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Space The Almighty Buck Science Technology

N-Prize Founder Paul Dear Talks Prizes For Nanosat Race 217

Rob Goldsmith writes to point out this interview with Dr. Paul Dear, founder of the N-Prize, and explains: "For those of you who haven yet heard of the N-Prize, the N-Prize is a £9,999.99 (sterling) cash prize which can be claimed by any individual, or group, who are able to prove that they have put into orbit a small satellite. The satellite must weigh between 9.99 and 19.99 grams, and must orbit the Earth at least 9 times. This project must be done within a budget of £999.99 (sterling)."
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N-Prize Founder Paul Dear Talks Prizes For Nanosat Race

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  • by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:43AM (#23823175)
    I wonder if bribing someone at NASA or ESA to include your mini-satellite as part of the payload of the next launch would be acceptable; it's probably the most realistic chance...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Bribe? Launchers carry an awful lot of ballast up with each rocket, it might be easy to get Lockheed, Boeing, ESA or NASA to switch some of that for a well designed and built beeper sat to piggy back on the last stage of a geosync launch maybe, especially if it raises their profile in a charitable fashion.
    • by jersey_emt ( 846314 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:57AM (#23823379) Homepage
      From the rules at http://www.n-prize.com/ [n-prize.com] --

      15. Piggybacking and Shared Resources
      Entrants may not 'piggyback' on other aerospace projects (for example, by launching a satellite as a passenger on a larger launch vehicle). If they do so, the entire cost of the launch will be considered part of the budget of their N-Prize entry. Similarly, no two entries (whether simultaneous or consecutive; whether by the same entrant or different entrants) are allowed to share the cost of common hardware (for example, if a single launch vehicle carries two satellites, then the total cost of the launch vehicle will be considered part of the budget for each of the two satellites).
  • What? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Paranatural ( 661514 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:46AM (#23823205)
    This guy just have a fetish for the number 9 or something?

    At least it's a new one, can't find a term for it anywhere.
  • by KlTheKiten ( 20181 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:47AM (#23823239) Journal
    "For those of you who haven yet heard of the N-Prize, the N-Prize is a $19,636.90 (dollars) cash prize which can be claimed by any individual, or group, who are able to prove that they have put into orbit a small satellite. The satellite must weigh between 0.35 and 0.71 ounces, and must orbit the Earth at least 9 times. This project must be done within a budget of $1,963.67 (dollars)."
    • by Paranatural ( 661514 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:04AM (#23823467)
      Launching it for a couple of grand? Maybe. I'm being serious, really, I can conceive it.

      However, a satellite weighing less than three quarters of an ounce yet able to be detected on the earth would most likely need an aluminum-foil dish or something, which would most likely take all the weight, and then you'd need some sort of support structure (Even if it's just wires or even tubes of air) and some sort of engine on it to make sure it made it around the earth a few times...I just think the weight requirements are the real killer here.
    • Of course, as we watch the US dollar continue to lose value, we can take advantage of an increasing budget limit for the same here in the states.
    • Here is a translation for Europeans:

      "For those of you who haven yet heard of the N-Prize, the N-Prize is a 12.67 (euro) cash prize (or half a liter of petrol) which can be claimed by any individual, or group, who are able to prove that they have put into orbit a small satellite. The satellite must weigh between 9.99 and 19.99 grams, and must orbit the Earth at least 9 times. This project must be done within a budget of 1.267 (euro) or 20 drops of petrol."
  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:52AM (#23823281) Homepage
    £999.99 could probably buy enough menthos and coke to launch the projectile.
  • Slingshot (Score:3, Funny)

    by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:55AM (#23823339)
    Hmm, with a budget of ~$2000, I just need $1000 worth of rubber tubing and two mountains. Anybody want to design the satellite?
    • by Bearpaw ( 13080 )
      Don't forget to budget for hiking shoes with really good tread.
    • Having made my share of rubber band guns and rubber hose guns back in my youth - you better hope that $1000 worth of rubber tubing doesn't break on you, or you'll be in a WORLD of hurt.
  • by starglider29a ( 719559 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:55AM (#23823347)

    Is this some prototype for a global diamond delivery system? Serious, apprise me of the value of putting less than an ounce of something into orbit. And it's the "orbit" part that's tricky. A sufficiently large model rocket can do Alan Shepard-esque sub orbital flight. But to then pop it into orbit with a "circularizing burn" is tricky... on a budget.

