Big Thinking: You Create An X-Prize Contest To Solve A Pressing Problem

Remember the Ansari X-Prize, when there was a race about a decade ago for the first private spaceship to go into space and then return? The result not only saw Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne make it into suborbit, but also launched Virgin Galactic — one of the most talked-about space companies today.

Imagine if you had a burning problem that you wanted to solve. It could be related to space exploration, or astronomy, or climate change, or something else altogether.

In recognition of this, the X-Prize foundation has spun off a new company called HeroX to crowdsource ideas and funding for a prize competition. And Universe Today’s Fraser Cain, who has just joined the organization, wants readers to help him out with the ImagineX challenge! More details below.

“Imagine if a large enough group of people could come together, pool their resources, and issue a challenge that would inspire competitors to solve it,” Fraser wrote on his Google+ page, pointing out the X-Prize organization itself has broadened its scope to contests related to oil cleanup and low-carbon emission vehicles, among others.

“The goal with HeroX is that anyone can come and create a challenge,” he added. “And then anyone can pledge to help fund the prize. And then anyone can compete to solve the challenge and win the prize.”

According to HeroX’s ImagineX website, these are the broad guidelines:

  • Addresses a problem that people want solved
  • Is important to a large number of people
  • Is solvable
  • Engages people in discussing, competing and solving the challenge
  • Provides all the required information for a challenge to run on HeroX.com

Submissions will be judged on quality of submission, crowd engagement and influence and crowd appeal, and you can read more detailed guidelines here. Think carefully about your idea and when you’re ready, be sure to contribute before the deadline of Sept. 1, 2014. Winners will receive a cool $10,000.

For more information, read up on ImagineX here.

Romanian Group Attempts Moon Mission With Giant Balloon

The first attempt to send a rocket to the Moon via balloon hit a snag on Monday. The first test of the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association’s (ARCA) balloon-launched rocket (or “rockoon”) ended in failure when the “inflation arms” used to fill the balloon became entangled in the balloon itself. The arms had to be cut, and the operation – which required the use of a large naval frigate — was curtailed. ARCA hopes to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and intends on using their unusual rocket system to send an equally unique spherical lunar lander to win a $30 million prize.

Rockoons were tried and then abandoned by the US in the 1950s because they blew off course in windy conditions.

ARCA’s European Lunar Explorer (ELE) is a simple design. The super-huge balloon carrying a system of three rockets will soar to about 11 miles (18 km) up. Then the first two rocket stages will fire and boost the system into low Earth orbit, and use the final stage to boost it to the Moon. The ELE will then travel to the moon and deploy its Lunar Lander, which resembles a knobby rubber ball that uses its own rocket engine to ensure a soft landing. Watch their video of how it all will work below: (If nothing else, watch it for the great music!)

On Monday, the Romanians loaded their prototype moon-balloon rocket onto the a large Romanian naval frigate, the Constanta, which took the entire crew out to the launch site in the Black Sea.

But as the balloon started to inflate, the inflation mechanism arms got tangled, and the entire operation had to be abandoned. The giant black balloon collects heat from the sun instead of using burners like hot-air balloons normally use, so it needs to launch during the day.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE challenges participants to construct a delivery system that will get a rover to the Moon, where the robot has to drive for about 500 meters, take high-resolution pictures of its surroundings, and then send them back home.

Undoubtedly, the ARCA team will try again.

See the images from Monday’s launch attempt.

Google Lunar X PRIZE

Source: Nature Blog

Going Up? Top Floor, Space Elevator Games 2009

BREAKING NEWS: LaserMotive successfully qualified for the $900,000 prize! Their official speed was 3.72 m/s. Way to go! See more below.

Though it’s unlikely that anyone will be pressing the elevator button labeled ‘Space’ on one of the competitors’ vehicles this year at the 2009 Space Elevator Games, there is hope that a winner will walk away with the $1.1 million prize. Three different teams will compete to see if any can send a laser powered vehicle up a thin but strong ribbon 1km (.6 miles) into the sky.

This is the 5th year of the games, which started in 2005. The games are part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which awards monetary prizes in the attempt to spur new technologies. This is a busy week for the program; as we covered earlier today, the Northrop Grumman Lunar X-prize announced two winners, and is part of the Centennial Challenge program.

To win the $1.1 million prize, one of the teams must propel their vehicle 1 km (.6 miles) into the sky at an average of at least 5 m/s (16.4ft/s). A second place prize of $900,000 will be awarded to any team that can go the 1km at an average of 2m/s (6.6 ft/s). The games this year will run from November 4th-6th, with each team getting the chance to launch their laser powered vehicles during a pre-determined 45-minute window for each day of the competition. The event takes place at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base near Mojave, California.

Three teams have qualified to enter this year’s event: The Kansas City Space Pirates, LaserMotive, and the University of Saskatchewan Space Design Team (USST). The entire event will be live broadcast on Ustream, and updates will be provided on the official site.

For each test, a helicopter brings the elevator up the cable to a fixed starting point. The team is then given a go to calibrate their laser, and start beaming power to the craft. Each elevator uses small wheels to grip the ribbon, which is held aloft by a balloon tethered by three guy wires.

