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N-Prize

There's plenty of room at the bottom at the top.
  (+63, -5)(+63, -5)(+63, -5)
(+63, -5)
  [vote for,
against]

[UPDATE 10th April 2008. The N-Prize has now been taken to the Real World, and can be found at www.n-prize.com.

Please visit the site for the latest version of the rules.

Many thanks to [Wagster] and all at pictureandword for setting up the site, and to Jutta for allowing reciprocal linking.

To avoid confusion to visitors from the N-prize site, Maxwell Buchanan would like to confess that he is actually mild- mannered scientist Paul H. Dear]

I suspect similar ideas have been proposed before, so I'll delete this if people think it's not worth discussing. Actually, it may even not be an invention, except that the invention is a competition.

The challenge is to put a payload of between 9.99 and 19.99 grams (that's the weight of 2-4 quarters or 1-2 £1 coins) into orbit (defined as being able to complete 99 orbits or more before re-entry or loss) for a total cost of £999.99 or less. This is the cost of the launch vehicle, payload, fuel, and any ground-based systems needed to support it, but excludes development or prototyping costs. The satellite has to be detected from earth by some means, sufficiently to confirm that it has completed at least 99 orbits. The cost of the detection is not part of the £999.99, and outside help may be recruited.

The orbit needn't be regular or stable - it just has to get there and stay up for 99 orbits. Prize value is £9,999.99. Other rules may be imposed entirely at the whim of the organizers, to block any loopholes which go against the spirit of the challenge. Entrants are strongly advised to contact the organisers before and during development.

Entrants are entirely responsible for their own safety and that of others. Compliance or otherwise with relevant regulations is entirely the responsibility of the entrants, who will be liable for any costs, legal penalties etc arising from compliance or lack thereof. Any costs incurred in the course of complying with regulations (for example, permits, safety inspections etc) will be considered part of the cost of the project, and must therefore fall within the £999.99 limit. Any legal costs, fines etc incurred through non-compliance, however, will _not_ be considered part of the cost of the project.

Imaginative scavenging and borrowing is encouraged, but only within the spirit of the challenge. Broadly, extensive use of salvaged or redundant space hardware is unlikely to be permitted. In the same spirit, a wealthy sponsor who custom- builds something and then "lends" it to the project or sells it at an unrealistically low price, would breach the rules.

[***>>>>>>> The above is the idea as originally posted.

Please visit the N-Prize site for the current rules for the real-world N-Prize. In particular, only 9 (not 99) orbits are now needed, and there is now a second prize category for reusable vehicles with a *per launch* cost below £999.99, as well as the original single- spend-to-orbit prize<<<<<<<***]

MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2008

Starshine http://www.azinet.com/starshine/
No batteries. It blinks. [Amos Kito, Feb 13 2008, last modified Feb 14 2008]

Planet You Planet_20You
use the winning system to send these up one at a time [xenzag, Feb 14 2008]

(?) HARP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_HARP
Cheaper than rockets ... [8th of 7, Feb 14 2008]

Another HARP link http://www.astronau...ticles/abroject.htm
//I saw a show that said we (USA) built a small one// 176 feet a small one? You must be a Texan [coprocephalous, Feb 14 2008]

National Association of Rocketry http://www.nar.org/
WP states licenses usually mimic these for other countries [MisterQED, Feb 15 2008]

Tripoli Rocketry Association http://www.tripoli.org/
[MisterQED, Feb 15 2008]

Cool Balloon link covering some regs http://vpizza.org/~jmeehan/balloon/
Detail of a guy launching a weather balloon [MisterQED, Feb 15 2008]

Weather balloon suppier http://www.kaymont.com/pages/home.cfm
[MisterQED, Feb 15 2008]

Low Earth Orbit details http://en.wikipedia...iki/Low_Earth_Orbit
[MisterQED, Feb 20 2008]

Energy Density - Lately my favorite page of Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia...wiki/Energy_density
[MisterQED, Feb 20 2008]

Westphalia, Germany http://en.wikipedia...th_Rhine-Westphalia
I have no idea what this has to do with anything, though. [jutta, Feb 20 2008]

Rockeloonannon Rockeloonannon
[BunsenHoneydew, Feb 28 2008]

Are Amateur Orbital Rockets Possible? http://gramlich.net..._rockets/index.html
[MisterQED, Mar 18 2008]

The N-prize Web site http://www.n-prize.com
Please visit the site for the latest rules. [MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 10 2008]

Attacking Space like Everest http://groups.googl...t-a-staged-approach
Way too long to post here but hope it deserves the link [MisterQED, Apr 15 2008]

N-Prize in the New Scientist space blog: Whimsical 'N-prize' to spur ultra-cheap space launches http://www.newscien...%20space%20launches
Well done, MaxwellBuchanan! [django, Apr 28 2008]

Amateur spaceshot success http://en.wikipedia....22GoFast.22_Rocket
Never knew about this one [BunsenHoneydew, Apr 29 2008]

Radio report on N-Prize http://www.abc.net....8/04/08/2210606.htm
Go to the topmost of the audio links on the left, starting about 5 minutes in. Regrettably no mention of the HB.... [MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 29 2008]

A Cult of Backyard Rocketeers Keeps the Solid Fuel Burning http://www.nytimes....00&partner=homepage
[Klaatu, Apr 30 2008]

More blatant elf-promotion http://archived.the...-BWB-2008-06-06.mp3
The Space Show 6th June, about N-Prize. [MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 07 2008]

Slashdot article http://science.slas...06/17/1420213.shtml
nice work. front page of slashdot [xaviergisz, Jun 18 2008]

Another Mad Scheme http://jca3.freeshe...pace/spacebets.html
Similar to N-Prize but self-funding. (An old fantasy of mine.) [jcatkeson, Jun 20 2008]

Slashdot again http://science.slas...07/27/1952255.shtml
Cambridge N-Prize Team To Build Balloon-Assisted Rockets [xaviergisz, Jul 28 2008]

"Teens capture images of space with £56 camera and balloon" (Telegraph) http://www.telegrap...ra-and-balloon.html
"Teenagers armed with only a £56 camera and latex balloon have managed to take stunning pictures of space from 20-miles above Earth..." [hippo, Mar 18 2009]

Idea prompting the suggestion of a "spud-gun" boost Pre-Stage_20fueling_20tower
[MaxwellBuchanan, May 02 2009]

HARP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_HARP
[MisterQED, May 13 2009]

Latest from an N-Prize team http://n-prize.goog...bGy6NOIihTzJrOKHvyT
From a high-altitude balloon, by Team Prometheus. Next stop - Uranus. [MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 12 2009]

Cheese tied to a balloon http://news.uk.msn....ocumentid=148891047
What better way to celebrate the lunar landing than by launching some cheese? [marklar, Aug 02 2009]

Interorbital Systems – TubeSat Personal Satellite Kit http://spacefellows...onal-satellite-kit/
launch your own satellite into orbit for $8,000 [xaviergisz, Aug 02 2009]

The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge http://www.nasa.gov...allenges/index.html
[MisterQED, Jul 15 2010]

PARIS http://www.theregis...o.uk/science/paris/
Paper Airplane Released Into Space [BunsenHoneydew, Jul 29 2010]

OTRAG http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/otrag.htm
Mass-produced cluster rockets [BunsenHoneydew, Jul 29 2010]

HAL5 http://chapters.nss...L5/HALO_Index.shtml
One-time holders of the world amateur rocketry altitude record. [MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 30 2010, last modified Jul 31 2010]

N-Prize video http://www.youtube....watch?v=cNc-Q6_T8Sc
Interview with Heinz Wolff [MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 15 2010]

PARIS (Paper AeRoplane Into Space) http://regmedia.co....mission_summary.pdf
[hippo, Oct 29 2010]

PARIS (Paper AeRoplane Into Space) http://www.theregis...o.uk/science/paris/
News updates: It looked like it worked! [hippo, Oct 29 2010]

PopSci December 2010 http://www.scribd.c...lar-Science-12-2010
This seems to take a while to load, but if you go to page 26, you can read the article. [DrWorm, Nov 19 2010]

Happy Christmas from the N-Prize http://sendables.ji...ew/M4OfTSmJCXaq5nXU
First person to identify all five faces wins...well, nothing actually. [MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 24 2010]

Couvade? http://en.wikipedia...ki/Couvade_syndrome
[normzone, May 01 2011]

Earth orbit for £1,000? You must be joking http://www.theregis...2011/07/04/n_prize/
Article on The Register today. [Wrongfellow, Jul 04 2011]

a steam balloon http://www.flyingkettle.com/endomen.htm
from flyingkettle.com [j paul, Jul 04 2011]

indeed... http://www.reaction...wells_Slow-Clap.gif
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Sep 15 2013]

[link]






       <Zoolander moment>What is this? A space program for ANTS?!?</Zm>
globaltourniquet, Feb 13 2008
  

       Or uncles. Or anyone, in fact.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2008
  

       One problem with this is going to be to get the necessary cooperation in detecting the signal. The femtosatellite is going to be in a (probably) uncertain and unstable orbit, and will be emitting a very weak signal at long intervals. Detection would require a lot of international co-operation, I imagine. This in turn would require the challenge to be well-publicised, such that detecting the signal would become as much of a sport as putting the thing up there. Unless anyone has any smarter ideas.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2008
  

       Nice, I was just coming home to post this, so I guess I like it (+), though the prize needs to be larger. The permits are going to cost a thousand or so.   

       Man those are strict weight limits considering the signal has to be "heard" from Earth. I think to only thing that efficient is a directed LED light and the receiver is a telescope. Still even for that I think you'd need a gyro so the LED is aimed roughly Earthward.   

       Could you use a reflective tail fin for direction? That would only fix one axis.
MisterQED, Feb 13 2008
  

       For 10 grams you can get a small solar panel, capacitor, timer, and a xenon flash tube.
lurch, Feb 13 2008
  

       // The permits are going to cost a thousand or so.// The awarders of the prize strongly discourage the seeking of permits, and the cost of such permits will be considered part of the cost of the launch.   

       //Man those are strict weight limits // We might consider revising this to read "payload of at least 10 grams", though the cost limitation would probably favour lighter, more ingenious craft.   

       I like the idea of optical detection - would it work? How easy would it be to scan the skies for a flash tube at orbital heights?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 13 2008
  

       Starshine [Link] was in orbit at 390km, and covered in small mirrors (maybe 3cm dia.). I don't think it was much trouble for people to locate, when they had the track info. With an integral strobe, you wouldn't rely on a solar reflection -- so you could watch for it all night.
Amos Kito, Feb 13 2008
  

       <slightlly off-topic> STARSHINE has to be the best case of an acronym that fits (too) perfectly with what it is. Do you think they came up with the abbreviation first, then tried to fit description to it? (For those who don't know, STARSHINE is Student Tracked Atmospheric Research Satellite Heuristic International Networking Experiment.)</sot>
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 13 2008
  

       You could just use 10 grams of radioactive material, that should be fairly easy to detect.   

       I believe the current cost of launching stuff into ordit is around $10,000/kg. I think a better competition would be that you have to get an amount of cargo into orbit for less than $10 per gram. So that would mean around 200 grams for £999.99.   

       That should be within the realms of possibility, after all, it's not brain surgery.
marklar, Feb 14 2008
  

       //it's not brain surgery// This is why I had such a hard time breaking my addiction to this site years ago. That's rightous!
Zimmy, Feb 14 2008
  

       //You could just use 10 grams of radioactive material, that should be fairly easy to detect.// Would it? Isn't one of the nasty things about space is all the fun radiation blowing around, wouldn't it get lost in the rest of the radioactive background noise?
MisterQED, Feb 14 2008
  

       Each type of radiation has a frequency, including light. If you choose an element which emits a frequency which is distinct from the background radiation, and suitable for penetrating the atmosphere, you would have a better chance of detecting it than a light-emitting device of the same size.   

       I guess you could use a piezo crystal and a watch battery to emit radio waves at a specific frequency instead.
marklar, Feb 14 2008
  

       Fortunately for us, our atmosphere is totally opaque to alpha particle (helium nuclei) and beta particle (electron) radiation, and severely attenuates radiation all the way across the gamma band. For example, the Van Allen radiation belts are not detectable from the earth's surface. (The radiation part, anyway. Indirect measurements can be done with VLF radio.) Satellites have been developed that can spot radiation from a nuclear explosion, but they can't find geologic deposits of radioactive ores. (At least, not by means of emitted radiation.)
lurch, Feb 14 2008
  

       Just get rid of the weight limit, the cost limit pretty much sets a maximum weight and the stipulation for trackbility sets a minimum.   

       Oh yeah, and up the budget a little. Around here, $1000 / £500 would be a good budget if you wanted a vehicle that just might make it south of the river. It's not really going to get anything into space, no matter how ingenious you are. Maybe $10,000?   

       Good plan though.
wagster, Feb 14 2008
  

       //I don't think it was much trouble for people to locate, when they had the track info.// Yes, but we may not have any track information - remember, we're not going for a precisely defined orbit.   

       //radioactive material, that should be fairly easy to detect. // Not from the ground it won't be, alas.   

       //a better competition would be that you have to get an amount of cargo into orbit for less than $10 per gram// Well, what I'm hoping for is for people to be doing this from their back gardens. As soon as you start trying to launch heavier things, it becomes more hazardous and perhaps less innovative.   

       // £500 would be a good budget if you wanted a vehicle that just might make it south of the river//   

       The budget is actually £999.99, and stays. It is almost impossible to do it for that, but 'almost impossible' is the aim. Like the man said "Gentleman, we haven't any money, so we will have to think."   

       £999.99 buys a lot of aluminium, electronic components and string. What you do with it is up to you.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008
  

       [UnaBubba] The would be a valid solution. Imaginative borrowing of hardware can form part of the deal, provided that the loan is reasonable and in the spirit of the competition. The loan of equipment should not involve unusual expense on the part of the lender (eg, a corporate sponsor is not allowed to construct a railgun for your launch, and then "lend" it to you in exchange for publicity), and each case will be judged on its merits.   

       I suspect, though, that a 19.99 gram projectile will be either melted or stopped by air resistance shortly after it leaves the railgun.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008
  

       That would depend on its aerodynamics.   

       For that money, it might be possible to build a 10mm calibre "Hochdruckpumpe" - type multistage gun barrel. That might just be able to fling a small projectile into LEO.   

       But stand well clear when you fire it .....
8th of 7, Feb 14 2008
  

       //I suspect, though, that a 19.99 gram projectile will be either melted or stopped by air resistance shortly after it leaves the railgun//
A multi-stage sabot round?
A sort of high velocity matrioshka
coprocephalous, Feb 14 2008
  

       //A multi-stage sabot round?// by all means, as long as you can build it within weight and cost.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008
  

       I thought about railguns but I assumed the magnetic field would fry any electronics in the projectile. Would it? Can it be sheilded? Or did they ever perfect a diamond semiconductor?   

       The supergun idea is also a good one especially since I saw a show that said we (USA) built a small one which went pretty high but they lost funding to build the "real" one. I'd love to buy the old one for the price of scrap. Then create a sabot round for my own micro satelites.
MisterQED, Feb 14 2008
  

       //might be possible to build a 10mm calibre "Hochdruckpumpe"// This I like, especially if it can come with umlauts. Don't forget you've got to get sidewaysness as well as uptitude in order to acheive orbit..
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008
  

       Re. the HARP project and other "guns", I don't think it's going to work. First, the £999.99 has to cover *all* the hardware, including whatever stays on the ground. Second, all of these launch systems use very heavy projectiles to ensure that air resistance is not disasterous.   

