Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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More Space Prizes!

Grind problems and throw money at them.
  [vote for,


This isn't an invention, but I wanted to canvass opinion of my fellow HalfBakers.

I've been invited to take part in a workshop in Brussels, in which the EC is trying to identify possible space-related topics for future incentive prizes (analogous to the X-Prizes etc). I got roped into this because of the N-Prize, which is apparently Europe's only current space-based incentive prize.

There's an online survey (see link below), and the organizers said we should feel free to distribute it to any interested parties. So, please feel free to express your opinions by responding to the survey.

More generally, if anyone has any suggestions for cool space- based competitions, with prizes up to a few million euros and timescales up to about 3 years, let me know either by annotating here or by emailing me (address is on my profile page).

The workshop is quite soon (23rd of Feb), and if anything interesting comes of it I'll let y'all know.

MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 11 2015

Survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Y5LT3C6
[MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 11 2015]

I'd still like this to exist Webcam_20on_20the_20Moon
[hippo, Feb 12 2015]

Planet_20You i'm taking this opportunity to promote my idea of 2007 which was (inter alia) my attempt at democratising space ownership [xenzag, Feb 12 2015]

LauncherOne http://www.virginga...m/satellite-launch/
For [TIB]. [neutrinos_shadow, Feb 12 2015]

http://www.inbloon.com/ [hippo, Feb 13 2015]

Gilligan_27s_20Orbital_20Island [FlyingToaster, Feb 13 2015]

Pendulum test contest http://www.nemitz.net/vernon/Pendulum.gif
A device that can pass that test would be worthy of significant investigation. [Vernon, Feb 24 2015]

Why lunar colonization is essential to society. http://what-if.xkcd.com/124/
[scad mientist, Feb 24 2015]

http://forum.kerbal...ound-Mun-and-Kerbin [hippo, Feb 25 2015]

SatNOGS - Global Network of Ground Stations https://hackaday.io/project/1340
Winner of The Hackaday Prize 2014 [notexactly, Mar 02 2015]


       Thanks for asking!   

       I'd like to see the following list of dumb ideas off the top of my head end up back on top of my head, but at a greater altitude:   

       - A single stage to orbit craft launched from a high altitude aircraft. Nothing big... Maybe a payload of <5kg. Perhaps a modified rocket designed to fit the White Knight and launch from 70-80,000 ft.   

       - An engine that can use orbital debris as fuel. Metals, plastics and ceramics must be ionized and exhausted, or exhausted by some other means.   

       - A space-mop: A satellite that uses photon pressure, either from a laser or concentrated sunlight, to track and push small debris into the atmosphere for disposal (larger debris is eaten by the orbital engine above).   

       - Orbital MeshNet: A series of tiny satellites that operate as a mesh network with up/downlink to Earth, for use by the public.   

       - Upper atmosphere ionizing laser (shooting down from above): Creates radio reflectors allowing radio signals on Earth to bounce over the horizon (like meteor trails currently do).   

       - Piggyback telescopes: designed to be attached to, but not interfere with, compatible satellites. Small - max of 1m when deployed. Possibly used for a dwarf star survey, or asteroid hunting.   

       - Earthrise camera: one purpose -- stream a nice view from the Moon of the Earth.   

       - Low moon orbiter: Get as low as possible, as in skimming the mountains, and stream the view.   

       - Pi in the sky: Raspberry Pi contest. Use an Raspi2 to do something, anything productive. Aim contest at high school kids. edit: some ideas for this category: (1) The Very Tiny Telescope Array (dwarf stars and/or asteroids) (2) Live Pi: a LEO version of Earthrise (for all the reasons [hippo] mentioned) (3) Mag Pi: Test of using Earth's magnetic field to change orbital velocity; useful data for space-mop project.
TIB, Feb 11 2015

       I'd like us to do a 'Grand Tour' again, like the Pioneer probes. That was a proper, inspirational space project.
hippo, Feb 12 2015

