peter diamandis

Kurzweil + Google = Learnin'

NASA, Google and other top thinkers establish university for future leaders

Ever wonder what would happen if the world’s top minds came together to establish a university? It’s time to find out. NASA and Google have teamed up with leading science and technology entrepreneurs to open Singular University (SU), a school devoted to fostering collaboration and innovation “in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

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Space Adventures Charters Entire Russian Spacecraft

It's official—the company that brokered the first tourist flights to the International Space Station is now a major world player in manned spaceflight

Space Adventures, the broker of the first tourist flights to space celebrated its ten-year anniversary today here at the Explorer's Club in New York with the announcement that it had scored a deal with the Russian Federal Space Agency, or RKA, to buy an entire flight to the International Space Station.

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Automotive X-Prize is Official; Progressive to Sponsor

So far 65 teams have signed up to compete for a piece of the $10 million prize

Strange as it might seem, the Automotive X-Prize—which will award a $10 million prize to the team(s) that develop production-ready cars that get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon—wasn't official until this afternoon. But today at a press conference at the New York International Auto Show, X-Prize honcho Peter Diamandis fired the starting gun (see Diamandis talk about the competition in the video above).

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Peter Diamandis on the Future of the X Prize Cup

On day two of the 2007 X Prize Cup, between dealing with Armadillo Aerospaces faltering attempts to win the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and serving as master of ceremonies for the days events, X Prize founder Peter Diamandis took a few minutes to talk to PopSci about the future of his organizations marquee event. Read the interview after the jump.—Seth Fletcher

Image Courtesy Zero-Gravity Corp


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Google Sponsors $30 Million Lunar X Prize

This year, the X Prize Foundation is pointing its magic wand squarely at the Moon. The Peter Diamandis-led group announced the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize today, a competition for privately funded robotic lunar exploration. The foundation hopes that this largest-ever X Prize purse will see the development of multiple new, low-cost methods of robotic space exploration, as well as begin capitalizing on the moon's potential as "a source of solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on Earth—energy independence and climate change."

Competitors will need to land a robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of, among other things, roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data back to the Earth.

The purse has multiple tiers, including a $20 million grand prize, a $5 million second prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the grand prize, a team must rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth. Second prize involves simply landing, roving, and transmitting data, without the specific parameters of the grand prize. The bonus prizes will award roving longer distances (more than 5,000 meters), imaging manmade artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). Deadlines: December 31, 2020 for the grand prize and December 31, 2020 for the Second Prize.

Of course, since the competition is sponsored by Google, the participating lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras that will transmit live to the Google Lunar X Prize Web site.

We can hear university labs around the world revving up right now . . .  —Eric Adams

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Gossamer Condor Inventor Dies

Aerospace wouldn't be the same without his contributions

Aerospace genius Dr. Paul MacCready, founder of AeroVironment, Inc., passed away yesterday at 81 after an undisclosed illness. He had a list of achievements that would make anyone proud. His Gossamer Condor won the Kremer prize in 1977 for a human-powered flight; its successor, the Gossamer Albatross, was the first human-powered airplane to cross the English Channel. He created GM's ground-breaking solar-powered car, the Sunraycer, excelled as both a sailplane designer and pilot, and he developed many high-altitude, long-duration unmanned vehicles, including NASA's Helios. Under his mentorship at AeroVironment, his team of engineers have done everything from develop miniature flying surveillance robots to design the most efficient ceiling fan blade ever.

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Rocket Racing League Hitting the Skids?

Leading Edge Rocket Racing, which in October 2005 became the first team to join Peter Diamandiss ambitious Rocket Racing League, has officially left the organization. The league is in the process of developing rocket-powered aircraft that will race in Nascar-like events around the country. It is already more than a year behind its initial schedule, which was to have included 10 full races in 2007. As of right now, it hasnt even test-flown a prototype aircraft, let alone certified one for safe flight and produced enough for actual competitive racing.

