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Saturday, 03 May 2008 17:41

'œNines' have it for Nanosatellite space race: The N-prize

English biologist Paul H. Dear has proposed The N-prize, a race to put the first Nanosatellite in orbit for a cost of only 999.99 pounds (about US$2,000). Your first place prize is 9,999.99 pounds (about US$20,000).

The official website of the N-prize is: http://www.n-prize.com/.

On the page “What is the N-prize?” Dear defines the n-prize as “… a challenge to launch an impossibly small satellite into orbit on a ludicrously small budget, for a pitifully small cash prize.”

Dear asks the question on his website “Are we serious?” He answers simply: “Yes.”

Further, he states, “Surely it’s impossible.” Then, Dear adds, “Very nearly.”

No sugar-coating here. It's straight-talk. This honest talk may make it even more challenging for some adventuresome engineering types out there!

Here are some specifics of the contest.

On the “Where it all began” (Half-bakery ) webpage, Dear states, “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 9 [corrected from '99'] orbits or more before re-entry or loss) for a total cost of £999.99 or less. This is the cost of any non-reuseable components (ie, it need not cover ground facilities, recoverable launch hardware, etc). [corrected from 'the launch vehicle, payload, fuel, and any ground-based systems needed to support it, but'] and 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 9 [corrected from '99'] orbits. The cost of the detection is not part of the £999.99, and outside help may be recruited.”

Another requirement is that the tiny satellite be placed at least at an altitude of 99 kilometers (about 61.5 miles) above the surface of Earth.

(Who would have guessed such a number from Dr. Dear?)

Please read on to the next page for additional information on the N-prize.

Dear is requiring the satellite to just reach the boundary to outer space.

The widely accepted altitude of where space begins above the Earth’s surface is 100 kilometers (62.1 miles). This boundary is often called the Kármán line, which defines the approximate boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

This boundary line is accepted by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which is an international standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics.

Dear is a biologist at the Medical Research Council (MRC), of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The “N” in “N-prize” represents “Nanosatellite” or “Negligible resources.”

The nanosatellite must be placed in orbit before 19:19:09 on 9/19/2011 (September 19, 2011). (I’m assuming the time is local time in Cambridge, England.)

Dear stated in a chat with people at New Scientist (April 21, 2008): "Somehow, a bargain basement budget of 999.99 pounds just seemed right, and everything else followed - the edge of space is about 99 kilometres up, and nine orbits seemed like a reasonable target: any more would just be showing off.” [New Scientist: “Whimsical 'N-prize' to spur ultra-cheap space launches”]

However, Dear also stated that the probably that someone will be able to collect the first-place prize money is "well-nigh impossible.” He adds, "Your job is to work around that 'almost,'" [New Scientist]

Oh, that pretty much takes care of it. Now, guys, go off and do it.

As the title of the New Scientist article states, Dear's N-prize may just help to "spur ultra-cheap space launches"!

Note from author: Thanks Dr. Dear for your comments. I've made updates per his statement.


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