       Although the rules don't stop you from using a sabot around a lightweight femtosatellite, you're still going to need to launch several hundred pounds of stuff. Even if the sabot itself costs less than £999.99 to make, you're looking at a huge launch facility.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008
  

       The only solution I can see as working is to launch one of those high altitude weather balloons to 170k ft and then launch a solid fueled rocket to get the last 70 miles up and get all the sidewaysness that you will need.
MisterQED, Feb 14 2008
  

       Yogic flying.
wagster, Feb 14 2008
  

       I'm all for yogic flying. I really like the idea of 8 minutes of 4.5g yogic acceleration in a vacuum environment. <cue sideways-travelling lotus-position maharishi whoosh>
lurch, Feb 14 2008
  

       //The only solution I can see as working is...// Yes, that sounds like a plausible solution.   

       //Fire your object at an existing satellite, and make it stick to it.// Not allowed, alas. Your device has to be self-contained and self-sufficient, and can't piggyback on anything during the launch or orbit. In any case, I would have thought that hitting a satellite on a £999.99 budget was optimistic.   

       //Do the subsequent legal costs count in the £999.99 limit?// No. Costs for complying with regulations are counted, but not legal costs or fines for non- compliance.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 14 2008
  

       //Balloon and mini rocket would be the go.// I agree. I was thinking of the following. The satellite will be three disc-shaped solar cells, intersecting to form a sort of sphere. The electronics will be on a postage-stamp-sized board, glued to one of the panels near the middle, and will consist of an accumulator to store charge, and a transmitter which fires for a second or so once enough charge is built up. Because the transmitter does not run continuously, I'm guessing that the components can be run above their normal operating limits to maximise power.   

       The launch platform is a helium (or, if cheaper, hydrogen) balloon. Suspended below it is a 2m string, forking into an inverted Y at the bottom. The legs of the Y are unequal, and from them hangs the launch shaft. Thus, the angle of the shaft to the horizontal will be pretty accurately maintained. (We don't care whether the thing fires north, south, east or west - hence, no need for guidance or targetting).   

       The rocket itself has a hole up the middle, and is basically impaled on the launching shaft (lighter than a tube).The rocket will have no gyros, but is stabilized by spin: the propellant and vents are arranged such that the first half-second of burn fires from two sideways-directed vents, starting the rocket spinning before it leaves the shaft. The rest of the burn then provides forward thrust only.   

       The rocket flies until it runs out of propellant - no precise control. The satellite itself is slotted into the nose of the rocket, and retained by a spring clip somewhat similar to the mechanism of a retractable ball-point pen. When the rocket accelerates, it compresses a spring (click!) and then, when it runs out of propellant and stops accelerating, a lighter spring simply pings the satellite clear of the empty rocket.   

       How's that for simple? Doable for £999.99??
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       //Surprised no-one has ever done it.// Un-surprise yourself. Google "rockoon". It's what James Van Allen was up to when he first found traces of those radiation belts.
lurch, Feb 15 2008
  

       The "rockoon" links look very promising. Altitudes of up to 80km with heavy payloads, which is only a shade below low earth orbit. They say a major drawback is lack of control over the balloon but, since we don't care, this isn't a problem at all. All looks pretty feasible to me.   

       I will gladly make the prize money available for a real N-prize, if anyone has any ideas on how to make it real. It'd have to find a home outside the HB, though - I'm sure Jutta wouldn't want to be impllicated if someone gets a lump of rocket on their head.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       Please let me design the site if you do! I love doing spacey graphics.
wagster, Feb 15 2008
  

       [MB] very good, except we dearly care about the direction the rocket launches. As the launch vehicle is already travelling roughly with the spinning Earth at 1000 mph, we want to add to that speed and head due east.   

       Also I'm wondering about the solar cells. I have to look this up, but they said 100 orbits. At the low end of LEO, 100 orbits isn't that long. A lot of satelites orbit every 90 minutes. We will be lower and faster. 100 orbits may only be a day or so. Also are the solar cells we buy able to operate in space? Heat extremes, etc.?   

       And BTW, what does the N stand for?
MisterQED, Feb 15 2008
  

       [wags] you're on for the website if this takes off.   

       [QED] //we want to add to that speed and head due east.// Ah, yes, good point. Hold the moon-landing. OK, so we have two choices. Either we put a directing mechanism on the launch balloon; or we put a simple compass in it, and set it to trigger the rocket when it happens to be pointing east (at the top of its travel, of course). I think the latter will be lighter/cheaper/more reliable.   

       //Also I'm wondering about the solar cells.// If batteries would do the same job for a day (and for less weight) then all well and good. I think regular solar cells would survive, but we could check. The only real issues would be vacuum and temperature fluctuation; I don't think the launch would be too violent, and I doubt that solar UV or other radiation would be a problem for a day or two.   

       //what does the N stand for?// It stands for "next to no money", and also for the nines (9.99-19.99g, 99 orbits, £999.99...)   

       Does anyone know anything about the legalities of shooting things upward? Model rockets are no problem, and nor are toy helium balloons - are these things controlled according to weight or altitude? And what's the worst penalty you can face (in the UK, US, or wherever)? The overall aim is to discourage over-compliance and damn the consequences, and allow for a little natural selection amongst really dumb rocketeers, without seriously jeopardizing innocent bystanders.   

       I'm assuming that detection of the orbiting satellite would require the cooperation of radio-astronomers or the like, but I'm guessing they might be willing to play along.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       I think it should be reasonably easy to gyro stabilize the launcher so that it always points the rocket east without adding too much weight. As for the limits on rockets, there are many. I'd suggest looking at an issue of "High Powered Rocketry" magazine or borrow one from [8/7] who probably has a subscription. I haven't looked in a couple of years, and I'm sure it is nationally dependant, but such things as fuel load , fuel types and metal housings are strictly limited on a graduated license scale. Weirdly enough I wonder if the rules still apply since you will be launching the rocket outside of national airspace (doesn't it stop at some altitude).
MisterQED, Feb 15 2008
  

       //also for the nines (9.99-19.99g, 99 orbits, £999.99...)//   

       I swear it said $1000 when it was posted...
wagster, Feb 15 2008
  

       [wags] Rockoon == inflation
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Feb 15 2008
  

       //I swear it said $1000 when it was posted...// It did. Actually I think it was "£1000". I've also made a few minor edits to the rules.   

       What we need is publicity - some way for people to find out about the N-prize, perhaps by having Google find the X-prize and the N-prize mentioned together on the same web page. If only there were some way.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       //I think it should be reasonably easy to gyro stabilize the launcher// but why not just let it wander, and fire when it happens to be pointing the right way?   

       //graduated license scale.// Well, as long as we don't kill anyone important. Anyway, only those who fail are liable to be prosecuted - who's going to have the nerve to charge the world's first backyard satellite launch facility owner?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       //why not just let it wander, and fire when it happens to be pointing the right way? // I haven't done model rockets for years, really decades, but I do remember a bit of a delay between trigger and launch, so if for some reason this thing starts spinning on the string, you could be way off.
MisterQED, Feb 15 2008
  

       Yes, true. However, the sensor that fires the rocket will be on-board to reduce delays. Also, the balloon itself will be very wide, which must limit the rate it's likely to spin at; as long as the rocket-tube-tether is linked unswivellingly, spin should be limited. Failing that, have the direction sensor detect rate of spin also, and not launch when spin is high.   

       Of course, weight penalties on the balloon are not as harsh as on the rocket or satellite, but I'd still like to keep things as simple as possible.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       I'm just checking some prices and stuff. Helium for a 10ft diameter balloon is going to cost about $30.   

       Does anyone know what is used for the skin of high-altitude helium balloons? In photos it looks like polythene, but would this not become very brittle at high (cold) altitudes?   

       Can anyone think of any part of this system which is going to cost more than $100 in materials?   

       [EDIT - thanks for the balloon link, QED. Looks as if US regulations are not a problem at all! Note that the latex weather balloon is not designed for very high altitudes - it doesn't allow enough expansion to avoid bursting.]
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       //Can anyone think of any part of this system which is going to cost more than $100 in materials?//
The rocket propellant and the helium to get the rather large rocket up to 150k feet.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Feb 15 2008
  

       I don't entirely get the hydrazine reference?   

       Re the mylar balloon, isn't mylar a favourite because of its low helium porosity? Since that won't be a factor on a short flight, would some other material be lighter/better?   

       Regarding the satellite itself, a balloon- type mylar reflector might do for that too. 20 grams lets you make a roughly foot-wide balloon of 0.1mm Mylar, which could be inflated in orbit. The "Echo1" satellite was a 100ft mylar balloon, and was bright to the naked eye from earth. We'd have only 1/10,000th the area, but I suspect it would still be easy to spot with a small ground-based telescope.   

       [wags] - "N-prize.com" is not yet taken....
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       Hello halfbakers ! [my first post, so I'm nervous - hope I'm filling the right box in here !]   

       WRT facing East, and getting maximum lateral speed, how about trying to get the balloon up into a jetstream before launching the rocket. Or do these occur too low in the atmosphere ? How high will a ballon go ?   

       Obviously some fins on the launcher would keep it in line in the airflow
VaquitaTim, Feb 15 2008
  

       // I don't entirely get the hydrazine reference? //
There's going to be quite a lot of it soon when the US blows up one of its own satellites.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Feb 15 2008
  

       //how about trying to get the balloon up into a jetstream// Unfortunately, the jet streams are way too low (about 10km). But welcome to the HB, VaquitaTim.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       [QED] thanks for the weather balloon supplier link. Theirs only go up to 40km, alas - mainly because they're sealed. I believe high-altitude balloons are launched "flaccid" and expand greatly as they climb.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       //The rocket propellant and the helium to get the rather large rocket up to 150k feet.// Well, it's not going to be a rather large rocket, I was thinking more along the lines of rather small. Helium is about $37 per 1000 cubic feet. Rocket propellant is as cheap as your imagination.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       Why pay for helium when hydrogen is cheaper and has better lift?
MisterQED, Feb 15 2008
  

       True. So, we save $30 by electrolysing water - sounds like a good deal to me. Maybe we should reduce the budget to $99.99.....   

       [wags] I just bought n-prize.org, and .com, and .co.uk and .info. Unfortunately I have no idea how to establish a website.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 15 2008
  

       Domain hosting..... Joomla!...... right.... hang on. Will investigate...
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 16 2008
  

       //I just bought n-prize.org, and .com, and .co.uk and .info.// Once again the Buchanan's take occupation of lands they have no specific intentions of using, apart from croquet and fox hunting that is.
4whom, Feb 16 2008
  

       I hadn't noticed any foxes on N-prize.org, but I'll check. I also claim the mineral rights.   

       [UB] and [wags], if you're serious about helping with the website, I'm interested. I have no idea what I'm getting into here, which is the perfect starting place.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 16 2008
  

       Not sure if this could be done within the weight limit, but a possible solution to the verification-of-orbits question could be to have the satellite take a sequence of Earth photos to establish "At 2:30 I was here, at 2:31 I was HERE, at 2:32 I was HERE...." Once 99+ orbits are complete, transmit these photos. In order to prove these are real photos and not not pre-recorded or Photoshoped, they would have to be compared to actual weather patterns, the known positions of aircraft in flight or ships at sea, known traffic jams, large gatherings of people (and their cars) at outdoor venues such as ampitheaters, sports stadiums, or campaign/protest rallies etc. Obviously a very high-res camera would be required to obtain verifiable details.
gardnertoo, Feb 16 2008
  

       [gardner] I suspect that the weight penalty would indeed be a problem. And, if you can transmit photos, you could transmit a locating signal.   

       [UB] and [wagster] the outfit I bought the domains from also offers hosting (telivo.com) but I don't know which package I need. I'm happy to buy whichever one I need. Presumably, after that, anyone with access to the site can upload pages?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 16 2008
  

       Yup, that's about right. I can provide hosting, but it would probably be easier for you to host it where you bought it from. You shouldn't need much webspace for this - 100Mb should be more than sufficient.   

       Shall we take this to email if it's going to get in-depth? Mine is on my profile page. Drop me a line.
wagster, Feb 16 2008
  

       To email it has been taken. I have the feeling that we're creating a monster here, but the important thing is probably not to be too sober when any important decisions are taken.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 16 2008
  

       Do you think there will be trouble down the line with the name being similar to Nobel Prize? I Googled N-Prize and got a lot of references to the Nobel.
MisterQED, Feb 18 2008
  

       I can't imagine there being a problem; the Nobel may be referred to sometimes as the "N-prize" colloquially, but I don't think there's any risk of confusion. In any case, I've got the domain name, so hah!
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 18 2008
  

       //Imaginative scavenging and borrowing is encouraged//   

       So I can just super-glue my coins to the next US space mission?   

       // Broadly, extensive use of salvaged or redundant space hardware is unlikely to be permitted//   

       Or maybe not...
Jinbish, Feb 19 2008
  

       Full rules will be available shortly on n- prize.com
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       I think the hardest part will be to accelerate this thing up to n-gazillion metres per second, so that it actually stays up there. What are we talking about - 8000m/s?
Ling, Feb 19 2008
  

       Nearer 7500m/s for the lowest low-earth orbit. A handgun can sent a bullet at something like 1500m/s, so you're looking at five times that, in terms of speed, or 25 times that in terms of kinetic energy for a satellite of comparable mass.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       Surely accelerating something very light in a total vacuum can't be that hard? I think ion drives are good at this kind of shennanigans.
wagster, Feb 19 2008
  

       It shouldn't be that hard. However, an ion drive is way too slow (your satellite is going to re-enter long before the ion drive has done much good).
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       Has anyone done the math to find out a rough guess as to how many model rocket engines will get us from 170000 ft to orbit assuming no air drag?
MisterQED, Feb 19 2008
  

       Depends on the final payload and on the rate at which mass is shed during the ascent. Ideally you want a staged rocket. Even then it'll be close or impossible with those motors, since their energy density is quite low.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       //Has anyone done the math //   

       <raises hand>   

       "I haven't"
wagster, Feb 19 2008
  

       To start out on the math, google "rocket equation". You're going to need a delta-v of nearly 10km/sec in order to get into low earth orbit, because a fair amount of your velocity gets killed off in getting your potential energy (altitude) up.   

       //how many model rocket engines// - answer: model rocket engines in any configuration will fail. They don't have a high enough specific thrust, and they don't have a high enough fuel fraction (the cases are too heavy).   

       You're going to have to use something other than a black powder fuel. There are high-energy solids that can do it, but they are very very picky about production and are not cheap and hard to control. There are liquid fuel engines in several configurations which are capable, but require pumping & metering & throttling & mixing & cryogenics & tankage & plumbing & are very un-cheap. A possibility might be a hybrid - a solid fuel grain with a liquid oxydizer (as in Rutan's design - but note that he got to less than orbital altitude with *zero* velocity at the top - he needed about another 7500m/sec of delta-v to make that into an orbit) but having one with a sufficiently stable burn profile to not blow up / go asymmetrical / blow out chunks of unburned fuel grain is still quite in the realm of experimental.   

       Plus, please remember that solving all the problems of putting a payload in orbit entails solving every one of the problems posed in the building of an ICBM. Regardless of your intentions, think for a moment on whose attentions that is going to bring to you.
lurch, Feb 19 2008
  

       //Regardless of your intentions, think for a moment on whose attentions that is going to bring to you.// On the one hand, true. On the other hand, bollocks. The aim is to do the nearly impossible against overwhelming odds with almost no budget and for virtually no reward. Did the Wright brothers worry about governmental dissapproval when they invented the Model-T light bulb? Did Edison fret about military uses of the spinning jenny? No! Launch and be damned.   

       Also, I might point out that if a schmuck in a shed can put something into orbit for under a grand, it's in everybody's interests to have it out in the open.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       //Regardless of your intentions, think for a moment on whose attentions that is going to bring to you. //
Richard Branson?
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Feb 19 2008
  

       I didn't say "stop immediately, because al-Qaeda will abduct you and extract your secrets nasally" - I just said 'consider'. If you think the Wright brothers' feat could be accomplished today without Homeland Security having palpitations, you are an optimist.   

       If you have a chance to come to Utah (the Bonneville Salt Flats) in early September, you'll want to attend "Hellfire" - an international amateur rocket launch. You'd get to see rockets where just the solid fuel grain alone runs over a thousand bucks. (I take my little $10 model out, fly once, and sit back and watch the other guys burn a month's pay in 4 sec. I once got to stand next to a guy whose 14 ft. $3000 rocket failed to deploy 'chutes - absolutely beautiful machine, stunning paint job, turns over at 7k feet and comes straight into the salt at over 500 knots. He cried for about a half hour, then committed to "do it again next year".)
lurch, Feb 19 2008
  

       I'm agreeing with [lurch]. This contest could be re-named as an anti-satellite-weapon challenge without being re-written. I like it, and I've a couple of new ideas, but no matter how I put the parts together, they keep coming out a weapon.
baconbrain, Feb 19 2008
  

       // I just said 'consider'. // Well, I disagree with that too. Too many people consider too much. Sometimes it's just right to pretend we're back in democratic days and plain do things. Sometimes it's nice not to think about who's watching over your shoulder. The very idea of an organisation that calls itself "Homeland Security" (why not "National Security"?) gives me the heebie jeebies, and I don't even live there.   

       But thanks for the invite to Hellfire - sounds fun!
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       //On the one hand, true. On the other hand, bollocks.//   

       [marked-for-tagline]
wagster, Feb 19 2008
  

       //This contest could be re-named as an anti-satellite-weapon challenge without being re-written.// Well, only if you find a way to add guidance, not just to the launch system but also to a satellite weighing less than an empty coke can.   

       By this reasoning, nobody except the US Government is allowed to develop anything that can go upwards. To quote (for the second time) my great great aunt Agathenia, bollocks.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       Good point, as always, [MB]. My bullocks, there.
baconbrain, Feb 19 2008
  

       You can't get into orbit without guidance.   

       If you want to be at the minimum altitude for orbit, say for example you give yourself +/- 10 km leeway, and you want to do 100 orbits, then you have to be going in a direction which will allow you to still hit that 10 km slot at the *end* of 100 orbits. So, it's going to need to be, at a minimum, accurate enough to hit a 10 km slot at (40,000 km * 100 orbits) = 4 million kilometers distance.   

       Even saying you could do one orbit without guidance would be like saying that trans-oceanic airliners don't need navigation systems, just point in the general direction and go.
lurch, Feb 19 2008
  

       //You can't get into orbit without guidance.// You certainly can. You need to make sure you've got enough velocity and you need to be pointing in roughly the right direction. Beyond that, it really doesn't matter. You need very good guidance to get into a *particular* orbit, but that's an entirely different kettle of wild herring.   

       Or perhaps you meant that you can't get into orbit without suitable mentoring?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       The number of possibilities of your orbit depends on how much space there is between your altitude and the atmosphere. If you're at minimum altitude, you have a very narrow range of directions you can fly. Higher buys you more leeway, but it takes even more thrust to get there.   

       One item that causes a problem, but is non-obvious, is that you can't make your orbit *not* pass through the point where you were when you last altered your orbit. If you are in a circular orbit, and fire your thrusters when you cross Ecuador, for example, then on your next orbit you will pass over Ecuador at the exact same altitude as before. Your velocity will be different, but not altitude. Your altitude will be different over Sumatra, and if you fire again over Sumatra, you can change your altitude over Ecuador.   

       To sum up, a circular orbit requires, at minimum, an original boost and a circularization a half orbit later. Otherwise, your payload will attempt to fly through its launch point. (And when I say 'circular' here, I don't mean 'within five balls two of a perfect circle', I mean 'close enough to get back to point A without an unplanned re-entry'.)
lurch, Feb 19 2008
  

       Yes, true. If you want to keep at minimum altitude, you don't want your orbit too eliptical, hence the 'roughly the right direction'. But that's not the kind of guidance you need in order to hit something.   

       The kind of energies you need to get a small mass into orbit from an upper- atmosphere starting point are not orders of magnitude greater than those you get from a handgun. The kind of guidance and communication equipment you need is not significantly more complex than the electronics in a mobile phone.   

       Commercial, scientific and military satellites need to actually do stuff and stay in the right place, and this increases their cost and weight by orders of magnitude. All we want to do is to send a matchbox about a hundred miles up and make it go round a few times. Everything works in your favour when you sacrifice weight and functionality, by exponential rather than linear factors.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 19 2008
  

       That doesn't necessarily hold all the way down to zero size.   

       Here, let me tell you what your first show-stopper will be. You've launched rockets, seen them launched, it all looks pretty simple. The standard model rocket, the 3FNC (literally "3 fins and a nose cone") makes it appear so natural that you light a rocket, and it goes up. However, there's magic going on there. It's the fins. You use a launch rod to keep the rocket pointed up until it is moving fast enough that any deviation from moving in a straight line puts air flow against the fins, creating a force couple which corrects the line of flight back where the nose cone is pointing the way.   

       However, you would like to simply start out with no air resistance by firing from above the sensible atmosphere. Or, at the very least, passing above it. What, then, keeps your rocket pointed even in the "general direction" you would like it to go? Nothing. In real rockets, this is accomplished by a horizon scanner or a gyroscope, controlling a gimballed rocket nozzle and/or a set of vernier rockets. Without that guidance system, your problem is no different from balancing a nail on its point. It may work for a moment, but your rocket's thrust is not going to be utterly turbulence-free, and thus is doomed to tumble.   

       My version of the N-prize would be to fly a rocket with no fins or drag stick (read this as "stable in vacuum") to 1000 meters for the same price as you're saying for orbit.
lurch, Feb 19 2008
  

       What is the viability of hosting a kind of single shot LONG (2-3M) barrelled rifle? Use a .50 caliber cartridge and sabot the bullet. The pressure would be lower due to the lighter round, so the barrel wouldn't have to be as heavy.
MisterQED, Feb 19 2008
  

       [lurch] that which you say is true. My intention (see earlier anno) was to spin the entire rocket about its axis, gyro- wise. However, if it needs a gyro for stability, then it can have a gyro for stability. It's up to the entrant to figure out how to machine a gyro within budget, or how to imaginatively 'repurpose' a VCR head or a 12V-driven microfuge for that function.   

       Incidentally, rockoons relied mainly on fins for directional stability, though granted they were only scraping the edge of space.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       [QED] you mean a ballistic launch from under a high-altitude balloon? Yes, that may be feasible. One concern might be recoil of the gun (and consequent mis- targetting), but I expect you could get around that problem. You've also got to have a satellite hardened against the acceleration, whilst also being detectable in some way from earth. But possible, I'd have thought.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       For a simple rocket could you acheive stability on-the-cheap by starting with an electronic tilt sensor from a digital camera? These seem incredibly sensitive and could control the direction of the rocket by, for example, discharging a small capacitor into one of a number of tiny explosive charges (e.g.a 'cap') on the side of the rocket.

The other thing that occurs to me is that you can do a lot in under 10 grams - my son's remote-controlled helicopter has an IR receiver, some control electronics, a battery, the helicopter body, two rotors, two electric motors and it still weighs less than 10 grams.
hippo, Feb 20 2008
  

       Excellent thinking, Hippo. The point about the ten-gram helicopter is very well taken, and of course that ten grams includes a propulsion system which, provided we can kick it off in the right direction, the satellite shouldn't need. Can we register you as an entrant?
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       ooh yes, I'd be keen (despite knowing nothing about rocketry, propulsion systems, navigation, three-dimensional geometry, radio, radar, aeronautics, etc. - I'm good at countdowns though).
hippo, Feb 20 2008
  

       Christmas 2006, yes - and it was the PicooZ model - absolutely amazing.
hippo, Feb 20 2008
  

       //despite knowing nothing about....// A healthy dose of ignorance is a tremendous advantage in these circumstances.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       //A healthy dose of ignorance is a tremendous advantage in these circumstances// I don't want to discourage anyone, but this is rocket science, so we all probably start with a healthy dose of ignorance.   

       To that point, I just found out that purely cannon launch is out. We need ~7km/s speed for LEO and even HARP only got to 1/4 of that, so we are back to rocket science.   

       Oh and my favorite number so far is orbital energy = 32.1MJ/kg. You may want to look at the energy density link to see what kind of power you will need for the trip.
MisterQED, Feb 20 2008
  

       Yes, but it all depends on the mass of the projectile and other stuff. Some gas-guns used for testing impact at orbital velocities have achieved >7km/ s.   

       Put it another way. We need to get about half a megajoule of energy into a 20gram satellite (to get it up there and orbiting). This is the energy used by a small electric heater in about nine minutes. That's the energy obtained by burning *four grams* of liquid hydrogen with about 32 grams of liquid oxygen, or about a tablespoon or two in total. Of course, that's a naive calculation because the energy of combustion doesn't all (or even mostly) go into the satellite. But, the point is that we're not talking about silly amounts of energy here.   

       As I mentioned earlier, once you're clear of the atmosphere, smaller devices become very much easier to put into orbit.   

       [EDIT] a little more interesting information. A multi-ton ground- launched solid-fuel rocket manages about 2% payload (ie, it can deliver about 2% of the launch mass into low earth orbit). For small, ground- launched rockets it gets much worse, because most of the losses are in air resistance. But for a high-altitude balloon-launched rocket, this isn't a major factor.   

       And it gets better. Most of the non- propellant mass of a solid rocket is needed to contain the combustion pressure. It turns out that a smaller tube can be relatively less massive, and hence smaller rockets have a lower shell-mass. So, we can certainly expect a small ballon-launched solid-fuel rocket to give at least 2% payload-into- orbit, and probably nearer 3 or 4%.   

       On this basis, even a solid-fuelled rocket only needs to be about 1kg total mass in order to deliver a 20g payload. Quadruple that to allow for irreducible masses and sod's law, and you still have a rocket weighing less than ten pounds. This has to be lifted by a helium balloon, which will need to have a volume of about five cubic metres. Double everything again to allow for hardware that remains attached to the balloon, and you're still only up to a ten cubic metre helium balloon carrying a ten-pound rocket tipped with a 20g satellite.   

       This. Is. Doable.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       Incidentally, the mission could be launched from anywhere that's not too polar, except for mid-west Germany. Westphalia is _not_ an option.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       Which Westphalia?
Google Maps gave me 7 in the USA. (Dunno about the rest of the world.)
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 20 2008
  

       See link. But why?
jutta, Feb 20 2008
  

       [n_w] The clue is in "mid-west Germany".
[jutta]It is a kind of pun, see Apollo 13 (spoken by Ed Harris, IIRC).
Actually, I think it would be perfect for a ham rocket operation.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Feb 20 2008
  

       [jutta], [AbsintheWithoutLeave]; thanks. I figured it must have been in Germany - Google Maps is usually better than that (not so USA-centric).
Regarding ham rockets, ever see the Mythbusters episode with the Civil War (I think) meat rocket?
neutrinos_shadow, Feb 20 2008
  

       // It turns out that a smaller tube can be relatively less massive, and hence smaller rockets have a lower shell-mass.// You got that relationship backwards.   

       //On this basis, even a solid-fuelled rocket only needs to be about 1kg total mass in order to deliver a 20g payload. Quadruple that to allow for irreducible masses and sod's law, and you still have a rocket weighing less than ten pounds.//   

       If you take your ten pound rocket, put it on a balloon, fly it to the world record altitude height for a balloon plus ten percent, it will still be incapable of reaching orbital *altitude*. Forget turning the corner and trying to then tack on orbital *velocity*.   

       You might want to ask yourself, "If my assumptions say that this is so incredibly easy, why are all the other people who've tried such idiots?" Then try searching to find out.   

       I'm sorry, I actually like the idea, and think that there is a good area here for positive achievement. I am very concerned, however, that people can go into this with bad assumptions, waste time and money, and maybe get hurt. I like amateur progress, and hate to see things set up where amateurs fail spectacularly and give the next group a bad rep by association. So if I've come across sounding like I'm attacking you, please understand that is not my intention. Just frustrated.   

       Back to the issue at hand - I would that you might look at full-up sized rockets, and particularly, booster rockets. Solids, so we're comparing apples. The Delta rocket is quite interesting. It takes two sizes of booster rockets, in configurations of up to 9 strap-on solid rocket boosters. Then the shuttle, with two big SRB's; likewise, the Titan III with a pair of SRB's. The Ares I, which will be a single SRB stick and the Ares V, again two SRBs boosting a liquid biprop tank stack. Each of these configurations makes sense for its own application - but if a smaller diameter solid lifted a better mass fraction, you'd be seeing Titans and eventually Ares stacks that looked like Deltas - a whole bunch of smaller boosters around the mains. Smaller solid motors are much cheaper, easier to build, transport, store, maintain, and launch. They aren't more efficient.
lurch, Feb 20 2008
  

       //They aren't more efficient.// I'm not claiming they're more efficient, just *as* efficient as large solid rockets *in the virtual absence of air resistance* (which is a disproportionately greater hindrance for smaller rockets launched from ground level). As far as my understanding of the physics goes, the same laws should apply to smaller rockets as larger ones.   

         

       And yes, I did get the case-weight-ratio relationship wrong - thanks. [EDIT] or not quite. A quick think shows that the transverse tension in a cylinder will be proportional to the diameter of the cylinder (and to the pressure it contains). So, the thickness of the casing walls remains in proportion. [EDIT AGAIN] In fact, if you consider an SRB as a cylindrical pressure vessel, and if the pressure remains constant, then the circumferential force (that which is trying to split the casing lengthwise) is proportional to the diameter, whilst the longitudinal force (that which is trying to blow out the ends of the cylinder) is proportional to the square of the diameter. So, if your rocket is 10 times smaller, your side walls can be 10 times thinner and the end-wall or bulkhead can be thinner still.   

       Now, since the area of the rocket's skin is proportional to the square of its linear dimensions, it follows that a 1/10th scale rocket will have a skin mass of 1/1000th that of the full-size original; it will also hold 1/1000th the propellant, so the skin mass: propellant ratio stays the same.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       [Lurch] I just did some checks on rockoons, and I maintain that smaller rockets have comparable efficiency to large ones, when launched at altitude. Here's why.   

       A typical rockoon had a total mass of 100kg and carried a 15kg payload, giving it a payload ratio of 15% (way over the limit for a normal ground launch aiming for orbit). Despite this, they would typically make 75km above the launch altitude of 25km (ie, apogee 100km). They were released at 25km because of the need to maintain communication for firing the rocket - not an issue with modern telemetry, nor if the rockoon fires automatically.   

       So, reduce the payload ratio from 15% to 2% (our 20g satellite, plus), launch at 50km rather than 25km (doable with helium or with hydrogen), and you're back in space.   

       This is not meant to be a rigorous argument (and yes, I appreciate the rockoon went up but not around) - merely to point out that smaller rockets are more or less as efficient as larger ones, when freed of air resistance.   

       And I'm not taking your comments as an attack - they are points well made and are making me think.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 20 2008
  

       Nice use of the subjunctive up there lurch. Your comment on fins and how they work got me thinking. If the propulsive forse of the rocket were routed through symmetric skewed nozzles, could this spin the rocket for stability without too much loss of thrust?
bungston, Feb 21 2008
  

       Can someone point me to some realistic formulas for calculation? [lurch]? I think all the stuff I've seen assumes low velocities, so the solid rockets have the torque, but not the top speed.
MisterQED, Feb 21 2008
  

       Good math there, [MB]. I think we both missed a term at first, but in opposite directions. Thanks.   

       [bungston] - re: canted nozzles - in theory, absolutely. (You wouldn't need that much of an offset, let the spin build up slowly, gradually taking over from fins as you go into thinner air.) In practice, uhh... I think it would be very difficult to have the two (or more) nozzles be identical, producing exactly the same torque vectors... maybe. I'd like to see it tried.   

       Actually, maybe an interstage - say you have a first stage with fins. At or near booster burnout, fire the interstage which would just be a couple of small side-firing rocket motors mounted in the band connecting the booster stage to the second stage. After spin up, you can toss the part with the fins.   

       Remember that you have to make a turn up there somewhere. Spinning your rocket is an ideal solution for an altitude only attempt. It's less excellent to have your little micronavigator going around at 600 rpm and trying to tell the rocket which way to head for the horizon.
lurch, Feb 22 2008
  

       //I think it would be very difficult to have the two (or more) nozzles be identical, producing exactly the same torque vectors// If you're transitioning from fin-stability to spin-stability, then let the fins create the spin - just have them slightly helical. However, you have the problem of directional stability at the early stages of the launch, when velocities (and spins) are low.   

       I thought it might be good to have the rocket launched off a central rod which runs up the centre of it (ie, the rocket starts out impaled on a spike). Then, you can set it spinning on the spike (in any of several different ways) before it launches.   

       Point taken about the need to turn a corner at the top. I need a bigger drawing board to go back to.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 22 2008
  

       Not so much "turn a corner" - it needs to start off firing at a diagonal and, as it falls over to the horizontal at the top of the parabola, give a final kick of thrust to put it in orbit.
hippo, Feb 22 2008
  

       Well, ideally you go straight up to get out of the residual atmosphere by the shortest route, then turn right. Also, the energy needed to get a 20g satellite orbiting (about 0.5MJ) is much more than the energy needed to get it to alititude (0.03MJ), based purely on calculations of kinetic and gravitational energy.   

       So, the "final kick" is most of your energy budget.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 22 2008
  

       Been thinking about the final kick: a large number of satellites packed around some C4. One of them might go in the right direction. C4 detonation velocity just over 8000m/s. However, I guess this doesn't follow the spirit of the idea.
Ling, Feb 22 2008
  

       I think it's absolutely within the spirit of the idea. It's that sort of thinking that might make it happen.
wagster, Feb 22 2008
  

       Under the present rules (which are under development), you have to specify *in advance* which item is your satellite. This to deal with the situation where, say, a spent rocket enters orbit along with the satellite, but the satellite can't be detected (but the rocket can, for example because of its size). So, alas, you'd fall foul of that rule. However, you're definitely thinking along the right lines.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 22 2008
  

       [Ling], how do you keep from destroying the satellites? The bare minimum I can see is a reflector and I think this would destroy anything weaker than a block of metal. Wouldn't this work better with some kind of shaped charge? Or at least putting the explosive at the center of a tube and the satellite on one side.   

       Also can people buy C4? I just assumed you can't.
MisterQED, Feb 22 2008
  

       Send the (highly explosive) satellite up in a gun on a rocket under a hydrogen balloon. At a predetermined height the rocket will power out of the atmosphere on a pillar of flame, igniting the balloon in a huge conflagration behind it. Once out of the atmosphere, the gun will detonate, firing the explosive satellite into orbit where it will blow up and be visible from earth.   

       The main advantage of this design is that it'll be a lot of fun.
wagster, Feb 22 2008
  

       We may have to go for a lower orbit (say, a couple of thousand feet) if we want the hydrogen balloon to conflagrate properly.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 22 2008
  

       I love the C4 idea. The Ling Maneuver: massive redundancy with high explosive at the center and fingers crossed. I think that principle could be also used at earlier stages of the launch, and other aspects of the development of the project, and general nonrocket related life endeavors. I will give it a try here at lunch.
bungston, Feb 22 2008
  

       Draft N-prize rules (slightly different from those originally proposed) are on my profile page for the time being.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 22 2008
  

       We'll have figured out lots of ways to do it. Unfortunately we won't have picked up even a screwdriver.
wagster, Feb 22 2008
  

       --Taken from the rockeloonanoon thread, prolly better off here--   

       As someone who is unlikely to get a chance to compete, may I suggest that the final acceleration stage is most likely to be achieved with an EFP?   

       -WARNING - watch out searching for the term EFP as a latge % of the use of them is by terrorists, the remainder being "genuine" millitary application -- </W>   

       If you want ~20 grams going a really high speed, look at modifying an EFP to be the final stage in launching your load. An EFP weighing in at maybe 3kg can launch a >1kg mass at over 4km/s relative. That's a hell of a final boost. I'd say you could modify the paylaod of the EFP to have your package at the front, with a small bursting charge for separation once in orbit. Modern EFP's can be within several minute-of-angle accuracy <some testing required>.   

       My guess would be a balloon, with a 1 or 2 stage rocket, with the final payload being an EFP with your package on the tip. making your hardware capable of handling the millions of G's is your problem.   

       --Just my 2c's--
Custardguts, Feb 24 2008
  

       I've always wondered how you would go trying to use explosive confinement to reinforce a barrel for extremely high pressure propulsion. Ie a pseudo-gun barrel surrounded in explosive blocks - and the "bullet" consists of a projectile (prolly with a sacrificial wear liner), and an extremely high power explosive propelling charge. Time the barrel enclosing explosives to explosively "reinforce" the barrel to support the ludicrous internal pressures for one, very high powered shot. Possibly the progressive collapse of the barrel and pressure wave could be used to constantly apply the driving force on the projectile. The limit here will be gas temperature, or should I say gas velocity, which will probably be the upper limit for how fast you can get the projectile to go. Unless, during detonation you are accelerating the entire mass of the "gun". In which this becomes analogous to a multi-stage rocket. Hmmm. A fair bit of crossover with explosively formed penetrator theory (EFP's).   

       Once again, most of the technical stuff here will be rather highly classified, this time it will be that timing explosives to this precision is usually done for the sole purpose of detonating nuclear devices. but I'd like to know if it would work, or could be made to work.
Custardguts, Feb 24 2008
  

       //modifying an EFP to be the final stage in launching your load// Thanks, I've been trying to Google that all day based on a show I saw on the assignation of a president of the World Bank, or something, some time ago. All I remembered was a bicycle with a basket. In the basket was a remotely triggered explosive that turned a copper plate into a projectile of crazy velocity.   

       I don't know what is heavier, a small charge of C4 in a barrel made of Dyneema or a larger charge and no containment? It may not matter because I don't even want to know what it takes to get C4. My only hope is that if we drop the needed velocity down to 4km/s, we can use something that won't get me arrested.   

       The idea of creating the containment with multiple charges is amazing but way to complicated on this budget. It seems like a lot of little wires that could vibrate loose when this thing rips from 50km to 200km. I think it could work if done from the balloon.
MisterQED, Feb 24 2008
  

       Just an idea that's been floating about in my head for a few years, waiting for a use. And yes, if we include R&D costs, no way for under a grand, but if it's just materials costs, powergel is cheap and powerful, this could easily be ginned up for $1k.   

       Government imposed permits/clearances notwithstanding.   

       PS I'd love some feedback on the confinement barrel idea, not sure if it's suitable for it's own thread.
Custardguts, Feb 24 2008
  

       Then again I just posted it
Custardguts, Feb 24 2008
  

       //assignation of a president of the World Bank// <snigger> blonde bombshell, doubtless...
lurch, Feb 25 2008
  

       I say do away with the weight restrictions altogether. If an entrant can get *any* object into orbit on the specified budget, and prove it, who cares if it weighs ten pounds or a nanogram?   

       And is there any relationship between the length of a railgun and the weight of the projectile? Could a ground based, single use railgun feasibly do this?
BunsenHoneydew, Feb 28 2008
  

       If we're looking at multi-stage launch systems, then our options are wide open. We can optimise each stage to suit the profile of each section of the launch.   

       Already we're discussing a two stage system with completely different technologies at each stage (balloon + solid/hybrid rocket). A third stage could use a completely different propulsion technology.   

       For example, the rockoon combination could launch a 2kg single-use cannon to elliptical orbit, then the cannon fires a 20g payload into a more circular orbit.   

       /edit/ Ah I see the Rockelloonannon [link] covers that example nicely.   

       Insert ideas involving railguns, Gauss cannons, tethers, mass-drivers, trebuchets etc below.
BunsenHoneydew, Feb 28 2008
  

       //I say do away with the weight restrictions altogether.// Nope - weight limit stays. As noted in the full rules, you can use sabots, shielding etc or whatever you like, but the final orbiting device has to be <19.9999 grams.   

       //a ground based, single use railgun// but, if it's single-use, you have to be able to build it within the £999.99 budget (see full rules on my profile page).
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 29 2008
  

       Just skimmed through "The rules", and I have a couple of questions:   

       1. How is the orbital height to be proved?
2. If the additional cost to launch satellite 2 was less than £999.99, then would that qualify?
  

       Finally, I think the costs would be a big arguing point. Does it include import duties, VAT, trade discounts etc? Although if someone did it for 1100, I'm sure you would be so impressed that you would probably buy them a beer or two.   

       (Of course, the cost to launch S1 might be extensive...especially if it's a huge rail gun).
Ling, Feb 29 2008
  

       My biggest worry is making a left instead of a right, i.e.something goes wrong with the launch and it fires west instead of east. Then if you are unlucky enough, your tiny satellite will now have a short existence as a bullet which could strike another satellite at CRAZY impact velocities 14km/s and 4MJ of energy.   

       My biggest question is can a 20g satellite of undetermined location be detected from earth? I'm thinking everything could work perfectly, except the course is a little off so all the telescopes are pointed in the wrong spot to see it's signal.
MisterQED, Feb 29 2008
  

       //1. How is the orbital height to be proved?// That is a very good question. It will almost certainly require ground- based observation, either telescopically (eg, of a strobe or reflector) or radio- wise/radarishly etc. It would almost certainly be necessary to recruit the help of others, but the budget for detection is not included in the £999.99.   

       /If the additional cost to launch satellite 2 was less than £999.99, then would that qualify?// Probably yes. The rules state that the cost of anything which is used up must be covered, basically. So, if you can build a very expensive railgun or reuseable launch vehicle, and if all of the costs (fuel/refurbishment etc, plus the satellite itself) for the launch itself come to under £999.99, you're fine.   

       // I think the costs would be a big arguing point.// Yes, probably. That's why I've got lots of "judges' decision is final" clauses. Basically, after you've completed your 9 orbits, if I said "here is £999.99 in cash, do it again", you should be able to.   

       //can a 20g satellite of undetermined location be detected from earth?// Yes. 20g will easily accommodate a simple transmitter, and the power delivered to earth will be way bigger than that detected by radioastronomers, I think. Or you could have a small strobe-light, again easily detectable. Someone also suggested radar reflectors of mylar film.   

       The main problem will be in recruiting help, and in knowing where to look. I imagine you'd want some more powerful telemetry on your rocket (if you use a rocket), so you at least know the direction and velocity of your satellite at the moment it's released into orbit.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 29 2008
  

       So wait, if reusable costs are not counted, then we may want to think about a hypersonic RC launch vehicle. I had toyed with this idea at the beginning, but discounted it as too expensive.   

       So all I have to do know is build a scale model SR-71 or Aurora to launch my LEO insertion rocket off of.
MisterQED, Feb 29 2008
  

       //we may want to think about a hypersonic RC launch vehicle// By all means. As long as you recover the vehicle intact, and as long as the cost of fuel and any necessary refurbishment, plus the cost of the satellite, are covered by £999.99, then by all means.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 29 2008
  

       I found a excellent link on the topic called "Are Amateur Orbital Rockets Possible?" Has lots of great other links included. I am now debating between the hybrid (N2O/PVC) rocket (SpaceShip One) and the LOX/kerosene (Apollo) path to orbit.
MisterQED, Mar 18 2008
  

       Very nice link, Mr. QED - many thanks. Especially interesting is the note to use existing satellites to help with telemetry - I presume this offers a number of options.   

       Note also that amateur rocketry to date has been hampered by the relatively large budgets which people are prepared to sink into these things. A much smaller budget should offer a far better chance of success.   

       The N-prize site should be up in a week or two - watch this final frontier.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 18 2008
  

       Nice work on the website.
marklar, Apr 10 2008
  

       Nice website, and I know I am supposed to email you questions, but I want to have this one here for clarification.   

       Are reusable parts included in the £999.99?   

       So for example, I build a $3000 rocket, that launches from a $2000 balloon, that reaches 100km, fires a cannon to launch the satellite which orbits 9 times. My rocket, balloon launcher and all it's parts minus fuel & lifting gas and satellite are recovered. I can then take all those parts add less than £999.99 worth of fuel, lifting gas and satellite and repeat the event. Is that legal?
MisterQED, Apr 10 2008
  

       Thanks to [wagster] and team for the website - see the link on the site.   

       No, the £999.99 only has to cover non- reuseable parts. Basically, you should be able (if asked) to repeat your launch without spending more than another £999.99 - see the full rules on the n- prize site.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 10 2008
  

       Nice website. You might want to be careful about implying that you actually have 9,999 pounds to give away.
BunsenHoneydew, Apr 15 2008
  

       - unless, of course, you actually do have £9,999 to give away.

Is there any rule about how high the satellite has to orbit? If not, then someone will enter a helium balloon tied to a bit of ballast, which will float a few metres above the ground for nine days in geostationary orbit around the Earth.
hippo, Apr 15 2008
  

       No, that won't work, there is a 99km altitude minimum.
MisterQED, Apr 15 2008
  

       // implying that you actually have 9,999 pounds to give away.// I'm not implying that I have £9,999.99 to give away. I have £9,999.99 to give away.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 15 2008
  

       //No, that won't work, there is a 99km altitude minimum.//   

       And a rule that says that the organisers can close off any loopholes that run against the spirit of the competition at any time. [Maxwell] may have put his money where his mouth is, but he isn't getting stitched up.
wagster, Apr 15 2008
  

       May I request that the Question (by Jupiter), in homage to the n-prize's origin, be amended to "Shirley it's impossible?", and the answer have the following addendum: "(and stop calling me Shirley)"
globaltourniquet, Apr 15 2008
  

       Actually, I think I rather like that. And perhaps the graphic could have a black rectangular slab, with sides in the ratio 1:4:9, orbiting around it.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 16 2008
  

       The N-Prize is discussed in the New Scientist's space blog.   

       So cool.   

       By the way, very neat website!
django, Apr 28 2008
  

       Excellent, getting picked up by New Scientist. Let's hope this brings some imaginative entries.
hippo, Apr 28 2008
  

       Thanks! (And thanks to Wags at picture&word for the site.)   

       It also made it into New Scientist print edition (brief mention in last week's issue), and I've got an invite to go on The Space Show (www.the spaceshow.com) - an enthusiast radio station (date to be decided).   

       And special thanks to everyone here for bringing this about. I'll look forward to meeting some of you at the inquest.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 28 2008
  

       My pleasure. Can't wait to buy the New Scientist tomorrow.
wagster, Apr 28 2008
  

       About 1 column inch, bottom right corner, page 7 I think!
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 28 2008
  

       How on Earth did I miss this?!
Inspiring, Educational, Slightly Barmey and a Wager to Boot!
Best of British to All and nice website to [wags].
gnomethang, Apr 29 2008
  

       Not being a rocket scientist myself, what happens when the satelite does a few orbits but in a direction that's way off kilter from a great circle route? Does it correct itself, do some kind of odd spiral pattern, or what?   

       Nevermind, it probably has to do a great circle route because something else would require side thrust.   

       Also, who gets to explain when we knock down a telecom satelite?
RayfordSteele, Apr 29 2008
  

       If we knock down a telecoms satellite then (a) it'll mean we've considerably exceeded the requirements for the N-Prize and (b) they won't be able to phone up to complain.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 29 2008
  

       ... and (c) they will kidnap you, steal your plans, and pour all their money into them.
django, Apr 29 2008
  

       I was reading an article on rocketry and came across this:   

       "The agency is also concerned that large rockets could be used as weapons. But weapons experts say it is doubtful that the rockets could be significant threats because they do not have guidance systems, which are prohibited by federal law."   

       So, will travel costs to a non-U.S. location be a part of total cost? <link to full article>
Klaatu, Apr 30 2008
  

       That's interesting! Fortunately, travel costs to a non-US location will be negligible for all participants, apart from those living in the US.   

       Incidentally, you're all invited to drop in to the N-Prize group (linked under "Contact" on the N-Prize site).
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 30 2008
  

       That's minor, we just found out that GPS stops working above 60000 feet and a specific speed. Government regs again, literally keeping us down. You can leave US, but making your own GPS is tougher.
MisterQED, Apr 30 2008
  

       the thing about GPS is that devices made in the US (and maybe elsewhere) are deliberately restricted in altitude and speed. The high-end chips that include onboard processing may be hackable; earlier chips may perform only the core functions and may therefore not be crippled.   

       But, if push comes to shove, there are plenty of ways to tell where you are.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 30 2008
  

       [Blatant elf-promotion] I'll be on radio in about an hour (9:30am pacific daylight time) talking about the N-Prize, and will try to mention the HB. It's called The Space Show, and it's at www.thespaceshow.com
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 06 2008
  

       I'll have a listen to that.   

       On the subject of GPS, I wonder if Galileo would be more useable for our purposes? It probably won't be ready in time.
wagster, Jun 06 2008
  

       Heard that!. Sounds like you are going great guns. I may even buy the T-Shirt!.
gnomethang, Jun 06 2008
  

       Thanks for the link, Xavier, and thanks to Robert Goldsmith for the original article and the slashdot. We've now got five teams signed up, with another four on the way - making a highly appropriate nine teams. I'll try to encourage entrants to put a small croissant logo on their satellite, with Jutta's permission.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 18 2008
  

       It'll get a bit baked on reentry.
wagster, Jun 18 2008
  

       Getting Worried Yet, [MaxwellBuchanan]?
Good Work though!
gnomethang, Jun 18 2008
  

       Terrified, more like. But not about having to give away the prize money - I'll be more than delighted to see someone claim it. One giant leap for a man, one small step for mankind.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 18 2008
  

       £999.99 will barely put a thing into space today, let alone orbit.   

       How about: if the best contestant is over budget, give them the award anyway, but subtract $2 from the prize for every $1 they went over budget?   

       Getting a roll of quarters into orbit for £1000 would still be pretty amazing.
jcatkeson, Jun 18 2008
  

       How about: if the best contestant is over budget, throw a big party for all those who gave it their all.
wagster, Jun 18 2008
  

       jcatkeson: I'll bet you £9,999.99 that somebody wins the prize, within the rules.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 18 2008
  

       God I hate fuckers who post advertisements in forums and other user message board type websites.
EvilPickels, Jun 18 2008
  

       What the hell....is this getting baked???? saw it on slashdot yesterday and knew I'd read it somewhere before...
simonj, Jun 19 2008
  

       Would it be too much to ask for it to be croissant-shaped? Probably. It's all got a bit serious now, hasn't it?
nineteenthly, Jun 19 2008
  

       [Max] Has anyone given you a rough estimate of their launch date yet? I'm getting quite excited by this - and I want to be able to marvel at the economy and cleverness that will be required by the winning entry.
hippo, Jun 19 2008
  

       //God I hate ____ers who post advertisements// huh?   

       //What the hell....is this getting baked? ???// Yep.   

       // It's all got a bit serious now, hasn't it?// Nope.   

       //Has anyone given you a rough estimate of their launch date yet?// No, not yet. My guess is that we're looking at at least a year before any launch attempts (though I may be wrong). I suspect the winner will have to develop a lot of new hardware, so I'd be surprised if we get there before 2 years from now.   

       However, all entrants need to keep me posted on launch plans, so I'll have some warning and will let people know. Check the Google group also..
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 19 2008
  

       After this of course we'll need handkerchief-sized solar sails and then we can rule the solar system.   

       See: Another Mad Scheme[Link], I was originally going to call it the 'X-stremely Small Prize'.
jcatkeson, Jun 20 2008
  

       I was surprised to discover that a few- hundred-milliwatt transmitter is easily pick-uppable from earth, and such a transmitter can easily be included within the weight restrictions.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 20 2008
  

       //a few- hundred-milliwatt transmitter is easily pick-uppable from earth// - no, get one of the Martian ones. They're much cheaper.
nineteenthly, Jun 28 2008
  

       //a few- hundred-milliwatt transmitter is easily pick-uppable from earth//
You could boost prize funds by selling tinfoil hats to the weak-minded, as N-prize countermeasures.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Jun 28 2008
  

       //I know you are quite set on the £999.99 prize, but wouldn't it be interesting to put a button on the site to allow people to donate extra money? //   

       The prize is actually £9,999.99; £999.99 is the budget for each launch. I'm reluctant to increase the prize, since this would attract sane people. However, I have considered allowing "charity co-sponsoring" - eg, maybe Virgin puts up £999,999 to be donated to a list of 9 charities if and when the N-Prize is won. It'd be good to raise some money for worthy causes (like, maybe a new burns unit at some hospital....).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 28 2008
  

       [MB] In reference to someone or anyone winning this prize, I will admit, I would have said no. It seemed like asking too much for too little reward, but I have since revised my thoughts. Or to be exact I have revised my view of people. Is it just me, or were you also shocked to find out that there are people out there who have half-built aerospike engines in their basements? NASA isn't even sure they will work, yet a private entity has most of one? I rarely meet scary smart people in real life and have met a few here, but the N-prize entries have rocked my ideas on reality. I mean one isn't even worried about propulsion, really just telemetry, does that surprise you?
MisterQED, Jun 28 2008
  

       I wasn't surprised at the level of enthusiasm in relation to the prize money - I imagined from the beginning that people would go for this for the sheer hell of it.   

       What did amaze me, though, was the level of commitment and expertise that people have brought to this. I'm still amazed by this today.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 28 2008
  

       Is there a way of using gravitational acceleration? An object might not have to get to orbital velocity under its own power, just to a velocity which would enable it to "fall" at an angle which would allow gravity to do the last bit. Meteors do that sometimes.
nineteenthly, Jun 30 2008
  

       That sounds like the Douglas Adam's principle. I think you mean use extra elevation with a relatively small 'horizontal' velocity, and then throw yourself at the Earth and miss due to a sling-shot type effect.
Ling, Jun 30 2008
  

       //Is there a way of using gravitational acceleration?//   

       That's how 'regular' orbits already work. You throw yourself sideways so that, by the time gravity has pulled you back down, the Earth has curved away from you and so your no closer to it.   

       Of course, you could use a gravitational slingshot involving another planet. If you could swing by Mars, you could pick up a huge additional velocity if you got things right. However, you'd have to get there first. Alternatively, if we could get a tame black hole up there, you could use that.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 30 2008
  

       I understand that elliptical orbits are based on the principle of missing the ground, but if an object is falling slightly below orbital velocity, it will accelerate, assuming no drag. That means that it will reach orbital velocity, but it would have to be at the correct angle to avoid colliding with the planet. The point i'm making is that gravity can be used to accelerate an object, and so maybe the slingshot effect can be used in the upper atmosphere if it's at the right angle.   

       What i've ended up thinking is a rockoon which uses its own hydrogen, is streamlined and contains a two-stage cylinder. The first stage is a Gauss gun, the second a solid fuel rocket, or the other way round. Each stage - rockoon, Gauss gun, solid fuel rocket - slants closer to the horizontal than the previous one. Then, a tiny centrifuge launches the satellite, then the fog of a humanities education descends on my mind and i think vaguely of a slingshot principle which accelerates the satellite using gravity.
nineteenthly, Jun 30 2008
  

       //were you also shocked to find out that there are people out there who have half-built aerospike engines in their basements?//   

       I was. Very.
wagster, Jun 30 2008
  

       //One giant leap for a man, one small step for mankind.//   

       [marked-for-tagline]!
pertinax, Jun 30 2008
  

       //gravity can be used to accelerate an object, and so maybe the slingshot effect can be used in the upper atmosphere if it's at the right angle.// I see your argument, but I'm pretty sure that whatever you gain from the fall you will have already paid for in getting it up there in the first place. I suspect that the fundamental problem is that the projectile and the earth both start out with the same velocities.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 30 2008
  

       I did think there'd be some kind of conservation of energy problem, but i didn't know what it would be.   

       Then again, and this is probably where i leave the shores of sanity, the orbital velocity of this planet around the sun is greater than its escape velocity, so were there a way to use that fact without leaving the atmosphere, it'd be nice, wouldn't it?   

       Maybe you could just hang around until an asteroid hits us and hope it pings a coin into orbit.
nineteenthly, Jun 30 2008
  

       (I think that) unless your speed was greater than escape velocity to begin with you would end up being captured by your slingshot (either in orbit ... or a crater)
FlyingToaster, Jun 30 2008
  

       //the orbital velocity of this planet around the sun is greater than its escape velocity// You mean that the orbital velocity of the earth around the sun is greater than the escape velocity of an object from the earth? Yes, but that's not the point - all that's relevant is the velocity of the satellite and the earth relative to one another.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 30 2008
  

       I see that, but the thing is, it seems a shame that that fact is completely useless.
nineteenthly, Jun 30 2008
  

       Quite so. Even worse is the fact that we, along with our sun, are whizzing around the centre of the galaxy at a truly preposterous rate, and our galaxy in turn is doing quite a respectable turn of speed with respect to the centre of the universe, yet it's bugger all use to us.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jun 30 2008
  

       <raises hand>   

       Stupid question here; if the Sun was directly above the launch would its gravitational attraction make it any easier to escape the Earths gravity well, or would the effect be negligible?   

       That is a very good question. I can give plausible answers in either direction:   

       1) The effect will be small but definite. Just as the sun contributes to tides by lifting the mobile part of the earth's surface (the water) toward it, so there would also be a small but definite boost to a spacecraft. The same would be true on the opposite side of the earth, just as a second high tide occurs there. But the greater overall effect would come from the moon.   

       2) The effect will be non-existent. Yes, the sun (and the moon) pulls things toward it. However, it pulls equally on the earth and on the rocket (mass for mass) and therefore there'll be no net effect.   

       Now, the problem is to decide which answer is correct.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 01 2008
  

       The launch vehicle is orbiting the sun at the same speed as the earth. In this orbit the inward gravitational pull is balanced out exactly by outward acceleration. If you want to take advantage of the gravitational pull of the sun, you will need to decelerate.   

       You might argue that if you launched in the daytime you should launch against the direction of earth's orbit so that your launch velocity will be subtracted from your orbital velocity around the sun. This will decrease the outward acceleration of the orbit and allow some of the pull of the sun to take effect, moving you away from the earth. Similarly, if you launch at night you should launch with the earth's orbit, so that your launch velocity is added to the solar orbit velocity and you accelerate away from both the sun and the earth.   

       I expect there are more important factors though.
wagster, Jul 01 2008
  

       //2) The effect will be non-existent [etc.]//   

       If we go with hypothesis 2, could we not argue with equal force that the moon pulls equally on the earth and on the sea (mass for mass), and that tides are therefore caused by nereids playing tug-of-war?   

       If so, would this be a point against hypothesis 2 or in favour?
pertinax, Jul 01 2008
  

       So we are looking to be in the umbra of a total solar eclipse (moon and sun directly aligned), preferably close to the equator, at the perihelion, before 2011. <rushes off to check mayan calendar>.
4whom, Jul 01 2008
  

       Mmmm, I'd have to go with (2) because like wags said we are already in orbit around the sun.
The moon though, being in orbit around us might give a bit of pull.
  

       What about a spring tide (i.e. perigee) close to perihelion? Teeny, teeny differences.
nineteenthly, Jul 01 2008
  

       [EDIT!!!!! date changed to 15th November!! Invite is still open if anyone's in the UK.]   

       If anyone is likely to be in, near, around or in the vicinity of Cambridge (don't ask me which one!) on Sept 27th [NOW 15th NOV] , I'm organising an N-Prize dinner at one of the colleges. There's likely to be room for one or two more and, since the whole thing started here, I'd be honoured if any of you would care to join us. Dinner and drinks are on me - first come, first served! Email me at info@n-prize.com if you're interested.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 05 2008
  

       At the risk of gratuitous churning, just a brief update: there are now 15 teams signed up and, although the first impressive injury has yet to be suffered, hardware is being built. Some pics, links, news etc on the N-Prize site and on the Google group linked from there. Thanks again to the HB for gestating this idea.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 22 2009
  

       First time I've seen this. Good luck with the croissantnic thing.
bigsleep, Jan 22 2009
  

       SO impressed! Kudos [MaxwellBuchanan], [jutta], Halfbakery...   

       (Did I miss anybody?)
Wily Peyote, Jan 22 2009
  

       Kudos not to Maxwell Buchanan, but to Jutta, to Wagster (for building the N-Prize site and making it real), and above all to the teams who have devoted huge amounts of thought, effort and money (and, in due course, eyebrows and fingers).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 22 2009
  

       Yes, [MB]: thank all!   

       It's good to know that this Forum (Halfbakery) is relevent to the world and matters...
Wily Peyote, Jan 22 2009
  

       Whoa there! The N-Prize organizers deny all claims of relevancy!
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 23 2009
  

       I'm enormously impressed, [MaxB]. And you've got two teams from New Zealand - very interesting.
hippo, Jan 23 2009
  

       Thanks [hippo]. New Zealand probably has the highest density of N-Prize teams after the UK! Kudos to the NZ teams (one kudo each).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 23 2009
  

       I make New Zealand (pop.: 4,173,460 - N-Prize teams: 2 - N-Prize teams per 10m people: 4.79) to be about 10 times as enthusiastic as the UK (pop.: 60,943,912 - N-Prize teams: 3 - N-Prize teams per 10m people: 0.49)
hippo, Jan 23 2009
  

       Hippo, I bow to your analysis.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 23 2009
  

       Are any teams getting close yet?
Germanicus, Mar 18 2009
  

       I just put a Shekel on a bean sprout. I promise to notify as things happen.
pashute, Mar 18 2009
  

       (clever weather balloon space story linked)
hippo, Mar 19 2009
  

       [up on cloud 9] BTW, there is one unofficial HB N-Prize Team, though it's almost just me, Team Daedalus and I'm looking for help. Weirdly enough there is also another team which is baking an idea I posted here. Team Prometheus is trying to bake my "Rockeloonannon", though he honestly doesn't seem to have read it. I guess insane minds think alike.
MisterQED, Mar 19 2009
  

       Actually my plan is completely modular and centers around small complex objects linked together with large low tech objects, with the idea that one person could make several copies of one system and another could make several copies of another, etc. and once you get enough systems together, everybody exchanges and builds their own rocket. Sell the parts after as a kit. The key is to concentrate the tech with an eye for mass production.   

       The keys are a small pump driven bi-prop rocket (similar to Project Mockingbird), an optical/magnetic guidance system (similar to those developed for HARP rockets) and a homemade zero-pressure balloon assembled using low cost plastic sheeting heat welded together in the shape of a sphere and filled with hydrogen from water electrolysis.   

       Team Daedalus   

       "Making wings so everyone can fly"
MisterQED, Mar 19 2009
  

       <Behind on responses - have been in San Diego and in the air for the last 24 hours>   

       [Germanicus] nobody has an imminent launch of a full mission, but several teams have some hardware already built. Most of the teams have their own websites with updates, and these are linked (under "Teams") from the N- prize site.   

       [humanzee] No offense taken :-) I know David Livingstone said he drops by the site sometimes, but whether he has an account I'm not sure.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 20 2009
  

       Arising from another HB idea (see link), I wonder if a glorified spud-gun, say 100m tall, would give a useful boost to an N- Prize rocket before its own motors kicked in? The gun itself is ground equipment, so its construction cost doesn't count towards budget. Of course we are not going to reach orbital heights this way, but it would be a nearly "free" boost for an otherwise conventional rocket.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 02 2009
  

       Before I checked the link, I thought the other idea you were referring to was the Fuel-Air Gun. I pictured a big vertical pipe, filled with diesel and air, with the spacecraft dropped in the top by crane.
Srimech, May 02 2009
  

       //I wonder if a glorified spud-gun, //
"Spuds in Space"
AbsintheWithoutLeave, May 02 2009
  

       // I pictured a big vertical pipe, filled with diesel and air,// Yes, that'd basically be it. The aim would simply be to give the rocket a headstart. I don't know what kind of velocities you could get from the gun, but maybe half a kps; a small part of the total velocity needed, but it's "free".
MaxwellBuchanan, May 02 2009
  

       I never thought of my idea being use for the n-prized but I suppose the principal is the same. What if you launched your rocket from a tube that was sealed by the rocket itself, so that the exhaust gases build up pressure behind it to give an added boost? I'm no rocket scientist but if you could make the tube long enough & strong enough this might work.
simonj, May 07 2009
  

       That sounds like a reasonable idea.   

       I know that the secret of rocket design is to get the exhaust velocities right so that as much as possible of the energy of the exhaust gases is translated into thrust, but I don't know the actual efficiencies, and your suggestion might help.   

       However, if you have the tube, why derive the compression from valuable (ie, carried) rocket fuel when it can come from cheap (ie, ground-based) fuel?
MaxwellBuchanan, May 08 2009
  

       I have been thinking long and hard about these so-called "invisibility cloaks". An arrangement of surfaces that direct certain waveforms around an object as if it were not there. (theoretically they have been applied to shore breaks). To me there exists the posibility of a structure, not tubular or cylindrical, that would deflect the resultant forces of a launch, into the most verticle plane. So far the geometries of these "invisible" structures apply only to microwave light (or more accurately, have been applied to microwave wavelengths) The studies want to drag them into the visible spectrum, but what if we go the other way, into sub/super sonic wavelengths.   

       I would wager another one of my delicious Macon hats (previous one still waiting to be devoured) that you could get great effeciaency from such an arrangement. The structure would be as energy complex to arrange as a stand alone cylinder x Km tall, but may add boost not by containment but also by re- addition of wasted forces.
4whom, May 12 2009
  

       You all are talking about HARP, firing a rocket from a cannon. It is cool and it works, but the cannon is no potato gun because the downsides are not overcome until you put some real push to the rocket.
MisterQED, May 13 2009
  

       One of the issues with shooting a rocket out of a gun is dynamic pressure.   

       Notice during a space shuttle launch they actually have to throttle the engines back at a certain point, while they go through "Max Q"; then at about 70 seconds after launch they're through that part and can go back to full on. (That "Roger, go at throttle-up" call that still gives me a little shudder every time I hear it)   

       Anyway, dynamic pressure on your rocket's airframe increases with velocity (I can't remember whether its the square or the cube, but it's one of those), and decreases as the air gets thinner. You'd think that it's just a problem for the Shuttle, with its weird shape and interflecting aerodynamic surfaces, but it can play havoc with an aerodynamically sleek & simple machine as well. For example, if you are old enough to remember the Saturn V launches, you may remember that it launched straight up. It was a long way up before they started to turn downrange. The point was to get above as much air as possible before the velocity got too high.   

       The Shuttle does its roll & tip manuver almost as soon as it clears the pad - it's actually a much more robust airframe. It's built to handle re-entry, which the Saturn rocket wasn't; and as rough as launch dynamics can get, they're nothing compared to re-entry.   

       Shoot your rocket out of a tube, and you get a very high velocity down in the thickest part of the atmosphere.
lurch, May 15 2009
  

       Does that mean you'd get away with a weaker (and cheaper) airframe if you launched from a weather balloon?
hippo, May 15 2009
  

       Hippo - yes, which is the basis of the "Rockoon" (rocket launched from a balloon, above most of the atmosphere) - see earlier discussions. (The main reason for a rockoon is avoid the high drag and hence reduce fuel usage in punching through the lower atmosphere, but I guess stress on the airframe is another consideration.)
MaxwellBuchanan, May 15 2009
  

       Yep. I fear we're going to end up with a pretty darn big launch platform, though...   

       (Actually, I think there's another reason to use this from a high-altitude launcher: up where the air is thin, you gotta be going at a pretty good clip before your fins start doing anything worthwhile. Shooting out of a tube means less time in a potentially unstable flight mode.)
lurch, May 15 2009
  

       has the thought of using the contents of the LTA launch platform as fuel been considered? As the vehicle departs the platform it could draw the contents of the lift vehicle through a hose into a special housing that fell off when the distance between the rocket and the platform was great enough. This could deplete the platform enough to allow retrieval.
WcW, Jun 12 2009
  

       You should contact the people in the link I posted, they might be interested in becoming a team.
marklar, Aug 02 2009
  

       Curiously I had this idea many moons ago: for the 50th anniversary of Sputnik to launch, via mass driver, a 1g payload to duplicate the 'beep-beep' for an orbit or two. Then state of the art made such a transmitter doable. The problem, I'm told, is length of antenna but this isn't insurmountable. My problem was getting access to enough electric power to juice a launcher; it's non-trivial.
Steamboat, Aug 10 2009
  

       for the payload, how about a stripped down cell phone? keep calling it and seeing which area code it's in!
quadmaster, May 23 2010
  

       One team is using an HTC phone running Android. It can track and store its entire flightpath using GPS.
wagster, May 25 2010
  

       // It can track and store its entire flightpath using GPS//
Seems unlikely - commercial GPS receivers can rarely exceed 20 000 metres and 1500 kph. OK for a balloon, but not an orbiter.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, May 25 2010
  

       Some teams websites are defunct.
bigsleep, May 25 2010
  

       A couple of problems, cell phones don't work over 2500m, cell phones don't weigh less than 19g, non-military GPS is legally limited by either speed or altitude. Most GPS chips are limited by both, the ones that are only limited by one are the ones usable by high altitude balloons. One of the teams has a military GPS and has used it to track their high altitude balloon launches.   

       Lastly I wouldn't want to use anything as overkill as a cell phone processor and OS in the harsh environment of the ignorosphere. PS I LOVE that term.
MisterQED, May 25 2010
  

       //cell phones don't work over 2500m//
They have altimeters now?
What about all those cell phone users in the Andes?
coprocephalous, May 26 2010
  

       GPS works by having a ground-based receiver pick up signals from three or more satellites and, by comparing the timing differences between signals from them, work out where it is. For the N-Prize, you could do a sort of 'reverse GPS' where you have a very simple signal source in orbit being listened to by three or more ground-based receivers which compare the timing differences between the signals they receive and work out where the source is.
hippo, May 26 2010
  

       Several of the teams (perhaps most) are using radio tracking more or less as [hippo] suggests. With decent receiving equipment on the ground, you can get away with ludicrously low transmitter powers, even if non-directional.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 26 2010
  

       //between 9.99 and 19.99 grams//   

       Rats. That ruins my plan to orbit a human soul, which is known to weigh 21 grams.
ldischler, May 26 2010
  

       [ldischler] Don't despair. McDougal's figure was the average of 6 souls, so there must have been some variation. You just need to find a small-souled person (won't be hard, I'm sure).
mouseposture, May 26 2010
  

       You could probably strip down a soul. It won't need a keypad, and you could probably even ditch the battery and use a lightweight solar panel instead.   

       BTW, 480 days to go and counting....
MaxwellBuchanan, May 27 2010
  

       // three or more ground-based receivers //   

       It's called Very Long Baseline Interferometry, and it's been used by radio astronomers for decades.   

       // strip down a soul //   

       Easy. Find a Roman Catholic and take all the guilt out - there'll be damn all left ...
8th of 7, May 27 2010
  

       Hey NASA is reading the HB? Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge - $2 million prize (link)
MisterQED, Jul 15 2010
  

       Yesssss, but they're launching ENORMOUS satellites (1kg, I think) and the prize money is wayyyy too big.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 15 2010
  

       Oh that's ridiculous. I was thinking more something like a swarm of flies with recording apparatus genetically engineered into them somehow.   

       Seriously though, i really did about doing it with a cloud of tiny machines which assembled in orbit, but they'd have to find each other.
nineteenthly, Jul 15 2010
  

       //cloud of tiny machines// It is interesting and covered in some detail in fiction, though I can't remember where at the moment. To get it to work, the machines need propulsion, so the only way I see that working on small scale is ultralight mechanical butterflies with solar sails for wings and a little solar cell for power. Basically you need graphene, then it becomes possible. Materials just don't scale down that far, they hit atomic limits.
MisterQED, Jul 15 2010
  

       Not sure about "that far" because tiny is not a precise term. I still think a balloon and so forth would have to be involved. If they're small enough, they could use solar sails above a certain height. Tardigrades could allegedly travel through space. Nineteen grammes of desiccated tardigrades?
nineteenthly, Jul 15 2010
  

       19.99, in fact. However, you'll have to get them all to shout in unison, so you can track them from Earth...
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 15 2010
  

       //cloud of tiny machines// //ultralight mechanical butterflies//   

       You only need one, a whole cloud could have devastating consequences.
bigsleep, Jul 15 2010
  

       A thought then:   

       Rockeloonannon using the hydrogen of the balloon as fuel (needs oxygen then though, adding to the mass). This shoots up a pellet which can transmit a signal, in the centre of a large Maltese cross of silver leaf, black on one side with reinforced edges. It manoeuvres itself to face the sun, which it then uses to accelerate by starlight, but diagonally upwards so that it gets above the ionosphere. Once there, the silver cross becomes slightly parabolic and aims towards the ground. The pellet in the centre transmits a signal which is focussed onto the surface.   

       Lots of missing thought there as usual.
nineteenthly, Jul 22 2010
  

       Yeeees..still, nice.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 22 2010
  

       Very cool, but it's going to have to be REALLY light or have REALLY big wings to make the turn to make a decent orbot, but this basic design is the future. All we need is graphene sails and some nanofiber stays. If you can create a craft where the solar pressure exceeds the gravitational force from the sun, you can go anywhere.
MisterQED, Jul 22 2010
  

       Since I'm in a calculatey mood, I just worked out how much energy (gravitational potential energy plus kinetic energy) a 10 gram satellite has.   

       It's about 250,000 Joules.   

       This is the energy available from burning one teaspoon of petrol.   

       Who knew?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 22 2010
  

       Well in that case, it could be pedal-powered. Get some kind of pedal-powered dynamo, link it to a maser and aim that maser at the satellite. Sit there in the middle of a field pedalling like mad while the beam shoots up into the stratosphere mere centimetres from your head, gets picked up by a microwave detector and ~somehow~ converted into thrust.
nineteenthly, Jul 23 2010
  

       In fact the Uzbek Amateur Rocketry Society is currently doing exactly that.   

       "Faster, Ozman! Faster!"
wagster, Jul 23 2010
  

       That reminds me. Has anyone read the chapter in Patrick Moore's 'Can You Speak Venusian?' on the Zambian Space Agency? I have for once been unable to find a trace of information on the web about this, but i seem to remember they had a plan to go to the Moon in a craft made partly of frozen margarine to look for dinosaur fossils, and they were training cats in a barrel on the end of a chain which they swang to and fro in order to give them experience of zero gee. It was a bit strange really, and with hindsight reminiscent of advance fee fraud.
nineteenthly, Jul 23 2010
  

       //they had a plan to go to the Moon in a craft made partly of frozen margarine//   

       We should invite them over. They'd fit right in here.
wagster, Jul 23 2010
  

       I thought that.   

       I've actually come back here because i just watched a video of a quarter-tonne upright piano being flung a hundred and thirty-five metres into the air with a trebuchet. I'm sure it wouldn't scale up, but if it did, that would catapult a ten gramme projectile into space. Has that got possibilities, do you think?
nineteenthly, Jul 23 2010
  

       That would work. You'd have to get the trebuchet itself travelling at something like 7.95 kilometres per second, but then it could provide that extra 0.05kps.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 23 2010
  

       Back to unfurliness then. Actually no. A rocket-powered trebuchet on rails.
nineteenthly, Jul 24 2010
  

       Er, what if six teams get together, buy one of Interorbital's TubeSats [xaviergisz's link of Aug 02 2009] and release their nanosats from it? Budget and payload seems about right.   

       Also, see theregister.com's slightly misnamed PARIS [link] - Paper Airplane Released Into Space.
BunsenHoneydew, Jul 29 2010
  

       //I'm sure it wouldn't scale up//   

       But for one thing - air resistance.
wagster, Jul 29 2010
  

       //Er, what if six teams get together, buy one of Interorbital's TubeSats [xaviergisz's link of Aug 02 2009] and release their nanosats from it? Budget and payload seems about right.//   

       Nothing prevents that apart from the rules. "A launch" means the full cost of everything that leaves the ground and doesn't come back in one piece, regardless of how many satellites it carries, or how many teams are paying. Basically, no piggybacking.   

       There's nothing to stop a team from putting six satellites on their rocket (for redundancy), but the total cost of the launch still has to be within budget.   

       Incidentally, we're filming for a mini-documentary with Heinz Wolff in a week - watch out for it on YouTube (and hopefully elsewhere) later.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 29 2010
  

       //Basically, no piggybacking.//   

       Ah. So one could not, for example, hitch a ride aboard SpaceShip Two, because the expendable cost of the launch as a whole (fuel etc) is (undoubtedly) over budget?   

       And if one were to hitch a ride on some other high altitude craft - say a research balloon - the expendables budget for the entire, combined launch (their mission + yours) is the crucial limit?
BunsenHoneydew, Jul 29 2010
  

       //And if one were to hitch a ride on some other high altitude craft - say a research balloon - the expendables budget for the entire, combined launch (their mission + yours) is the crucial limit?//   

       Indeed so.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 29 2010
  

       Wow. Our latest signup for the N-Prize has something of a head start, having launched a hybrid rockoon to about 60km wayyyyy back in 1997! (see link).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 30 2010
  

       Ooops - thanks [csea]. Fixed.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 31 2010
  

       What's their team name on the website?
BunsenHoneydew, Aug 01 2010
  

       I'm waiting to get their papers back - they'll appear at the bottom of the list soon...
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 01 2010
  

       Exciting, isn't it!
gnomethang, Aug 01 2010
  

       It is! A few years ago, I couldn't even spell "Space Agentcy" - now I are one!!
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 01 2010
  

       I may have already said this, but I love this idea, and the fact that it has made it's way to the Real World. Quite why I haven't purchased a t-shirt yet I don't know.
kaz, Aug 01 2010
  

       //Quite why I haven't purchased a t-shirt yet I don't know.//   

       Well, the fact that CafePress charge an arm and a leg would be a good one. But glad you like it :-)   

       Am filming an interview with Heinz Wolff the day after tomorrow, arranged by Wag and those very nice people at pictureandword.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 02 2010
  

       An update! Team Prometheus today reached 106,400ft with their high-altitude balloon, as a test of some components of their rockoon scheme. Payload was successfully recovered - look for updates on their Twitter, Facebook and websites.   

       Congratulations Prometheus!   

       We also have a new recruit - our 25th team - from MIT. Hyperdyne are planning an ultra-high-velocity gun launch, and they have the hardware to back it up.   

       Video with Heinz Wolff is currently in editing.....watch this space. No, better, watch YouTube.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 04 2010
  

       This is so cool.   

       I am genuinely overwhelmed, and hugely proud of Prometheus and of all the N-Prize teams. Soon...soon...
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 04 2010
  

       Big up for putting your money where your mouth is [MB]!
All looks exciting from here.
gnomethang, Sep 04 2010
  

       Believe me, if I get to give away the prize money, I'll be over the moon. So to speak.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 04 2010
  

       This is a field in which I'm not even qualified to wave my hands and bluff, but I'm just passing through here because I wanted to offer my deep respect to everyone participating in this enterprise.   

       Oh, and because there's a scary bull in the next field.
pertinax, Sep 07 2010
  

       Team Prometheus (who are using a rockoon approach from a spinning balloon-mounted launcher) tested their balloonery, telemetrys and other rys this weekend, and have photos and footage from 106,000ft.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 07 2010
  

       //...from 106,000ft// - or 32 km!! - this is getting exciting
hippo, Sep 08 2010
  

       It is indeed! And that's just the first-stage balloonic part. Prometheus made a lot of noise when they first signed up, but have now become one of the leading entrants. They have a really cool lightweight launch cradle for the rocket, which spins up before ignition to give stability to the rocket as it launches from the balloon. I believe their next test flight includes a from-balloon rocket launch....
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 08 2010
  

       At the risk of being justifiably accused of elf-promotion, can I direct interested parties to the N-Prize video (link) on YouTube?   

       Heinz Wolff is magnificent. Unfortunately they got some weirdo called Paul Dear to co-star. Still, win some lose some.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 15 2010
  

       Nice one MB! How did you get hold of the great man?
gnomethang, Sep 16 2010
  

       //How did you get hold of the great man ?//   

       I don't think he was the real one. Just a Clarkson lookalike.
bigsleep, Sep 16 2010
  

       Good stuff. Nice work [MB].
{In fact, tremendous work all round.}
Jinbish, Sep 16 2010
  

       [Max]You should alert New Scientist and get another small news item out of this.
hippo, Sep 16 2010
  

       [Hippo] Wagster and the most excellent pictureandword team are handling press releases, including N.S.   

       And thanks again to all. This is the most fun I've had outside a lab!
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 16 2010
  

       Hello, [Jinbish]; same bull, then?
pertinax, Sep 19 2010
  

       Great video - Congratulation from my side too !
gutemine, Sep 19 2010
  

       Thanks, [gutemine]. Sorry I didn't get to mention the space hose!   

       The N-Prize ends in 365 days, 12min. As of....now.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 19 2010
  

       Matthew 19:30
gutemine, Sep 19 2010
  

       He's late.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 19 2010
  

       Bizarrely, the title of this idea (or at least of the N-prize itself) may change - the X-Prize's lawyers have politely contacted me regarding trademark infringement. Watch this, ah, space.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 30 2010
  

       Have you pointed out to their lawyers that X is both written and pronounced differently from N?
pocmloc, Oct 30 2010
  

       Bastards.
What, have they trademarked the word Prize now?
  

       A-prize, B-prize, C-prize, D-prize, E-prize ... after that I tired of Googling. Their attorneys must be pretty busy "politely contacting" people.   

       In fairness to Ansari, though, they could lose the trademark if it could be shown that they failed to defend it.
mouseposture, Oct 30 2010
  

       Maybe change the 'N' to 'Not a trademark infringing" or "Nano, but not the Nasa one " or "Not over £1000 to Space". And bastards!
bigsleep, Oct 30 2010
  

       Yeah, well. The main problem is that they have more lawyers than me (the maths on that is fairly simple).   

       Actually, the lawyer who contacted me is Nick, so we could call it the Nick Prize, maybe.
MaxwellBuchanan, Oct 30 2010
  

       //they have more lawyers than me// And so, Justice is served.
Specifically, Justice is spared the expense of a trial. As taxpayers, we should rejoice.
mouseposture, Oct 30 2010
  

       Mean Spirited Bastards!
gnomethang, Oct 30 2010
  

       Presumably, their complaint is based on the assertion that your name is derived from theirs, which the history of this idea clearly demonstrates that it is.   

       I think that your best defence would be that in the spirit of the X-Prize, using competition to encourage technological advances, they should embrace your ingenuity and applaud all such competitions.   

       Also, you may wish to suggest a collaboration and perhaps an extension to your current program to include the Automotive N-Prize, creating a cheap car that meets some criteria. This would make the N-Prize a launch vehicle if you will, for those not able to compete in the better-funded X-Prize, so schools would enter the N-Prize and universities would enter the X-Prize.   

       Otherwise, change the name completely to something like The Shatellite Competition.
marklar, Oct 31 2010
  

       //The Shatellite Competition//   

       Misread that as 'Shatner Lite Competition'. "To badly go where no hobbyist has gone before."
bigsleep, Oct 31 2010
  

       I say fight it, MB. Even if you lose, the publicity value could outweigh the legal costs.   

       The X-prize people have sent this as an automatic precautionary measure. *If* they ever decide to pursue this, they need evidence (such as the letter you received) that they gave you fair warning etc.   

       There are two avenues that they could take (that I can think of). Firstly, there is trademark infringement which requires that a reasonable person would be confused about whether the X-prize and the N-prize are run by the same organization. Secondly, there is trademark dilution (in the US) which protects famous trademarks from having their distinctiveness being 'diluted'; this may be easier to prove in this case.   

       One simple thing you can do before getting in too deep is to put a disclaimer on the website that says N-prize is in no way affiliated with X-prize (you might already have this, I haven't checked).   

       Anyway, talk to a trademark attorney before making any decisions.
xaviergisz, Oct 31 2010
  

       You could always claim it was a spelling mistake, because as a way of levering money out of the gullible entrants, it should have been called the N-Prise.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Oct 31 2010
  

       Go over the lawyer's heads. Write to the X Prize Foundation itself - starting right at the top - and ask them politely for their forbearance.
BunsenHoneydew, Oct 31 2010
  

       Saw this in Popular Mechanics today -- nice!
DrWorm, Nov 18 2010
  

       Just a thought:   

       EX N-Prize or SUR-Prize
Ling, Nov 19 2010
  

       //Saw this in Popular Mechanics today -- nice!//   

       Have you got a link? Is there a new piece on the N-Prize in PM?
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 19 2010
  

       There was a one-page feature on "small-scale engineering contests" or something like that. The N- prize was one of four, I think. They designed a snazzy logo/symbol for your! I'll see if I can find it- -it might not be online.   

       EDIT: It's actually in Popular Science December 2010, page 26 in a small article called "Fortune Favors the Geeky: Five contests that recognize science achievements of the everyman." You're mentioned by name. It isn't a long feature - there are maybe three paragraphs, but still, it's pretty cool.
DrWorm, Nov 19 2010
  

       Ah - right! Someone got in touch with me a while ago about writing this piece. If anyone can find it online, that would be wonderful. Or, if you can email me a scan (info@n- prize.com), that would be even wonderfuller. Thanks for spotting it!
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 19 2010
  

       I linked to an online version of the magazine, you can see it there.
DrWorm, Nov 19 2010
  

       I wonder if the N Prize came about from a boast I made on the halbakery. Probably not, but the timing seemed right in my mind.   

       I don't want to send some remote control robot to Mars anymore. I want to go personally. I grok the lava tubes now. I would like to bolt up aluminum walls and heat seal the seams of 6 mil plastic on those frames and then expansion foam seal the wall cavaties.   

       A hotel could be set. Up in pretty short order doing this. Half star, but better than none!   

       Ii don't
Zimmy, Nov 22 2010
  

       //I wonder if the N Prize came about from a boast I made on the halbakery.// Were you the one who said something like "you can pay $50000 to get a satellite to orbit these days"?   

       I think it was a comment something like that that was near the start of the conversation.   

       God I wish I had time for N-Prize stuff. I think Monroe/Prometheus is launching his first high altitude rockeloon soon.
MisterQED, Nov 22 2010
  

       I think what set it off was something about homesteading on the moon...
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 22 2010
  

       ...drugs might have been involved. Or whiskey...
methinksnot, Nov 22 2010
  

       MQED. Yes. I had done some reseach on costs, though.
Zimmy, Nov 24 2010
  

       A merry happy, and a Christmas New Year to all reckless rocketeers from the N-Prize. <link>
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 24 2010
  

       I expect the New Years fireworks to be particularly good this year. "Doh! Weren't we supposed to save that one for something?".
bigsleep, Dec 24 2010
  

       I'm not sure this has been said yet, but the N-Prize is arguably a lot more about actually doing useful stuff in space than the X-Prize. The key difference is that, as far as I understand it, the X-Prize only asks that the winner reaches an orbital (or near-orbital) altitude, whereas the N-Prize asks that the winner demonstrates some orbits. A lot more energy is required, per kg, to insert something into orbit than simply to carry it to orbital height so this difference is significant. The N-Prize thus comes out looking more serious about space because, of course, an orbiting spacecraft is more useful than one which reaches orbital height for a few seconds.
hippo, Jan 04 2011
  

       Thanks Hippo - I naturally agree!   

       Also, the X-Prize is really not asking for anything new. We already know you can put things up there if you spend the money. The N-Prize demands a very restricted budget, which means you can't do things the old way. I think this aspect is probably more important than the distinction between sub-orbital and orbit.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011
  

       I thought the X-Prize had a budget of $1M per launch, which is peanuts compared to NASA.   

       I think each are admirable. The X-Prize for making space travel a commercial possibility and the N-Prize for putting space within the realms of the garden shed.
marklar, Jan 04 2011
  

       For a million dollars, it's no problem. But, agreed - both good.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011
  

       My favourite thing about the N-prize is the constraints. It's 'proper' engineering.   

       <aside>Reminds me of one of my favourite bits in flim: "Apollo 13", top boffin enters room and challenges the others to make a CO2 scrubber - then tips out a box of sundry items available to the imperilled astronauts "using only this".</aside>
Jinbish, Jan 04 2011
  

       I love that bit too!   

       Oddly, my science (I mean my day job) has gone the same way. I've gone back to good old geeky scrapyard methods to put together a bit of kit.   

       It's quite amazing really, the cost disparity between the same thing in different contexts. A $60 micrometer contains a rotary encoder accurate to a degree or better, and all the drivers and whatnot. Yet if you try to buy a rotary encoder, it's silly money.   

       Likewise for lots of other stuff. My single-molecule sequencing system is going to wind up containing bits from dead game controllers, blu-ray DVD players and dead [optical] mice...
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011
  

       All you need now is to be trapped in a barn/warehouse surrounded by inept guards and some makeweight, plot-moving joe-schmoes that you need to save from the clutches of a mad-man (anyone seen [8th] about?).
Jinbish, Jan 04 2011
  

       Actually that's pretty much how it is.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011
  

       ...except you must make a profit!
methinksnot, Jan 09 2011
  

       Sp.: profiterole. I'm actually developing a microfluidic device which create micron-diameter profiteroles at a rate of approximately 5000 per second. The main problem is the high viscosity of the cream and the tendency of the chocolate to set in mid-flow.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 10 2011
  

       And your microfluidical device can't cost more than 10k?
methinksnot, Jan 10 2011
  

       Depends on demand. We're currently doing consumer research to determine how much disposable income protozoans are willing to spend on luxury foods.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 10 2011
  

       //Depends on demand//
Demand schmemand. It'll have to be under 10k or you would not qualify for the P-Prize.
methinksnot, Jan 10 2011
  

       Ah. I see two errors in your thinking. First, the Microfluidic High-Speed Profiterole Generator (or MHSPG, as our marketing department have decided to call it after several weeks of alcohol-fuelled research) is not intended to go into orbit. Hence, it is tragically not eligible for the N-Prize.   

       Second, the N-Prize prize is £9,999.99, but the budget which can be spent on the launch is a mere £999.99 (just to make it a little less easy).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 10 2011
  

       Have you a price tag in mind for the MHSPG ? I'm thinking you could use it in a 3D printing rig to make edible toy cars etc.
bigsleep, Jan 10 2011
  

       Forget it. We've tried printing 3D arrays of picoprofiteroles at high density. Let's just say... actually, no, let's just leave it there.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 10 2011
  

       Ok. I was just hoping I could start a business making lunch vehicles for under £999.
bigsleep, Jan 10 2011
  

       Ah. I see two errors in your thinking. First, this is not the N-Prize, it's the P-Prize. The rules of the P-Prize are very clear in that a picoprofiterole generator, or picoprofit generator for short, can cost up to £9,999 (it is vastly more costly to generate picoprofits than to put a small object into low-orbit), the prize itself is a glass of warm milk.   

       And B, I'll get back to you on this later.
methinksnot, Jan 10 2011
  

       Just a quick note to say that the N Prize garnered a mention (quite a decent paragraph, actually) in the New Zealand 2011 Astronomical Yearbook. They even got the details right! (I've found a couple of errors in the Yearbook already...)
neutrinos_shadow, Jan 11 2011
  

       Yay! The Kiwis have a pretty good representation amongst N-Prize teams. This might be because the only regulatory requirement for launching a rocket in New Zealand is to yell "WATCH OUT!!" shortly before lift-off.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 11 2011
  

       Y'know, that, right there, is an argument for minarchy.
mouseposture, Jan 11 2011
  

       'minarchy'? What's that then, rule by Minotaur?
DrBob, Jan 12 2011
  

       We have conquered the New World - a Brazilian team has signed up.   

       But where are the Russians? Or indeed the Chinese? Are they all sane or something?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 13 2011
  

       No - it's just that they don't want to enter a competition - that could be the slippery slope to free market economy...
Jinbish, Apr 13 2011
  

       check N-Pÿize, and N-Plize :-)
4whom, Apr 15 2011
  

       // check N-Pÿize, and N-Plize//
djinn'n'tonyx anyone?
gnomethang, Apr 17 2011
  

       P-Prize...is that the (in a strangely parallel way) one to see who can get it highest up the wall?
not_morrison_rm, Apr 19 2011
  

       Actually, before you try to register anything of the form "single-letter-hyphen-Prize", you ought to discuss with the owners of the X-Prize foundation...
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 19 2011
  

       These/those who have taken on the n prize challenge, they are all using helium balloons for 2nd stage launch platforms?   

       I had figured, roughly$ 50,000 to escape earth's gravity with the ability to land and that was with pro bono tracking support and landing a VERY small payload.   

       That cost estimate was based upon using a reusable high altitude balloon as a launch platform
Zimmy, Apr 21 2011
  

       Several teams are indeed launching from balloons, but not all. Budget-wise, £999.99 is close-run, but not quite impossible. Check out some of the teams (linked from the N-Prize website).
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 21 2011
  

       Mbuchanan,   

       I think a hydrogen, donut shaped balloon for the first stage was what I had imagined. Once the upper atmosphere was achieved, I wondered if quick compressors could trade lift for fuel without losing TOO much altitude. I wish I had the money to put up for this, but my new daughter makes it impossible.
Zimmy, Apr 23 2011
  

       One of the teams (Potent Voyager) were planning to recover hydrogen from the balloon for use as second-stage fuel.   

       The problem is that (a) the balloon actually contains very little hydrogen (imagine a 10m balloon at 100,000ft - the hydrogen density matches air pressure and is very very low) and (b) you have to compress the hydrogen into fuel tanks to be able to use it (or, in any case, it has to be delivered into the rocket engine at a pressure high enough to overocome that in the combustion chamber). But full marks for lateral thinking.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 23 2011
  

       //my new daughter makes it impossible//   

       {new daughter bursts into tears, as the entire responsibility for retarding the interplanetary destiny of the human race settles on to her tiny shoulders}
pertinax, Apr 25 2011
  

       //I wondered if quick compressors could trade lift for fuel//   

       I think the fuel or electricity required to compress the hydrogen would weigh too much for this to be practical.   

       You could maybe make a micro turbine that used some of the hydrogen to power the compressor (and also compressed air to burn with it).   

       A simpler use might be to burn excess hydrogen as the balloon rises to warm electrical components or heat the remaining hydrogen in the balloon.   

       Still, you're talking about a density of 1g per m3 at 100,000 feet (a 12.5m balloon for 1kg).   

       It's also worth considering the ideal rocket equation: delta V = exhaust velocity * ln (mass full / mass empty). You need a fast exhaust velocity, which (usually) means high density propellant.
marklar, Apr 25 2011
  

       Marklar, seeing comments-the hydrogen compression idea I had seems not well thought out. Pertinax, my daughter makes me wonder just how old she will be before she is measureably smarter than I am. For my own selfish reasons, I am hoping it's past her 10th birthday. Her brothers (10 now) seem pretty smart and I'm proud of them, but at times i'm. In awe of the little one.
Zimmy, Apr 27 2011
  

       // Pertinax, my daughter//   

       That is one fuck of a burden for a young girl to bear. What's her middle name?   

       //Her brothers (10 now) //   

       That is astonishing! The probability of that happening is only 1 in 1024. And your wife must be exhausted.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 28 2011
  

       /must be exhausted/   

       Probably she rested up in between. Unless they were conjoined.
bungston, Apr 28 2011
  

       //In awe of the little one.// I know how you feel.
pertinax, Apr 29 2011
  

       //The probability of that happening is only 1 in 1024// - tshhhh!! Buchanan! Pay attention there! - There are 11 siblings, [Pertinax]'s daughter and her ten brothers, and the probability of there being a single girl amongst eleven sibling is? Yes, boy? - Yes, 1/2048 - that's right!
hippo, Apr 29 2011
  

       They're not mine, they're [Zimmy]'s!
pertinax, Apr 29 2011
  

       This is getting as confusing as "He, whereas she had had had had, had had had."
marklar, Apr 30 2011
  

       [hippo] ah yes but, as I read it, the first 10 children were all boys, at a probabobility of 1 in 1024. (Of course, the probability of any sequence of 10 boys and girls is 1 in 1024; then again, the probability of having 10 children, let alone eleven, is vanishingly small.)
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 30 2011
  

       //the probability of having 10 children, let alone eleven, is vanishingly small// For a woman, yes.
mouseposture, Apr 30 2011
  

       For a man, it is simply zero.
pocmloc, Apr 30 2011
  

       Husbands, lately, have been saying "\emph{We're} pregnant" (emphasis added). The couvade'll make a comeback any day now.
mouseposture, Apr 30 2011
  

       Incidentally, I've just had my first, a girl, 2 days ago and she's already inspired a couple of ideas.
marklar, Apr 30 2011
  

       Congratulations [marklar]
FlyingToaster, Apr 30 2011
  

       // I've just had my first, a girl, 2 days ago and she's already inspired a couple of ideas.//   

       Yay! (I presume you're referring to a birth, not a sexual encounter.) Actually, Yay! either way.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 01 2011
  

       Thanks, [Wrongfellow] for spotting that (link)!
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 04 2011
  

       My thoughts on the prize.   

       yes to the rocoon.
but I would a warm air and water vapour system as devised by J P Domen. I'll post the link. a) because its cheaper and b) because I am going to suggest using it with a steam rocket. The water vapour balloon is a plastic balloon of of the constant pressure type, filled with a mixture of air and steam As noted elsewhere at the HB water vapour is a lot less dense than air, but tends to condense in condensing it gives up its latent heat, and the balloon goes up even faster.
  

       The steam rocket in this case consists of an externally heated cylinder of boiling vegetable oil (a chip pan) in to witch is pored water. We have probably all seen the safe videos about why you should not put water on a chip pan fire, now imagine the results of using a 15% hydrogen peroxide solution! Steam rockets have been around for a while, Evel Knievel used one when he failed to jump a hole in the ground. They are not much used because although they have a very high specific impulse,a lot of kick, they do not last long.   

       For tracking I would TWOC some of the worlds biggest radio telescopes and astronomers by broadcasting at a frequency of 1420.40575177 MHz aka 21 cm aka the waterhole.{twoc= take without the owners consent ) SETI and co will have to track your satellite. They may prosecute if they track it back to you.
j paul, Jul 04 2011
  

       Tricking SETI into tracking your satellite - brilliant!
Although, can they track fast enough to keep up with a LEO transmitter? (Just how many dishes around the world are SETI using?)
neutrinos_shadow, Jul 04 2011
  

       [j p] //although they have a very high specific impulse,a lot of kick, they do not last long// I think you mean they have a very high thrust, but a relatively low specific impulse; impulse is thrust integrated over time.   

       That condensation montgolfier is interesting. I was wondering about the weight of the condensed water, but that is neatly covered in the patent description.   

       Using a hydrogen balloon for lift, then burning the hydrogen as fuel, was discussed. It would be best to bring the oxygen aloft as a gas, too, either in a separate bladder, or (for simplicity) mixed with the hydrogen. Gaseous oxygen is (nearly) neutrally buoyant, but compressing it makes it negatively buoyant, decreasing overall lift to no purpose.
spidermother, Jul 04 2011
  

       //impulse is thrust integrated over time// and specific impulse is thrust per unit of propellant. It's a different measurement, it seems.
daseva, Jul 04 2011
  

       No, that would be specific thrust. Specific impulse is impulse per unit of propellant.
spidermother, Jul 04 2011
  

       Specific impulse may be the wrong words. But its still, its a lot of kick.
j paul, Jul 06 2011
  

       People, this isn't rocket science.   

       No, wait.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Jul 06 2011
  

       [Maxwell] Said: //Fire your object at an existing satellite, and make it stick to it.// Not allowed, alas. Your device has to be self-contained and self-sufficient, and can't piggyback on anything during the launch or orbit.   

       What if the satelite you attach to is a piece of know space junk? Transfering momentum from the junk to the satelite will cause the junk to de-orbit sooner, but hopefully it would make it 9 more times around. Considering the prevalence of space junk and the usefulness of cleaning it up, it seems like this would meet the spirit of the N-Prize.   

       Not that I can think of a way to hit a piece of space junk with that budget.
scad mientist, Jul 16 2011
  

       If you latch on to something up there, then both the mass and the cost of whatever you latch onto will be counted...nice thought, though.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 16 2011
  

       Incidentally, do we have any halfbakers in Russia? Or China? Neither country has yet fielded a team...
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 16 2011
  

       Hypothesis: in China, the normal economy provides enough of that "wild west" feeling, and people don't feel so much the need for quixotic projects to express their engineering creativity.   

       Hypothesis (based only on a few articles in the lay press): In Russia, accomplishing anything means negotiating complex legal/bureaucratic obstacles (not necessarily by complying with regulations: possibly by bribing the right people). This might be so difficult that only the prospect of real profit justifies the effort.   

       or Hypothesis: the particular kind of silliness that's serious enough to overcome major engineering obstacles is not a human universal, but occurs only in certain cultures.
mouseposture, Jul 16 2011
  

       In my experience, Russians do half-bake things (and occasionally achieve genuine feats of outstanding, quixotic lone-nerdery), but with less of a sense of humour about them. Can't speak for the Chinese.
pertinax, Jul 17 2011
  

       This design is in the form of yet another rockoon. My “3R Circus”© design overcomes what I always saw as a major handicap to space launches by de-linking the thrust energy supplied by a rocket from the need to lift the mass of the rocket itself into high orbit. My contraption consists of 2 large rockets “A” and “B” and a small rocket “p” carrying the payload with all 3 rockets lifted as high as possible by balloon before ignition.   

       Rocket “A” faces upwards and has a small smooth ring fastened to the bottom part of its fuselage through which runs a lightweight, high-tensile line (Kevlar thread perhaps?). Rocket “B”, suspended just below Rocket “A” faces downwards with one end of the high-tensile line affixed to its fuselage. The other end of the line ends far below with another small ring attached. Hanging from this ring is payload rocket “p”. The hook on rocket “p” is angled so that the rocket hangs slightly canted.   

       When the whole contraption reaches maximum altitude and sensors in rocket “p” detect it happens to be facing east it emits a signal which releases the balloon and sets all three rockets firing. Rocket “A” goes up at velocity “x”. Rocket “B” goes down at velocity “y”. These two rockets are therefore separating from each other at velocity (x+y). The high-tensile line is drawn through the ring affixed to Rocket “A” which draws payload rocket “p” upwards at a rate of 2(x+y). Rocket “p” also has its motor firing to add its contribution to the vertical thrust but more critically supplies the Delta Vee towards the east and hopefully into orbit after it unhooks from the line’s end-ring.   

       The big rockets may well be recoverable through parachutes etcetera. Calculations of burn times and the distance travelled by rockets “A” and “B” before cessation of thrust would need to be done to determine the length of line needed in order to maximize utility. There may be small refinements such as delaying the firing of the payload rocket until moments before release. Please feel free to add any comments or suggestions (puns about having a small “p” in orbit are naturally obligatory).
AusCan531, Aug 10 2011
  

       Well, the first team to set a specific launch date is from Brazil, set for July 2012. Do we have any Brazilian halfbakers here?
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 10 2011
  

       At least - the first team to announce they've set a specific launch date. Others may be operating to the supervillain code: we'll only know when they've done it!
wagster, Dec 19 2011
  

       Good point. If any halfbakers are outside between now and September 2012, it might be wise to wear a hard-hat.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 19 2011
  

       //it might be wise to wear a hard-hat//
Good idea! It might hide the Secret Hat.
For anyone who might have one that is...
gnomethang, Dec 19 2011
  

       I don't.
wagster, Dec 25 2011
  

       me neither.
FlyingToaster, Dec 25 2011
  

       There's at least three of us then, or possible four, who don't have one.
gnomethang, Dec 26 2011
  

       In the absence of a hard-hat, the Norwegian armed forces recommend the following action for personnel likely to be struck by vertically-falling debris (this is loosely translated):   

       "Each person should, with the aid of a mirror and graph-paper, determine whether their head presents the smallest cross-section (a) in profile, (b) face-forward, or (c) when viewed from the crown of the head. When the alert is sounded, each person should either lie face-down, lie down but facing sideways, or remain standing, depending on whether they fall into category (a), (b), or (c) respectively."
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 26 2011
  

       and "stand on your head" isn't an option ?
FlyingToaster, Dec 26 2011
  

       //the Norwegian armed forces recommend the following action for personnel likely to be struck by vertically-falling debris//   

       Reindeer-shit.
bigsleep, Dec 27 2011
  

       No, that's not the Norwegians. The Finns used reindeer shit in defence against Soviet artillery during the Winter War. Of course, it's less effective against flat-trajectory guns firing armor-piercing rounds*, but what could they do? The vaunted Mannerheim line was incomplete, and they only had three tanks in their entire army.   

       *Not all that effective against howitzers or mortars either, really.
mouseposture, Dec 27 2011
  

       266 days left. I really have to get in gear.
MisterQED, Dec 28 2011
  

       Maybe less than that. One team has announced a launch date in July. As soon as I can get more information (including how serious contenders they are), I'll let people know.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 28 2011
  

       Less than 2 months to go.
AusCan531, Jul 22 2012
  

       Looks like the deadline has been extended by a year. Is there any reasonable prospect that the prize will be won?
xaviergisz, Sep 16 2012
  

       Yes, the deadline for existing teams is extended by one final year, but no new teams will be able to register after the imminent end of the previous deadline.   

       Will anyone do it? Well, out of 40+ teams, there are perhaps 10 serious contenders, of whom perhaps 3-5 have a chance of a successful launch within the new deadline.   

       If nobody wins it, I'll have a go myself after the close.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 16 2012
  

       //One of the teams (Potent Voyager) were planning to recover hydrogen from the balloon for use as second-stage fuel.//   

       |...........|
|...........|
|...|..|...|
|...|..|...|
\...|..|.../
  

       Referring to the above diagram, you could use Bernoilli to drag the hydrogen into your nozzle. The idea being that the rocket is inside the balloon and scavenges the hydrogen before bursting out.
bigsleep, Sep 16 2012
  

       Don't forget that any fuel has to be pressurized above nozzle pressure, either in the storage tank or by a pump.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 16 2012
  

       As the Officially Self-Appointed Public Relations Representative, I would like to formally announce the entry of Team Halfbakery into the competition. Given the origins of the N-Prize, it seems only fitting that there should be a “home team”.   

       (Don't worry, [Max]—if it comes down to us as the only team left in the running, feel free to go out and buy yourself something nice with the prize money.)
ytk, Sep 17 2012
  

       The first croissant in orbit... yes!   

       Actually, I'd assumed that Halfbakers were responsible for the Curiosity landing system...aerobraking, then parachutes, then a hovering rocket-sled with a winch to lower the thing to the surface...
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 17 2012
  

       No, you're thinking of the Custardy landing system.   

       Have I mentioned my 3-rocket circus idea lately?
AusCan531, Sep 17 2012
  

       //it seems only fitting that there should be a “home team”.//

Au contraire, ytk. Absolutely not. "We've got your practicality right here!"
DrBob, Sep 17 2012
  

       I hope the prize includes a croissant-shaped silver cup, suitably-inscribed.   

       Off topic, is your pet name 'Oh' by any chance? If not, it should be.
Phrontistery, Sep 20 2012
  

       Tshh-boom.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 20 2012
  

       Shameless bumping but I just had to tell someone, and you guys are the only ones awake at the moment: I just spoke to Buzz Aldrin! How awesome is that?? (OK, so I was a phone-in on a radio show, but I still spoke to Him.)
MaxwellBuchanan, May 13 2013
  

       Kudos. I hope you were drinking the right stuff tonight.
bigsleep, May 13 2013
  

       Hey, one kudo is plenty for me. Several kudos to Dr. Aldrin, though.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 13 2013
  

       O_O Wow.   

       which radio show... or to be more exact, where's the link ?   

       [later] found it... well, found where it should be in a day or two.   

       <pictures his Buchananess calmly typing "talked with Buzz Aldrin" suavely... while his feet tap out the Snoopy Happy Dance>
FlyingToaster, May 13 2013
  

       It's called The Space Show.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 13 2013
  

       Congrats - very cool. I, and presumably, Buzz appreciate the capital "H" in "Him".
AusCan531, May 13 2013
  

       That is too cool.   

       Indeed, the level of cool is excessive.
tatterdemalion, May 14 2013
  

       re: Paula from Seattle (who queried if the ISS is a waste of time vis-a-vis Buzz's "to Mars" plan), it's all good.   

       All those millenia spent puttering around in boats, whether for war or trade or just a race to see who can paddle their log to the big island and back the fastest, all lent themselves to Columbus' New World discovery.
FlyingToaster, May 14 2013
  

       Only a week to go.
What news of the Prize?
neutrinos_shadow, Sep 11 2013
  

       Well, as of today, there are probably 4-6 teams who are still seriously competing, but no winners as yet. I have (**STOP PRESS**) decided to remove the deadline, and leave the Prize (actually two prizes) open indefinitely for dreamers and irrealists around the world. The N-Prize website will be updated on or before the 19th to reflect this.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 15 2013
  

       [link]   

       I still think it would be a nice idea to add a donate button on the website, and let the prize fund accumulate.   

       Obviously, this would involve a bit of bureaucratic faff.
NotationToby, Sep 16 2013
  
      
[annotate]
  


 

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