For a taste of what these elevators look like, check out this video:

Here’s a breakdown of what happened so far today: The Kansas City Space Pirates gave it three tries. In the first attempt, their elevator failed to take off. After fixing the problem, they were able to get the craft to move, but it then stopped. During the third, it started to climb the ribbon but they were unable to keep the laser locked on the elevator to power it, and it wasn’t able to climb the 1km to the top of the ribbon and brought back down.

LaserMotive had much better luck, despite a no-go on their initial attempt. Their elevator was lifted to the start by the helicopter, but failed to move despite repeated lasing attempts. After bringing it down for a tweak or two, the elevator was again placed at the start. It took off, making the first 300m (985ft) in a little under a minute, which met the 5m/s goal. The speed tapered off towards the top, but they bumped up against the 1km mark at approximately 4 minutes, making them the first to successfully claim the minimum 2km/s prize! While watching the live feed of this fantastic feat, I overheard a transmission from LaserMotive saying, “This is LaserMotive requesting permission to breathe.”

USST will not launch today, as there are no more open windows where satellites overhead will not be accidentally hit by the intense lasers used as power sources for the elevators. They will go tomorrow, November 5th, at 7am PST. Be sure to check back with us at Universe Today for more coverage, or head over to the official site for live streaming.

Source: Physorg, Space Games Live Feed

Masten wins $1 million X-Prize on Last Possible Day

The X-Prize competition for building a lander vehicle capable of making a simulated landing and liftoff on the Moon has come to a close, with the 1st place, $1 million award going to Masten Space Systems for their vehicle, Xoie (pronounced like the name ‘Zoey’). Armadillo Aerospace came in a close second, and received $500,000 for their Scorpius rocket. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X-Prize challenge was initiated to spur development of lunar landing vehicle by a privately funded institution. The last of the challenge flights occured Friday, October 30th, and the competition came down to the wire, as Masten encountered problems on Wednesday and Thursday challenge windows that delayed their final flight to the last day of the challenge.

The challenge was divided into two categories, Level 1 and Level 2. Here’s the rules for the two categories, as taken from the X-Prize Foundation website:

Level 1, requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area; climb to a low, fixed altitude; and fly for at least 90 seconds before landing precisely on a different landing pad. The flight must then be repeated in reverse. Both flights, along with all of the necessary preparation for each, must take place within a two and a half hour period. $500,000 in prizes was initially allocated to Level 1.

The more difficult course, Level 2, requires the rocket to fly for 180 seconds before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface constructed with craters and boulders. The minimum flight times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform a real descent from lunar orbit down to the surface of the Moon. A $1 million First Place and a $500,000 second place prize remain to be claimed by the winners of Level 2

Xoie experienced communications and leakage issues on Wednesday and Thursday. A leak on Thursday afternoon caused a small fire, but the team spent the night fixing the problem, and the craft flew wonderfully on Friday., October 30th. Xoie is a lighter and more powerful version of Masten’s Level 1 vehicle, Xombie. (Wouldn’t it have been more fitting if Xombie flew the day before Halloween, though?)

Both teams met the qualifications for the Level 2 prize, but Masten had an average landing accuracy of 19 cm (7.5 in), while Armadillo Aerospace acheived an accuracy of 87 cm (34 in). This means that Masten beat out Armadillo on the very last day of the challenge by little over two feet! What an exiting space race!

Masten and Armadillo qualified for the Level 1 prizes earlier this year, with Armadillo claiming the first prize of $350,000 and Masten second place with $150,000. An awards ceremony will be held for the winning teams on November 5th.

Here’s a video of the winning flight:

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Neither company plans to rest on their laurels after these victories, though. Masten said in a press release, “We are building up a good head of steam. Next year is going to be full of bigger, faster, and higher. Winning contests is fun, but we won’t rest until we’re flying a fleet of vehicles into space carrying all sorts of commercial payloads.” They have been awared a Department of Defense Small Business Innovation and Research contract to use their vehicles in network communications testing. Masten also has a program that will fly payloads into space for $250 a kilogram.

Armadillo Aerospace has flown a vehicle in every X-Prize cup so far, and company founder John Carmack said after their Level 2 challenge flight on September 14th, “Since the Lunar Lander Challenge is quite demanding in terms of performance, with a few tweaks our Scorpius vehicle actually has the capability to travel all the way to space. We’ll be moving quickly to do higher-altitude tests, and we can go up to about 6,000 feet here at our home base in Texas before we’ll have to head to New Mexico where we can really push the envelope. We already have scientific payloads from universities lined up to fly as well, so this will be an exciting next few months for commercial spaceflight.” See our coverage on Universe Today of Armadillo’s qualifying test flight for more information and cool videos.

This is far from the last challenge that the X-Prize foundation has come up with. The Google Lunar X-Prize will award $30 million to the first privately funded team to send a robot lander to the Moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit videos and data back to the Earth. There are X-prize competitions in areas other than exploration and astronomy, including the life sciences, energy and the environment, and education and global development.

Source: SatNews, X-Prize Foundation