    I'm trying to not be a troll here, but this prize is designed to develop a $2K ICBM for very tiny payloads. If you put VX gas into something that might survive reentry, you'd have the plot for an Austin Powers movie. I'd call it "MoonShagger: It's a gas gas gas."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      It is not the satellite that is important. It is the launcher. A 1000 £ orbital launcher of 20 grams satellites is assured to bring some innovation to the art of spatial launch.
      • You haven't convinced me. Tell me a 20g payload that is worth the effort of making you look like you are developing a WMD delivery system, or a SAM.

        And who is to say that this 20g can't be scaled up to haul 20KG or 200KG. Then, things get dicey.

        I apologize for this paranoid mindset. I HATE to see rocket science subjugated to politics (as if it never happened before). I really do. But maybe 7.407284965 years under "the current administration" is long enough to get the feeling that if you TRY to do this, yo
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dotancohen ( 1015143 )

          I apologize for this paranoid mindset. I HATE to see rocket science subjugated to politics (as if it never happened before). I really do. But maybe 7.407284965 years under "the current administration" is long enough to get the feeling that if you TRY to do this, you will raise ALL KINDS of attention from a lot of 3-letter organizations.

          That may be just the point. If launching LEO objects become commonplace, then the launch of one particular LEO object might just go unnoticed. Maybe the N-Prize folks need to launch something unnoticed, and are trying to make sure that there is enough noise to go undetected.

          Or, maybe it is a government-involved program to find all those who are capable of launching objects to LEO, to add them to a watch-list so that if the terictz come sweet-talking them, the government will have a one-up. Or, wait, maybe

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by WhiplashII ( 542766 )
          Why is a rocket so much more dangerous than a 747? You can currently build a cruise missile that will reach anywhere on the planet for a few $10K... why is a rocket so much more dangerous?

          We need to get over this "rockets are scary" mentality - rockets are another way of moving from A to B, nothing more. Any method of moving can be abused, but the benefits outweigh the liabilities.
          • by Detritus ( 11846 )
            A 90% launch success rate for a rocket is often considered acceptable. Man-rated vehicles are up in the 98-99% success rate range. Can you imagine the uproar if one out of ten, or one out of a hundred, 747 flights ended up as a blazing pile of wreckage? Rockets are flying bombs, operated at the very edge of their limits. Some of them use extremely toxic chemicals for their fuel and oxidizer. Range safety is mandatory. Nobody gives a shit if you blow yourself up, but they will lynch you if you drop a rocket
            • OK, but you are now changing the bar. Previously you said "rockets are dangerous". Now you are saying "dangerous rockets are dangerous". I'm not going to disagree with that second statement, but it doesn't bring a lot to the discussion.

              Yes, like aircraft and other heavy equipment like cars, rockets need some regulation in order to keep the public safe. However, XCOR (as an example) has had thousands of engine firings and probably hundreds of manned flights without any explosions. Zero explosions. Zero
        • 20 grams of antimatter?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by slashname3 ( 739398 )
        The only innovation that a low cost launcher for 20 gram payloads is going to bring is war to every corner of the globe. If you can launch a whole lot of 20 gram bullets at orbital or near orbital velocities at that cost you could build a weapon system that is disbursed (thousands of low cost launchers) and that may be able to throw a whole bunch of 20 gram bullets one after the other. Roughly target an area with thousands of those and the damage could be spectacular. Kind of like the Jericho weapon in t
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Urger ( 817972 )
      Because it's cool. No other reason is needed.
  • Brilliant meme! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:06AM (#23823483)
    What a brilliant marketing meme: with just one borderline-ludicrous sentence, he managed to get many thousands of people talking, got his name in the news, launched a website, and promoted the website creation company, all at practically no cost, backed up (should someone ever achieve the borderline-ludicrous challenge) by a home-equity loan. The publicity-to-signal ratio is huge, at miniscule cost.
  • With these satellites being so small they will become distinguishable from space junk.

