Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2011
The N-Prize has been described as 'the world's smallest space programme'. Launched in 2008, the N-Prize sets the near-impossible challenge of launching and tracking a tiny orbital satellite on a shoestring budget.
"It's NASA for nuts," says its founder Dr. Paul H. Dear from Cambridge University. The N-Prize is meant to do for spaceflight what Steve Wozniak did for home computers when he built the first Apple in his garage. Enthusiasts around the world are about to prove that spaceflight doesn't have to be rocket-science, and that you don't need a billion dollar budget to launch a satellite, if only a tiny one.
In the last three years, over thirty teams have signed up. The entrants range from NASA employees to enthusiasts who just want to fulfill a dream. Each hopes to be the first to put a featherweight satellite into orbit around the Earth on the impossible budget of #999.99, or about $US1,600 ("almost impossible" says Dear, "it's the 'almost' that matters"). Given that a typical communications satellite costs between two and four hundred million dollars, the ingenuity of the entrants will be stretched to the limit.
Doing so will earn them the equally minuscule prize of #9,999.99 (about $US16,000), and a place in the history of spaceflight. "Imagine being the first amateur to launch a satellite - it would change everything," says Dear. Several teams have already tested hardware and are on track for claiming the Prize. And at least one team is planning a launch to the edge of space this year as a warm-up to an orbital flight.
The competing teams come from the UK, Europe, North and South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. But, says Dear, so far the Asian teams are underrepresented. "Asia has a long and impressive track record, both in spaceflight and in innovation," asserts Dear, "And I'm hoping that one or more teams will come forward soon, and turn this into a real 'space race'."
The light-hearted tone of the N-Prize also conceals a more important goal - that of driving innovations which will have much wider implications. By setting an almost impossibly small budget and offering such a small cash prize, Dear says that the competition stretches people's creativity to the limits. "I've seen more innovation from the N-Prize teams than in many high-budget space programs", he said, "and if only one good idea from the N-Prize has an impact on larger aerospace projects, I'll be a happy man."
What do you need in order to enter? Nothing but enthusiasm and the ability to think completely outside the box. Teams can register right up until the September 2012 deadline, and prospective entrants are urged to visit www.n-prize.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to start their journey to infinity and beyond!"
Dr Djuke Veldhuis (email@example.com)
ResearchSEA - Asia Research News
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 276 227
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