid twice because of the 2 launches? They will have to check on that.

What has to be done to prove that the payload was in orbit? The burden of proof is on the contestant. There could be various ways to do that.

For air launch, could you do both launches on the same airplane flight? A: That would probably require 2 flights.

Orbit definition? At least 1 verifiable orbit of the Earth.

Could a contestant sell their spot in the challenge? yes

Can the payload be commercial? yes

Can the orbit be highly elliptical? A: They are debating having a maximum. They don't want a problem (not sure - with debris?)

What is the minimum altitude? A: That will be in the draft rules. They recently put that in.

How much delay could there be between launches? They could go at 2:00 and then 3:00. They shouldn't go at the same time.

The rockets can be expendable.

Can the vehicle be based on existing components? That is allowed.

For a sea launch, would the boat have to come back (like the airplane in an air launch)? No, the boat shouldn't have to.

Suggestion: Make the delay between launches be verifying that the first launch did actually make a full orbit. This will require a certain amount of time.

How many judges are needed in a sea launch or air launch (I think this means on the plane or boat)? 2

Is the range up to speed? They are aware at the Eastern Range. They are a bit reserved on it, but they've worked well with Masten ... we will see.

Government payloads are not allowed.

An "Act of God" like a hurricaine, etc, will not penalize a team with respect to getting a launch window within the 7 days.

Space Access '12: Jordin Kare - LaserMotive

He was at Space Access 2010 right after winning the Space Elevator Games climber/beam power competition. They are open for business, and have their first 2 full-time employees. The next challenge was delayed, revised, and then finally cancelled. LaserMotive was disappointed with this, since they had put a lot of effort into it. They did get a 4.5 kw diode array transmitter out of the effort, though.
Since then, they did a demo of unlimited duration flight with a quadricopter. They had no sales, and got no angel investors yet. They are still looking for customers and investors.

They have a new product, InvisiTower, which is like the quadricopter, but is controlled by a tether. Laser power is delivered over fiber. The craft could take video, transmit communications, etc.

Since 2010, there has been more interest in Laser Launch. There were 2 separate funded studies from OCT. One was on Beamed Energy Propulsion, and one was called Ride the Light. His plan was for one array of lasers for the initial launch system, and another, main array for orbit. They studied design reference missions for launch, LEO to GEO, and deep space missions. They were designing an expendable SST vehicle. Kare, Myrabo and Parkin had different approaches.

Space Access '12: Ben Brockert: Armadillo Aerospace

Ben played a 16 minute video that reviewed Armadillo accomplishments over th last year, and explained what was happening in the video while it ran. With videos and comments like that, sometimes you want to just sit back and soak it all in, which is what I did instead of writing a lot of comments. He showed work for the NASA Morpheus project, Stig, Dalek, Stiga. Their next rocket has a 20 inch diameter instead of 15 inches. One fun comment was on their wind tunnel test: dragging a ballute behind a tow truck.

Space Access '12: Dave Masten - Masten Space Systems

Although they didn't discuss prizes much other than their accomplishments in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge which I've covered in earlier posts (including Space Access reviews from earlier years), I'll include the presentations of the LLC and power beaming teams at the conference because it's important to see where the prizes fit in the overall course of a participant's history. Prizes aren't just about the competitions themselves, but are also about what the participation enables in the long run.
Masten wants their latest vehicle, Xaero, to reach 100,000 feet and to be reusable. They have flown it twice, and also had about 88 tether tests. It's like their LLC winner on the inside,but with an aeroshell. The aeroshell changed the vibrations and accoustic environment, which made landing difficult. They had IMU trouble with this. Now they are free flying. Maybe in another week they will have more flying, then go much higher.

Sensei is a "Master Rocket Hypervisor". It's a proven GNC system that operates in the background while a new, unproven one controls the vehicle in flight. It will take over the flight if needed. One with Draper Labs and NASA was flown on Xombie for about 25 flights including some purposely making Genie (the tested GNC system) go out of parameters so Sensei had to take over the flight.

They see 2 business lines: high altitude rockets, and entry, descent, and landing.

Zeus is derived from an old concept where an upper stage does most of the landing on a body like the Moon, then it is landed on the side with side engines. ULA engineers expanded on this idea 6 years ago using a Centaur. ULA donated a Centaur to Masten to investigate Zeus. Masten is hoping to develop the idea more and then have NASA pick it up. Masten propulsion would be on the side of the Centaur for final landing. They are now working on terrestrial tests. The donated Centaur is good enough for a terrestrial demo of GNC, etc. They have 2 buildings now, and one is called "The Stable" because it has a Centaur in it! They estimate that this would land 14 tons to the surface, or 5 if it's reusable.

They are building a second Xaero because they have so many customer needs in the 5-6 km range. They hope to get to 100,000 feet in a few months, but that's not a promise. They plan this launch to be from Mojave hopefully, and then to go elsewhere.

Space Access '12: Ed Wright - Citizens in Space

Teachers in Space is now Citizens in Space. Ed discussed a lot of Citizens in Space activity, but I'll just mention activity related to prizes. They are participating in the NASA International Space Apps challenge. They are also considering a suborbital experiment challenge of their own. The details are to be determined, but it's possible that we will hear more at the Maker Faire.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

6th CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium and the Green Flight Challenge

The dates for The 6th Annual CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium are April 27-28.  According to the CAFE Foundation Electric Aircraft page, the Green Flight Challenge II will be introduced at the symposium.  Assuming that is still planned, it will be interesting to see if NASA is contributing prize money this time, and if Google will be sponsoring the event again.  The preliminary program for the event includes a number of presentations related to the Green Flight Challenge, including the following samples:

April 27
08:05 Lessons Learned From the Green Flight Challenge, Jack Langelaan, Penn. St. Univ.
08:40 The 403.5 pMPG Pipistrel Taurus G4, Tine Tomazic, Pipistrel
10:20 The GFC Quickie’s Amazing Performance, Gene Sheehan, Team Feuling GFC

April 28
10:20 The CAFE Green Flight Challenge Program, Brien Seeley, CAFE Foundation
14:30 CAFE Electric Flight Demonstration at STS: Includes GFC Team Feuling’s eQuickie, Team IKE Aerospace’s Seraph, Team GSE’s Hybrid Pusher and others.

Other topics include "Real World Life with the Tesla Roadster" (once considered a potential Automotive X PRIZE contender), "Licensing of Electric Aircraft: FAA’s Plans" (commercial space transport isn't the only field with new FAA considerations!), several presentations on batteries, themed dinners, a visit to the CAFE Flight Test Center, and more.

Pipistrel’s Flight Through Wine Country - CAFE Foundation blog - This presents a Google Earth video view of the flight.

Also, here is a detailed and informative NASA Edge video about last year's challenge: 2011 Green Flight Challenge

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Lunabotics Twitter List

This is just a quick note that I've made a new twitter list for NASA Lunabotics Mining Competition Teams.  You should see the Lunabotics list near the top on the right in the "Space, Prize Twitter Accounts" section.  It doesn't seem to be picking up the most recent tweets from some of the teams, but we will see how it does for new tweets.  There are currently 20 members of the list, most of which represent Lunabotics teams.