    With battery life being so short, it will revert to junk in no time. I doubt solar panels would survive a journey from the "delivery system" unless it put in space via traditional means costing way more than £9,999.99 (sterling).
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      Stuff in low orbit doesn't last long due to the effects of atmospheric drag. It's the stuff in higher orbits that is the real problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:10AM (#23823537)
    *Prices* look like 9,999.99 so they appear small.
    *Prizes* should look like 10,000.00 so they appear big.
    • Jesus
      Well... while I'm certain he's capable of putting said object into orbit, I think you need to spend a little more time on the details of just how, exactly, you're going to convince him to participate.
  • Sounds unfeasible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OhEd ( 877009 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:17AM (#23823623)
    Getting into orbit for less than $2,000 seems absurd (and not even worth firing up Rocksim to get specific figures). Ground launch would require very large motors - just the motor casings (solid or hybrid fuel) would likely cost over $2000. (98mm solid fuel casing costs about $500; that size motor might be able to achieve orbital altitude, but nowhere near orbital velocity). Add the cost of the fuel and a guidance system, surely it would cost many tens of thousands of dollars to get into orbit. Any other rocketeers here see a way to get into orbit for anywhere near $2,000? Or even $20,000? Sounds to me that the Dear Doctor has been Pounded on the head by a (sterling) Silver Hammer.
    • No, it could be done with your math (two words - reusable rocket). What makes it impossible is that you are required to have insurance for any launches. No matter how small, the insurance rate does not go below $2K.

      (Pretend that you had a magic SSTO gas and go rocket - all the $2K has to cover is the fuel, and $2K is almost a ton of fuel. The issue is the other costs - insurance and range rental.)
    • I would presume that there are minimum wage laws in the UK, and that the cost of labor must factor in (unless it is specifically excluded). It's actually only reasonable that the participants be allocated a wage similar to other professionals in the field. Here in the US, that would be no less than $30/hr, and more realistically closer to $50-75/hr for an aerospace grunt with a few years of experience. Heck, for 9 orbits, you're looking at $50x9x1.5 plus, say, 20 hours for assembly and launch, and 8 hours
    • by dave420 ( 699308 )
      That's why it's a prize. If it was "walk down the end of your street for £9,999", everyone would win. As it is, it's going to require lots of thinking and ingenuity to find a solution.
  • Request For Comets (Score:2, Interesting)

    by naily ( 672109 )
    Aren't there enough issues with space debris, without 1000 amateurs chucking miniature debris into space? It's tantamount to throwing rocks at satellites and NASA shuttles, isn't it? What is this, space guerilla warfare??
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slashname3 ( 739398 )
      Almost. If anyone accomplishes this on that budget or even 10 times that budget then it will become much easier for a terrorist or private citizen to start launching objects into orbit or near orbit depending on what the objective is for the individual. Such a device would allow anyone to start launching kinetic weapons at anyplace on the planet. Fire enough of them and the damage could be pretty widespread even if the targeting is not that good.
      • Why do so many people say this? It is ludicrous - planes are just as deadly... and a lot easier to get / use / make. Think about what is involved in making a model jet powered cruise missile!

        Besides, it you wanted to deliver a rocket - based kinetic payload, it would have to survive reentry. Essentially, you are saying that this mystical bad guy is going to get some unobtainium, give it enough energy to make orbit, then remove most of that energy so that it comes back down, burn off most of the mass in t
        • You misunderstood. If this can be done for as little as a couple of thousand dollars as proposed then a large number of these things could be launched. And you would not have to go orbital just ballistic. Launch enough rocks and the result at the far end would be dramatic.

