14 thoughts on “Son Of Ansari X-Prize”

  1. It did seem like a good idea at the time. But like many of the prizes similar to it; it was won via a stunt. It wasn’t won by incremental progression of technology. That’s fine when seeking to advance technology. I’m not sure what this new prize is doing.

    Liquid fuel technology for space rockets is nothing new. Perhaps the prize will inspire some children to STEM, but I don’t think it would be the children that might win the prize. Those children will already have parents that would help steer them, unless Paul thinks he might find the next Homer Hickam. Most of the inspired children will be the type equally inspired by watching “October Sky”.

  2. On a related note; the progression of SS1/2 (routine reusable space plane) is sad. Considering the advancement in fly-by-wire, air-to-ground communication, software automation, and rate gyros; can’t they flight test the vehicle and determine its operating envelope without people onboard. That way they can take it to the limits without worrying of loss of life; so then they can fly an operational version well within the envelope?

    Whatever the solution, 14 years is a long time. I know NASA hasn’t done any better with Orion, but lets not use modern NASA as a measuring stick. The point of these prizes is to advance spaceflight the way aeronautics advanced to spaceflight from 1920 to 1970, rather than what has happened from 1970 to 2020. 14 years later, and SS2 is a two seater X-15, a vehicle retired in 1968.

  3. How about a Pournelle prize. The first company to land three people on the Moon, have them stay for two weeks, and repeat the mission six months later, should receive a prize of $2.5 billion.
    Also, how about prizes for nuclear fusion. And a prize for nanotechnology. The first company to build nanorobots out of atoms, should receive a prize of $200 million.

    1. Every time ‘prizes’ come up, someone suggests really big prizes for really big goals. That’s not a very good idea. The field in which prizes can be useful are:
      * The challenge is daunting to the technology of the time, but not a ‘law of physics’ problem
      * There are widely divergent ideas about how the challenge might best be met
      * The challenge is to reach a ‘proof of concept’ rather than a finished product — though successful prize entrants may lead to products later, that is beyond the scope of the prize
      * It is believed (rightly or wrongly) that the prize field is commercially relevant — that the prize-winners will have the potential for future economic benefit.
      * The nature of the challenge is such that an individual, or a small ‘garage shop’, can potentially make the breakthrough.

      It’s that last condition which is broken by big prizes. Big prizes take big capital to win. Big capital is not accessible to small garage shops to win a prize. So the bigger the prize, the more obvious that it will be won, if at all, by large, well-funded entrants. Large, well-funded entrants are more readily motivated by contracts and markets than by prizes. The hoped-for effect of a radically unexpected solution or that entrants will spend more than the prize is worth pursuing the prize only works at small scale.

      1. I agree – that’s why I think the DARPA Launch Challenge is the best thing to happen to space since the original X-Prize. I hope they don’t mess it up by only admitting the top 3 teams or something.

    1. I’ve seen this repeated several times across numerous forums. Why do you think this?

      1. Aren’t solid-liquid hybrid rockets what are dangerous?

        Liquid-fueled rockets are safe enough, it is just they are expensive and need a lot of launch preparation. A solid rocket it seems is a higher risk but it is much safer to store in a fueled state.

        Also, engineers have kind of figured out how to make a rocket where the fuel and oxidizer is already premixed and the whole rocket is one big high-pressure combustion chamber safe enough, in other words, a solid-fuel rocket, by understanding physical properties of their fuel and things like grain cross section.

        The hybrid rocket is supposed to be the performance of a liquid with the low cost and lower launch preparation of a solid? But there is something about them that they blow up more than you would think?

        1. The hybrid rockets that have blown up, it’s been a dangerous choice of oxidizer that’s been a large part of the problem. N2O can explode as a monopropellant if it hits contamination in the feed line, or some other ignition source. Had O2 been used, the reaction is rate limited by the surface area in contact with fuel.

      2. Maybe in the context of hobby rocketry, where we’re used to small commercially perpared solids being used as engines for amateur-built rockets ? Building your own liquid engine is certainly more dangerous than that…

        1. Beyond the machining of the engine, liquid fuels have a hazard if any large quantity of mixed fuel and oxidizer is allowed to collect in the combustion chamber before ignition. This leads to what is called a “hard start”, and may lead to explosive failure.

          A crack in the fuel grain of a solid fuel rocket can have similar results.

      3. Liquid oxygen is always quite dangerous. So is hypergolics. Otherwise, much of the danger is in harnessing the explosive power, which is the nut of rocket science regardless of fuel.

  4. Hybrid engines are an example of an idea that seems simple until you try to make it work. Consider the process of firing it: The solid fuel has to be first melted, then vaporized and only then mixed with the oxidizer in the a combustion chamber that’s changing constantly. At the same time, solid or semi-solid pieces of the fuel must be prevented from being carried to the nozzle by the stream of exhaust where they would possibly cause an explosion. All of this is taking place on the exposed surface of the fuel grain that is also changing constantly. The available evidence is that they don’t scale. The engine on SS1 seemed to work without major problems. Nothing has since. If, as it appears, they manage to get the engines for SS2 functioning reliably, I expect them to hold the record for a very long time.

    As far as relative safety between conventional solid and liquid fuel engines. There’s a reason that solid rocket engines are built in the middle of a desert in buildings surrounded by blast berms. You’ll find the same berms around liquid engine test stands.

  5. Doug is factually correct; The Xprize did not result in a huge breakout of space exploration, or even of a significantly successful suborbital industry.

    That’s the nature of entrepreneurial efforts … you reach out beyond what makes sense today to attempt to create and occupy new territories. Many of these efforts do not succeed in their original intents.

    On the other hand, partial successes and even failures often lay the ground work for future successes. Did Xprize create the zeitgeist in venture funding that enabled SpaceX to capture funds it needed to build it’s company? Who knows?

    For a point of reference, consider this: Did the fabric-covered, single-seat, single-engine, Spirit of St. Louis directly lead to trans-atlantic commercial flights?

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