       I really do think streaming video of the Earth seen from space is a worthwhile idea, as [TIB] suggests, and as I said in (see link). It would have no scientific or practical value at all, but serve an emotional, environmental and philosophical function as a constant reminder that we are all fellow-travellers on this small planet in the incomprehensible vastness of space and that if we don't take care of our "pale blue dot", no one else will.
hippo, Feb 12 2015

       //that's how people find god// - not necessarily. There seem to be a disturbing number of christians, particularly in the US, who take the view that they shouldn't worry about global warming, etc., because God will surely sort it out. This feels like it's based on the clearly flawed idea that humans are special and the main reason the universe was 'created' and so God won't allow something to happen which wipes out humankind.
hippo, Feb 12 2015

       Why? This supposes that (a) god exists, and (b) he/she cares about us. (Or have I missed a massive bit of sarcasm in your post?)
hippo, Feb 12 2015

       what TIB said. Garbage-clearer could be bipartite: a fixed-orbit satellite, and a roamer that collects old wrenches and gloves, docking with its base-station to offload trash and onload fuel for its thrusters, for the next go'round.   

       That the space-capable governments of the Earth got together and decided that they wouldn't be responsible for cleaning up their messes says loads about the governments we have.   

       Establish presence at Earth/Sol L4 & L5.
"" "" on Phobos.
FlyingToaster, Feb 12 2015

       // first buttered lobster in space project//   

       I think the EU wants to come up with projects that differentiate it from NASA.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 12 2015

       We seriously need orbital-debris removal. Debris is currently a danger, and can cascade to where spaceflight is impossible. (I happen to have two removal ideas, so top priority and lots of money, please.)   

       I would like to see semi-autonomous rovers on the moon, partly just for remote-control entertainment, and partly for science and preparation for future use. (I would *pay* to run a mining robot on the moon, and it could stockpile the results for someday.)   

       I am very much against space elevators. Building one would take more launches than it could ever save, and having one up would require the removal of all satellites (and space debris).   

       Good luck. I know that you are an excellent person for the job.
baconbrain, Feb 12 2015

       //I think the EU wants to come up with projects that differentiate it from NASA//   

       Hopefully, the mechanism of differentiation wont involve surveys with a eye-wateringly high buzzword density.   

       I agree a web-streaming HD Earthcast would be wonderful. Even better if a network of satalites could provide L-R separation for some sort of 3D at various points (3 spaced out cameras would give 3 regular views, and two separate 3D view, for example).   

       Trash collection should be a priority too. Begin by building in a guaranteed de-orbit system, even better provide a tax-incentive system. If your junk stays up there after your mission: tax, you can't launch without paying it. If your launch system/mission collects and brings down another old satellite or other junk, incentive.
bs0u0155, Feb 12 2015

       Start the trash collection in the Pacific Ocean please, and get the priorities right.
xenzag, Feb 12 2015

       //Good luck. I know that you are an excellent person for the job// Aww, shucks, [bacon]. I'll do my best - I'll probably be the only one there who doesn't have to take it too seriously.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 12 2015

       That’s a brilliant idea — Find God. Send enough paranormal detection instrumentation and quantum measurement equipment up in space to detect even any slight trace of anything amounting to a hint of evidence that there’s gods — or even just one. Set a time frame of, for example, five years, and if after the five years there’s no evidence whatsoever, then declare religion officially futile, then I can continue my life without having to talk down to idiots.   

       If on the other hand, during this five-year mission to boldly go where no man has gone before, some sort of uncertainty suggests there might be gods, then further exploration should be conducted — funded by competing religions and churches with all their ill- gotten fraudulently acquired money, to see which one was correct.
Ian Tindale, Feb 12 2015

       Pi in the sky sounds like an interesting one. Piggy-backing telescopes wouldn't be feasible because of the added mass messing with things.   

       Howabout this: send aloft the smallest feasible biosphere with a lifespan that is moderately self-sustaining, which could be monitored remotely with soil / air / water / temp sampling. I'm thinking something the size of a clear bowling ball filled with odd plants, fungus, a worm or three, and associated microbial life forms?
RayfordSteele, Feb 12 2015

       // the smallest feasible biosphere//   

       Ooh, now that one I like. You can get little sealed aquaria with a shrimp and a piece of pondweed in them, which both survive for a considerable time. The equivalent in space would be interesting. Main problem would be thermoregulation, so you'd probably want things that can be frozen and boiled alternately - either bacteria or tardigrades...   