          It is a cost issue. That is all.

          Now this guy in New Zealand had a DIY cruise missile that he was making. http://www.interestingprojects.com/cruisemissile/diary.shtml [interestingprojects.com] Everything he posted appeared to be feasible. I have not kept
  • Is there a point to this "challenge"? While I've wasted my time on pointless things in the past just because I thought they were "cool", this sounds like so much self-flagelation to me -- especially on the part of the so-called "founder".
  • So how do you buy enough explosives to accelerate the payload enough to get it into orbit?

    There are really several problems here.

    First calculating how much gunpowder, TNT, ammonium nitrate , fertilizer/diesel, C4, etc. it would take to accelerate a small payload to orbital speed.

    Second problem is to build a payload that can survive the acceleration.

    Third is hitting it big on roulette to get enough money to pay for the explosives.

    Fourth is how to get out of jail when you place the order for t
  • by seriv ( 698799 ) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:39AM (#23823957)
    If you can get something in orbit for about $2k, I don't see why an upper weight limit would matter. Satellites are made as light as possible to keep down the cost of the launch, so I would think the goal would be to make the thing as heavy as possible within that budget. Whole thing seems stupid.
    • by nasor ( 690345 )
      And speaking of crazy mass limits, what are you going to build for 20 grams that can be detected in orbit? I doubt you could make a transmitter that could send signals to the ground for 20 grams. Maybe a 20 gram piece of metal foil that could be seen on a radar or something?
    • The upper weight limit was set because the ones that want this technology only want to launch rocks that will fall back on a target. Such a system has no other useful purpose. At the costs involved it would be cheap enough for just about anyone to build a bunch of these things and use them against anyone on the planet.

      Kind of the anvil from orbit idea I read about many many years ago. Launch a satellite that has a few hundred crowbars on board that are more aerodynamic with minimal guidance capability.
  • You would also have to add in the cost of a launch license [gpoaccess.gov] add in the cost to make it safe enough to launch, no way would 10,000 be enough. Of course thats in the US, not sure what it is for Europe. Maybe they don't care if people try to launch several small "missile" like rockets that can reach orbital velocity.
  • The whole satellite, including payload, has to weigh between 10 and 20 grams? Unless you have some mad desire to put a politician's brain in orbit, what the hell good is that?

  • I can't prove it, but King George's brain has been in orbit for the last 6-8 years. It's a bit under the minimum weight requirements, but it's still there.
  • See Sputnik... It only weighed 186 pounds and needed an 280 Metric ton launch vehicle... The fuel alone will cost more than $2k. Hmm... Big Model Rockets.... Nope... I believe the record altitude for model rocketry is just under 20,000 feet (Gates). A little short of space I'm also pretty sure they spent more than $2k to build it as well.. All in all a neat little marketing gimick.
  • I don't see anywhere in the rules that says the orbit has to occur in space. Perhaps there's a way to attach a transmitter to a naturally occurring orbit ala migratory bird or ocean current type thing; just as long as it continues to go around the earth.
    • Ah HA! You have solved the puzzle. All you need is a transmitter sitting on the ground. That is the same as a orbit correct? Just wait 9 days and claim the prize. Get some of those family radios that are available everywhere for $20 dollars. Pocket the rest of the money for time spent.

      And everyone thought it was a hard problem to solve!
  • you can get pretty far up using a hydrogen balloon (170,000ft/51Km) so that's a huge start, then you just need to use a rocket to get the remaining 130,000ft to LEO.

    As a previous poster said earlier proving it's up there is going to be the hard part.
  • For reference, the weight of the ultra-light main circuit board for a CVS Camcorder is 21 grams - that's without batteries, and without any sort of RF transmitter. It'll be pretty hard to do something cool within that weight limit and budget.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire