Feeds

Earth orbit for £1,000? You must be joking

Amateur boffins vie for 'very nearly' impossible N-Prize

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

We're obliged to all those readers who sent in suggestions as to just what El Reg's new Special Projects Bureau should be doing with its multi-billion pound budget and mountain fab bunker complex, and the first thing that caught our eye was the N-Prize – "a challenge to launch an impossibly small satellite into orbit on a ludicrously small budget, for a pitifully small cash prize".

The N-Prize was launched by Cambridge biologist Paul Dear in 2008. It's aimed at "amateurs, enthusiasts, would-be boffins and foolhardy optimists" who can demonstrate "creativity, originality and inventiveness in the face of severe odds and impossible financial restrictions".

Here's the explanatory blurb:

The N-Prize offers two cash prizes, each of £9,999.99.

The prizes will be awarded to the first persons or groups to put into orbit around the Earth a satellite with a mass of between 9.99 and 19.99 grams, and to prove that it has completed at least nine orbits.

One prize (the "single-spend-to-orbit", or "SSO" Prize) will be awarded to the first entrant to complete the challenge using a non-reusable launch system. The other prize (the "reusable vehicle" or "RV" Prize) will be awarded to the first entrant to complete the challenge using a partially or wholly reusable launch system. Both prizes carry equal status.

The cost of the launch, but not ground facilities, must fall within a budget of £999.99. Entrants for the RV Prize may exceed this budget, but must demonstrate recovery of hardware such that the per-launch cost remains within £999.99.

Imaginative use of string and chewing gum is encouraged. Entrants are responsible for everything, organisers are responsible for nothing.

The N-Prize website describes the challenge as "very nearly" impossible, and we're inclined to agree.

Nonetheless, several teams have taken up the gauntlet. A quick shufti at the competitors' projects shows a predictable penchant for purely rocket-based systems, although this band of Discworld fans provocatively mention a rockoon concept, while NZ's Team Anahera Tere delightfully suggests a "very large cannon" might be a viable first-stage launch system.

Co-incidentally, our own Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) project got us thinking about rockoons (rockets launched from high-altitude balloons), although a quick calculation on the back of a beer mat shows that the cost of a balloon, and the helium needed to lift a rocket would eat up a good percentage of the N-Prize maximum budget.

So, it remains to be seen if anyone succeeds in claiming the N-Prize before the deadline of 19:19:09 GMT on 19 September 2012. We're sure some of you garden-shed boffins have a few ideas as to how the impossible can be achieved. ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
ALIEN BODY FOUND ON MARS: Curiosity rover snaps extraterrestrial
And NASA kept evidence to itself for over a month
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
NASA: ALIENS and NEW EARTHS will be ours inside 20 years
ETs, habitable planets will soon pop up with our new 'scopes
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.