       Let it loose for a few years, then pick it up and see how things have gone...
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 12 2015

       At a recent lab-meeting I had to give a journal-club talk. I had the pleasure of stating that I'd chosen a new paper about DNA retention on surfaces and the effect of extreme conditions, cover the detail of how it was applied to the substrate and so on. Then go on to say "Then they fired the sounding rocket into space."...
I did pull it off; it completely blindsided them.

       I know that's not really relevant.
But sounding rockets are used pretty routinely and are presumably relatively cheap. I think experiments with those are realistic and achievable. The paper mentioned above was apparently a speculative second experiment. There could be a competition for the most innovative uses of such relatively low-end hardware.
Loris, Feb 12 2015

       Low-end is always good. We need to hack space.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 12 2015

       [TIB], Virgin Galactic are doing the "SSTO" from a high-altitude aircraft (WhiteKnight2). See (linky).
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 12 2015

       My idea (which I wrote on the survey when asked for an idea) is :
Send a large fleet of small satellites into space, tasked with finding NEOs. When one is found, the sat (after checking that the NEO isn't already "Tagged") lands, attaches (ground screws, claws, whatever) and starts transmitting a coded signal, basically saying "Here is a NEO". So we can find and track them more easily from Earth.
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 12 2015

       [neutrinos_shadow]: Very cool. Was hoping that would happen one day. It's the logical next step, and I'm so glad they're doing it!   

       Based on their 2-stage system, perhaps a single stage would work with a much lower payload, maybe using a beefed up rocket that could land itself like the SpaceX version, but with a chute and airbags to keep it cheap. I think that would still be a worthy goal to shoot for.   

       With modern electronics, the sats can be tiny (if needed, swarms of tiny sats), and a reusable single stage rocket would bring costs far under the $10M they suggest.
TIB, Feb 12 2015

       //the sats can be tiny// GoPros lanched by railgun from orbit.
FlyingToaster, Feb 12 2015

       How about a competition for development of near-space balloon travel as a low-carbon mass-transportation solution? I'm not sure if the link (see 'inbloon' link) is this but, in principle, if you get a balloon with a pod below it up into the jetstream, it'll travel pretty fast.
hippo, Feb 13 2015

       How about a prize for the demonstration of a workable Mechanical Counter-Pressure suit? Say, set a list of tasks, which must be performed by someone wearing it in a vacuum chamber, in order to win the prize. I think that would be very useful.   

       As for sourcing prize money, I've been thinking about crowdfunding. It's gone into those sorts of figures before. If the prize isn't won by the deadline, the people get their money back with whatever interest has accumulated (it will, of course, be invested for the duration of the contest).   

       Another prize I'd like to see is a demonstration of a near-space habitat. A crew of 5, remaining on station for a week. Bonus prize if they go on for two with a crew change in the middle.
Selky, Feb 13 2015

       //crowdfunding// good idea in general, but for these prizes the EU will be putting up the money.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2015

       "Effect of vacuum and hard radiation on bamboo structural components"
(reference to one of my posts, where lightweight building materials are grown in space <link>)

       Social engineering to point modern society to the (seemingly) disparate goals of planet preservation/replenishment and space travel.
FlyingToaster, Feb 13 2015

       ooooh! I know, that wonderful water sphere space habitat idea from a while back! Do a feasibility study on that: small orbiter with radiation sensitive life in, surrounded by a sphere of liquid water with an ice surface (mineral oil coating to lessen sublimation) possibly some cyanobacteria in the water and some CO2 creating stuff in the middle. Lovely. Do that. I'll donate $20. And some zebra fish expressing a ROS sensor. I demand 1st author on the subsequent paper.
bs0u0155, Feb 13 2015

       //I got roped into this because of the N-Prize, which is apparently Europe's only current space-based incentive prize.//

It's not the nobel prize, admittedly, but I think that that's something to be proud of, Max.

And congratulations on the invitation; it sounds like it could (possibly) be a tremendous opportunity, in all sorts of ways.