Leading Edge, founded by former F-16 pilots Robert Rickard and Don Grantham, announced the move via a terse memo on Friday, and were vague about their reasons—though theyre clearly disgruntled. "After working with Rocket Racing League for the past 17 months, we have concluded that our vision, business practices, and communication standards are incompatible with those of the league, said Rickard in the press release. We had very high hopes for this enterprise and tried very hard to find a common way forward.

And: "There hasnt been a working relationship between our company and the RRL for some time now. This announcement makes it official so we can move on, said Grantham. It's time to focus our resources on something more compatible with Leading Edges goal of being the premiere operators of high performance rocket powered aircraft." (Neither Rickard nor Grantham could be reached for clarification or additional comment.)

RRL chief executive Granger Whitelaw didnt wish to comment on the departure, except to say that Leading Edge was welcome to come back and race whenever they get their internal organization funded and structured appropriately. When asked about the status of the RRL, Granger said, Terrific! Wonderful! before adding that the league expects to test-fly its first rocketplane this July.

So, reading between the lines (and it certainly doesnt take a rocket scientist to do that), Leading Edge seems to be implying that the Rocket Racing League is something of a sham, and the RRL thinks Leading Edge doesnt have its act together enough—most likely in terms of fund-raising—to play on the RRLs level.

Will the rocket racers ever start flying? Weve still got our hopes up, but todays news is certainly a significant obstacle for the fledgling league to overcome. —Eric Adams

Related: For more, see our February 2006 feature story on the RRL, as well as our reporting from this year's X-Prize Cup.

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Yuri's Day (and Night)

Photo by O.P.Kopchevsky

On this day 46 years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to be blasted into space. Naturally, Russians have celebrated this anniversary with vigor since its first occurrence the year following in the form of Cosmonautics Day, an annual holiday with an accompanying bevy of commemorative coins, stamps and magnificent pieces of authoritarian architecture like the Moscow monument pictured here.

While the rest of the world will naturally have a hard time matching the coolness of a towering, 100%-titanium Gagarin/Voltron hybrid (O to be an architect in the Soviet era!), an impressive international tribute has begun to emerge in the form of Yuri's Night. Since its foundation in 2001 by three lovers of all things space, the affair has sprouted parties in over 35 countries attracting space luminaries such as Ray Bradbury, Peter Diamandis and, ahem, Lance Bass. And if you're worried about being labeled a godless Commie, don't worry—April 12 is also the anniversary of the first Space Shuttle mission back in 1981.

From the website:"Whether in someones living room, a swinging nightclub or a world-class science museum, Yuris Night events all have one thing in common - people who are excited about space exploration and who want to join together to celebrate it."

Check it out to find a party near you. —John Mahoney

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Future Girl at the X Prize Cup

Space elevators, lunar landers and X-Racers, oh my! The first day of the 2006 Wirefly X Prize Cup blasted into New Mexico with rocket launches, stealth-jet flyovers, and two multimillion-dollar engineering contests to encourage innovation in the field of space exploration.

Competitive highlights included a successful flight of Armadillo Aerospace’s lunar-lander prototype and the triumphant ascent of the University of Michigan’s robotic space elevator on a 200-foot tether.

Practically every school-aged kid in New Mexico was in attendance (missing-child announcements over the intercom were frequent, but our editor in chief’s nine-year-old son Rex managed not to get lost), and representation from aerospace firms both large and small was top-notch.

There was some schedule confusion and an occasional, unfortunate overlap of events, but that was predictable, since the agenda was executed at the whims of weather, team readiness and New Mexico timekeeping.

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, NM governor Bill Richardson, and Rocket Racing League CEO Granger Whitelaw all gave speeches, but the standout was Anousheh Ansari, the first private female space explorer, who gave a moving address imploring kids to learn as much as possible and then dream beyond the boundaries of their education.

You really have to give X Prize founder Peter Diamandis, his crew and the enthusiastic participants in this nascent industry credit: that this visionary event exists at all is a tribute to their tenacity and dedication to making something—a privately funded space-exploration business—out of absolutely nothing.

Check out the following video for a tour of the day’s events with Future Girl Megan Miller.