Personally, I would second the calls for some sort of space junk clearance program. It would be a pity if, one day, we received a visit from aliens not because they had tracked our radio or TV signals, or planetary heat signature but because they had followed our trail of litter.
DrBob, Feb 13 2015

       For clearing the space-junk, we could just send up Wall-E with a couple of fire hydrants for propulsion...
RayfordSteele, Feb 13 2015

       Maybe we’re actually supposed to be putting rubbish into space. Why else would it all be there, and so much of it?
Ian Tindale, Feb 13 2015

       So here you go: you award points for the hardiest, smallest, biosphere feasible with the longest survival in space. Include an arduino / raspberry pi board to handle monitoring the sensors, dialing in the environmental controls, and feeding some input / output back to earth. Let the high-school kids go nuts with the biology aspects, computer science, and orbital mechanics, and Bob is your step-cousin's half-sister.
RayfordSteele, Feb 13 2015

       bung a whole mix of DNA behind a whole load of different types of shielding, launch, wait, retrieve do all that SMG sequencing malarkey, paper #1 on the effectiveness of various shielding on DNA mutation, #2 on particular sequences/packaging arrangements that are resistant/vulnerable. If you launch part of your experiment into orbit, it's an instant journal upgrade... this space science is easy. Then I will provide my grandmother with an egg-sucking protocol.
bs0u0155, Feb 13 2015

       //Maybe we’re actually supposed to be putting rubbish into space.// Shirley, by definition, if we put stuff there then it's not space any more?   

       //DNA ... SMG sequencing ...space... instant journal upgrade..// I'm liking that.   

       Also - how about a space hoover. I mean something that'll orbit for a year, and just collect whatever dust it encounters. Then sequence the stuff. I'll guarantee you'll pick up human DNA (if only in freeze- dried microdroplets of urine). And who knows...?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2015

       There should be a five year mission to boldly synthesise synthetic space. It might turn out that there’s a shortage of space out there, and it might turn out useful if we knew how to fix it if ever there were a severe shortage of vacuum state, to the point that there were no actual energy transitions whatsoever, the whole of reality would grind to a halt. Except that there wouldn’t be any reality of time progression without a difference between the energy states that have happened already since reality began and the state that follows.
Ian Tindale, Feb 13 2015

       Yes, but if we created synthetic space, where would we put it?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2015

       I would like to see a competition for the cheapest, lightest, most resilient, all-terrain exo-bots.
Space-bot Wars... I'd watch it.

       Billions of years ago, and rather a few light years away:   

       "Space President Zark, the life in B-Prize biosphere has evolved and told us 'Thanks for the Solar-dish'. It has left orbit and is heading for a dismal star in the outer arm of a non-interesting spiral galaxy. Surely this will degenerate the conditions of any planet that they happen to infest. What shall we do?"
Ling, Feb 13 2015

       Send a device to the moon, pick up available materials, use available energy, and make something. Anything.
lurch, Feb 13 2015

       That's a good thought, lurch, although I think I would settle, at this stage, for just retrieving some useable materials. Is it time for a serious go at some small-scale asteroid mining perhaps?

An initial program of exploratory probes to identify likely candidate sites would be good. If you find anything good you could even, perhaps, auction off some of the mining rights in order to generate more cash for the ESA (European Space Agency). If you can hold out the possibility (however remote) of a new income stream then the program is more likely to get the green light, I would suggest.
DrBob, Feb 14 2015

       The trouble with a lot of these ideas is that they all have as their premise the aims and goals of science, which is, when you think about it, rather pointless. I mean, what use is science? We should be doing this sort of thing for art, which is far more important. There should be prizes for ambitious missions such as carving Mars into the shape of a chicken. Arranging Jupiter’s cloud belts into tartan. Making the asteroid belt more visible from Earth, using each one to illuminate as a single pixel, thus forming a real-time twitter firehose feed display.
Ian Tindale, Feb 14 2015

       //ambitious missions such as carving Mars into the shape of a chicken// How do you know it didn't start out chicken-shaped, before someone got to it?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2015

       A spherical chicken!
pocmloc, Feb 14 2015

       I like the art angle. Robot manipulators on the moon could make an image just using rocks.   

       My art/science project is to set up some reflectors in increasing distances, get them nearly lined up, and fire a bloody big laser, just to watch the speed of light.   

       I'd like to see some projects using the very spaciousness of space. Stereo observatories are what I am thinking of, but there are probably others that regard space as something more than just the distance to the good stuff.   

       Another halfbaked idea of mine that might win the right cash prize involves getting a radio antenna up over the North Pole. The Russians use some odd-orbit Molniya satellites, as they are too far north to get geostationary reception.   

       But all these prizes assume the inventors have the cash to build on spec. I'd like to see some cash grants to worthy ideas. Even if they fail, the money will be boosting the local economy, or maybe just the local.
baconbrain, Feb 16 2015

       I'd like to see a good old fashioned race: so many kilos of payload to Mars or Moon in so many days. Chang-Diaz had a great idea with VASIMR but nobody has built a spaceworthy 'working model' yet. This needs to happen and they need to be common enough to encourage hacking and improvement.
Steamboat, Feb 22 2015

       A race: from Mars to Earth.
Ian Tindale, Feb 22 2015

       Well, I am back from the meeting to discuss EU space prizes (or, more likely, the first of a long series of meetings).   

       Anyone here who completed the (somewhat tedious) survey in the link from the EU - your responses were taken into account. There were not many people who completed the full survey, so those that did had a large impact.   

       Outcome so far: it looks like the EU will fund a prize to develop low-cost launchers. Other areas for possible further prizes include image analysis and processing (of satellite data); radiation protection (for astronauts and equipment); swarm-like rovers for planetary exploration; and modified organisms for growth in spacecraft (as providers of food and other things).   

       No news on the Martian Chicken project.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 23 2015

       Nice work, [MaxwellBuchanan]!
Keep us posted on further meetings and developments. Suggested payload for experimental low-cost launcher: half a croissant.
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 23 2015

       Will do. To be honest, I am still somewhat stunned that what started as an eighth-baked idea here has ended up with supposedly sensible people taking me seriously.   

       Actually maybe they just pretended to take me seriously to shut me up.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 23 2015

       If we are dreaming, I would like, a X prize for a high altitude ship. This vehicle that can ship 6 people to and from the peak of Everest in anything below 25Knots, total white out. Something Gerry Anderson would be proud of.
wjt, Feb 24 2015

       //Actually maybe they just pretended to take me seriously to shut me up.//   

       Hmmm, high cost, high reward.   

       Seriously - well done and keep us posted.
AusCan531, Feb 24 2015

       //To make anything worthy of being launched into space in a serious context, you get into serious money//   

       Well, yes and no. Space hardware, at the moment, is still pretty much like computers were in the 1950s. To say that there'll never be the equivalent of a home computer is probably tempting fate.   

       However, I should mention that the EU prize will probably (and I can only say probably, so far) be for launching something between 50kg and 200kg total payload into LEO (probably 500km), for sub-€1M. People from Ariane and other organizations were there, and they didn't fall about laughing.   

       The prize for the launchers will probably be the larger part of the €10M that's theoretically available. However, I should stress that this was just an initial meeting, and things could easily change.   

       At one point, someone put up a graph showing the last and predicted numbers of sub-50kg payloads from 19-something to 2020, and the graph went up exponentially, reaching about 2000/year by 2020. I think this is a bit like the predictions made in the 1950s that "one year, every major city will have a computer".
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 24 2015

       It's envisaged that many of the entrants will be SMEs - this is all a couple of orders of magnitude larger than the N-Prize.   

       As for mil-spec hardware - a lot of non-critical hardware at the moment (especially electronics) is not mil-spec and, in some cases, is consumer stuff. The mil spec for critical components is needed to keep failure rates very low, but it becomes a vicious circle: v. expensive hardware means that everything has to work reliably, which makes it more expensive...   

       Anyway, point is that Ariane and others think the €1M, 200kg range is doable. It's not so very far outside their normal scope. Of course, this decreases the novelty and makes it less likely that we'll see a true revolution in launch systems, but this is the EU and they've got to balance optimism against likelihood of success. With the N-Prize, I have no responsibilities to anyone, and can ask for something with a very high risk of failure.   

       Other point to note: there's currently a huge queue to launch small payloads, and most of them rely on piggybacking larger missions. However, some of the most heavily-used launch systems for small payloads (as piggybacks) are due to be phased out over the next 5 years, which will create even more pressure for low-mass launchers.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 24 2015

       Only thing we should be arsed with as far as introspection is concerned is met sats producing ridiculously precise wind velocity vs gps/altitude/timedate data, for windmill construction purposes... including bird migration paths for those that want the occasional free meal or two.   

       Which is why I've yet to get all the way through that survey: after rating bellybutton-gazing as last-priority, the next few pages were all about do I want to see more precise GPS and stuff. Apart from the aforementioned, we've already enough of that crap for emergency (including things like nuke proliferation) surveillance, etc. No ?
FlyingToaster, Feb 24 2015

       //why every man and his dog want a small satellite// For the same reason that every man and his dog want a laptop. Satellites are cool and there are many things you can do with them. They should not be the sole province of governments and big industry, any more than computers used to be.   

       As for the up-cluttering of space, the EU is likely to recommend a ceiling of 500km for most small satellites, giving them an orbital decay of 20 years. Things in higher orbit will need a means to deorbit on command.   

       //we've already enough of that crap for emergency (including things like nuke proliferation) surveillance, etc. No ?// Yes, possibly (well, actually no; good imaging in near-real-time is still very very sparse). However, there are proposals such as continuous live whole-planet imaging at 5m resolution; or monitoring at wavelengths that allow you to monitor water stress or disease progression in crops, so that you can farm more efficiently. Or imaging bioluminescence to track protozoan populations in the oceans. Or any of a gazillion other things.   

       Why does everyone need a camera in their cellphone? Aren't there enough pictures already?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 24 2015

       //Why does everyone need a camera in their cellphone? Aren't there enough pictures already?//   

       you can get totally acceptable images with a cell phone of all sorts of things, I point mine down a microscope eye piece to show people cell confluency, I take pictures of gels and membranes. The automatic logging of time and date (that isn't subject to someone setting the clock to 2004 to get around a software license) is pretty handy. Now holiday photos, I get that, someone much more talented is bound to have already taken a shot of the Grand Canyon, right? I'll just photoshop me in later.
bs0u0155, Feb 24 2015

       //continuous live whole-planet imaging at 5m resolution// which leads inevitably to the classification of cloud cover and precipitation as terrorist activities...
lurch, Feb 24 2015

       //For the same reason that every man and his dog want a laptop//   

       Ah. Trading cat videos and facebook memes in space.
RayfordSteele, Feb 24 2015

       //Spacebook// <standing-ovation>
FlyingToaster, Feb 24 2015

       Does it have to be flying stuff in space? Or can one just interact with stuff already in space? Bouncing signals off the moon is pretty cool, doable by non-states, and has real world applications. The challenge could be to connect two cell phones via the moon.   

       Or Venus! Farther, less, but much more reflective than the moon. And if that has been done I have not read it. Challenge: bounce and detect a signal from Venus.
bungston, Feb 24 2015

       //Does it have to be flying stuff in space?// Not necessarily. One of the topics was for automated analysis of images from existing satellites.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 24 2015

       Thought of one more: The first extraterrestrial refueling (an approximation of one at least).   

       First, send a dirty snowball into orbit to simulate a cometary surface. Then send a probe after it with the goal of processing the snowball into hydrogen and oxygen, storing, and burning it in an engine (probably heat the snowball, freeze the water vapour to separate it, then electrolyse and liquify).   

       Use lessons gained to apply on missions to the asteroid belt, and/or the Kuiper belt.   