PopSci at the X Prize Cup Executive Summit 
Gore Speaks Out on Space

PopSci at the X Prize Cup Executive Summit

See our exclusive video from the high-powered brainstorming event that brought together the world's leading aerospace visionaries

The Wirefly X Prize Cup kicked off Thursday with the exclusive X Prize Executive Summit, a high-powered brainstorming and networking event that brought together a distinguished group of the world's most influential entrepreneurs, astronauts, heads of NASA and the FAA, tech-industry experts and visionaries to talk about the future of the emerging personal-spaceflight industry.

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Pow! Right to the Moon

Peter Diamandis is at it again. I'm sitting in a room at the 2006 International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles, where Diamandis is announcing his latest prize to spur entrepreneurial space innovation. (Diamandis, as you'll probably recall, is the impresario behind the $10-million Ansari X Prize, which spurred a race to develop a privately-funded suborbital spaceship that culminated in the successful November 2004 flights of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne<.) This time, in conjunction with NASA's Centennial Challenges program, he's got his eye on the moon—specifically, landing on it. His Lunar Lander Challenge will award cash prizes in two categories, to be demonstrated and judged at this year's X Prize Cup in New Mexico. Build a lander that can successfully rise to a height of 50 meters, stay aloft for 90 seconds while traveling 100 meters, land without incident on a flat landing pad, then repeat the feat, and you'll score $350,000. Upping the ante a bit, if your lander can stay aloft for twice as long and land on a surface that simulates the moon's surface, you're looking at a $1.25-million payday. You'd better get working, though, because time is tight: The X Prize Cup runs from October 18 to 21.  —Mark Jannot

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The X Prize Aims for the Moon

For Peter Diamandis, boring old space just isnt good enough anymore. After his foundations X Prize competition resulted in the first non-government manned space mission in world history, Diamandis apparently needs more.

Last week, the X Prize Foundation released the draft rules governing its new $2 million Lunar Lander Challenge. The competition has been designed to simulate the demands of a lunar voyage, including a landing and return flight. The rules for the most demanding of the two contest divisions call for a rocket-powered craft to take off, maintain a steady altitude for 180 seconds, then land at a second point simulating the lunar surface no less than 100 meters away. Teams will then have 30 minutes to refuel their craft before launching it again from the landing point, flying it for another 180 seconds before landing it at the initial launch area.

Since Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt pulled in the ladder on Apollo 17 in 1972, only a handful of spacecraft have touched down on the moons surface—none of them carrying human passengers. And while the competition rules do not call for living cargo, a privately-funded trip to the moon is slowly beginning to sound less like the ravings of 1950s pulp science fiction and more like an attainable reality. (Since PopSci last covered Space Adventures CEO Eric Andersons lunar tourism dreams, his company has announced plans to build private spaceports in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates).

The competition is scheduled to go down before the end of the year. So those readers with any spare liquid-burning rocket motors or Lunar Lander mock-ups laying around in the garage, nows the time to dust them off and get to work. Check out the rules here. —John Mahoney

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Rocket-Powered Air Races to Launch Next Year

Gentlemen, start your spaceplanes—the newest racing series will create explosive thrills from high-tech rockets

Watch out, Nascar-the Rocket Racing League is about to start stealing some of your famed thunder. Picture high-tech, rocket-propelled airplanes racing around three-dimensional racetracks-in-the-sky with ear-shattering ferocity. Twenty-foot-long orange plumes will trail the aerobatic X-Racers as the daredevil pilots gun the rockets for critical boosts on long straits and steep vertical climbs. They´ll drop into the pits to fuel up on liquid oxygen and kerosene before reentering the fray.

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A Few Dreamers Building Rockets in Workshops

More X Prize aspirants' plans

In the May 2003 issue, POPULAR SCIENCE showcased several of the groups vying for the X Prize, a $10 million award that will go to the first privately financed team that manages to launch a manned spacecraft to an altitude of 62.5 miles, then repeat the feat within two weeks. X Prize founder Peter Diamandis doesn't expect all of the 24 contenders to produce a finished craft, much less succeed. Their engineering approaches range widely, from runway takeoffs to balloon launches. Here are the plans of a few of the teams that received little or no mention in the original article.

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