       If we could refuel, a whole new slew of orbits may be accessible, for example stopping at the outer planets rather than zipping past.
TIB, Feb 24 2015

       //extraterrestrial refueling// That too was one of the topics discussed. However, the problem is that a demonstration within 2-4 years is probably not possible, sadly.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 24 2015

       Low cost launch for small payloads might be quite useful as more applications of small satellites is found, but it doesn't seem to me like it does anything revolutionary. If eventually anyone could afford to launch a satellite for say the cost of a fairly nice new car, I expect there could be some amazing new applications discovered, but then I'd also expect a lot of people to use it for evil as well. And we wouldn't be much closer to any long term goals of exploring other planets or anything.   

       At some point we need to transition to figuring out how to build things in space. Since the cost of moving mass between the earth and orbit is so high we need to focus on how to use material that is already out of our gravity well.   

       That statement could change if we build a space elevator, but I get the feeling that is a long term dead end where we could waste a lot of resources.   

       I suspect that long term we can get lower cost satellites if we figure out how to manufacture them on the moon, launch them towards earth and use aerobraking to slow them enough for low earth orbit. Eventually the only reason for conventional rocket launches would be to move people and send supplies of small rare parts that we haven't figured out how to manufacture yet on the moon.   

       Also see link for why we need to colonize the moon.
scad mientist, Feb 24 2015

       //satellites... manufacture them on the moon// Ya wanna do the smelting on the Moon, but manufactory (or at least assembly) in Lunar orbit, so you don't have to design deep space satellites with the ability to withstand launch stresses.
FlyingToaster, Feb 24 2015

       // but manufactory (or at least assembly) in Lunar orbit // possibly even better depending on the cost of moving raw materials to lunar orbit.   

       Alternately using a lunar space elevator (much less challenging than the terrestrial model) and doing assembly at the L1 point might be good.   

       With this in mind I'd like to see a prize for a small mineral processing system designed to be able to operate on the moon and extract useful materials. The prize would be designed to point towards the future goal of a replicating rapid prototyping system that can duplicate itself on the moon using mainly local materials and a small supply of lightweight parts delivered from earth.
scad mientist, Feb 24 2015

       // lunar space elevator (much less challenging than the terrestrial model)// Is that true? What distance from the moon's surface would a geostationary (? selenostationary?) orbit be?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 24 2015

       //What distance from the moon's surface would a geostationary (? selenostationary?) orbit be?//
Although using L1 would be (approximately) stable.
Better to use an electromagnetic mass driver to launch raw or basic-processed materials into low orbit (no pesky atmosphere to slow things down) where they are "snagged" by the orbiting factory.
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 24 2015

       A stable lunar constant-position orbit would be at about 90,000 km; however, this would be outside of the moon's "Hill sphere" (q.G.) with respect to the Earth (that is, it's far enough away that it would go over the edge of the gravitational potential slope, becoming an Earth orbiter rather than a Moon orbiter). A stable orbit could be obtained at a Lagrange point, but those points would not be truly constant-position, as they would librate over an arc of about 12 degrees as viewed from the moon.   

       But, since it's on a 28-day cycle, I'd think you can still hit it.   

       The other side of that coin is that your manufacturing facility (manned, presumably?) is then the target for incoming dumb chunks of mass at rifle-bullet speeds (that's much slower than for Earth orbit, but still...) and so having a good reliable catch facility would be of rather major importance; this might tip the calculation back in favor of having lunar surface manufacturing.
lurch, Feb 24 2015

       How about an orbiting laser reflector for the entertainment of those sorts who enjoy aiming high-powered lasers at airplanes and helicopters? If it comes straight back and nails them in the eyes, well, these things happen.
AusCan531, Feb 24 2015

       Is there such a thing as a figure-8 orbit ? ie: once around the moon then once around the earth, rinse and repeat.
FlyingToaster, Feb 24 2015

       That would be cool - or even something which did circular or elliptical orbit around the earth-moon system. It should be possible to test out the feasibility of these orbits in KSP (Kerbal Space Program). In fact, it should be a requirement of the competition that competition entries are submitted as KSP simulations.
hippo, Feb 25 2015

       About space junk.... if a GPS unit was made small enough, it might be installed into various small items that potentially could become space junk. So space junk could locate itself and report its position as long as the SIM card payments were kept up to date.
Ling, Feb 25 2015

       //Is there such a thing as a figure-8 orbit ? //   

       There is, but it's not very stable. In effect, the planet has to travel on a knife-edge - nudge it one way, and it drops into an orbit around just one of the massive bodies; nudge it the other way, and it drops into a large ellipsoid orbit around their combined centre of mass.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 25 2015

       See link for a discussion of figure-8 orbits in KSP
hippo, Feb 25 2015

       For a figure 8 orbit, it seems inherently unstable because when you go around the moon there will be a gravitational slingshot effect. Depending on which way you go it will either increase or decrease the speed of the spacecraft. But if you arrange the orbit to always gain energy from the moon yet dissipate that energy going around he earth using an aerobraking maneuver in the upper atmosphere, maybe such an orbit could be maintained. Using solar power, the profile of the craft could be adjusted to fine tune the aerobraking to keep the orbit stable.   

       Of course I have no idea if there is an orbit that would meet all those requirements, how precisely we can control aerobraking, and how much wear and tear aerobraking has on a spacecraft.
scad mientist, Feb 25 2015

       The ancient Macs used to have a very fun gravity simulator: Gravitation. I recall trying to make figure 8 orbits, stable systems of 3 bodies orbiting each other, and the like. There is so much physics simulation magic going on. There must be a gravity simulator.   

       OOO! I just got a video game idea!
bungston, Feb 25 2015

       How about reference points/signals at L points. A bit like a solar system test pattern.
wjt, Feb 26 2015

       // Orbital MeshNet: A series of tiny satellites that operate as a mesh network with up/downlink to Earth, for use by the public. //   

       Like an inverse SatNOGS (see link)?   

       // //the smallest feasible biosphere// Main problem would be thermoregulation //   

       // small orbiter with radiation sensitive life in, surrounded by a sphere of liquid water with an ice surface (mineral oil coating to lessen sublimation) possibly some cyanobacteria in the water and some CO2 creating stuff in the middle //   

       I envision a water-filled ice sphere cooled from the outside and heated from the center by a small radioisotope heat source (sufficient to keep the water at ~20–30° C), held in place by a couple of thermally non-conductive tethers going through the ice. The water would have bacteria and whatnot in it, and sensing of their status would be done using fiber optic sensors (to avoid making an easier path for heat through the ice). Put some thermopiles on the outside of the ice to make it an RTG, and back them with an IKECE radiator. Fit the whole thing in a 1U CubeSat.
notexactly, Mar 02 2015

       SatNOGS sounds interesting. I couldn't easily tell from their web page whether this is just a proposal, whether it was actively being implemented, or was already functioning. Would SatNOGS be effective for tracking an N-Prize contender? It seemed to me that tracking an N- prize satellite would actually be a large challenge in and of itself. Even though I think I remember that the cost of tracking is excluded form the 999.99 budget, it could still take a large bite out of the prize money. It seems to me that a distributed open source system might be willing to donate a small amount of system time to an N- Prize contender. If a transmission from the satellite could be tracked as it transitions between stations around the earth, perhaps, the approximate course could be determined and with a little bit of calculation of orbital mechanics it could be verified that the satellite remained above the minimum altitude for the required 9 orbits.   

       Just make sure you figure out a way to ensure that the contender hasn't planted a radio transmitter near each SatNOGS receiver under the planned orbital path to spoof an orbiting satellite.
scad mientist, Mar 02 2015

       It's being built. The team recently announced they were using the prize money to expand their goals too. (I think they posted a project log entry about that; if not, there's a post on hackaday.com.)   

       I'm not familiar with the N-Prize. I suppose it would depend on what radios and antennas the ground stations are equipped with.
notexactly, Mar 02 2015

       //tracking an N- prize satellite would actually be a large challenge in and of itself. Even though I think I remember that the cost of tracking is excluded form the 999.99 budget, it could still take a large bite out of the prize money.//   

       It's not that difficult or expensive to track a small (N- Prize weight) transmitter in orbit, as long as you know roughly where to look for it; and we don't need continuous tracking - just enough to prove orbit. However, I'm assuming that if someone _did_ launch a successful N-Prize entry, they wouldn't have much problem in persuading amateurs (and probably some professionals) to help with the tracking.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 02 2015


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