Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The X Prize Foundation's LLC 2009 Statement

Moving forward, the concept of conducting a large common event at which all teams fly their vehicles is likely not financially sustainable for the Foundation. Additionally, the conduct of such an event imposes non-negligible expenses on our teams, who must not only transport themselves and their vehicles to the venue for the competition, but who also must complete their design process, their regulatory paperwork, and their procurement of insurance with not only their own "home facility" but also the competition venue in mind. As such, the fairest and most sustainable model may prove to be one where each team plays host to a crew of Judges and X PRIZE personnel at a facility of their choice.

Although the date of October is not written into the rules, we understand that there is an expectation among our teams that future attempts to win the prize will occur late in each calendar year. Accordingly, the X PRIZE Foundation is committed to providing all teams a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the 2009 contest, and to adjust to any changes made to the way the prize is offered.

The X PRIZE Foundation is committed to conducting the 2009 LLC in the fairest manner possible. The X PRIZE Foundation assures teams that all key decisions with regard to the timing, structure, and judging of this competition will be done in an open and fair manner by individuals with no conflicts of interest. As such, all final decisions about the 2009 event will be made by the Foundation's Senior Director for Space Projects, William Pomerantz, and Vice President for Prize Management, Cristin Lindsay, neither of whom have any financial relationship with any of the LLC teams. Additionally, any final decision will be made in conjunction with our partners at NASA. All X PRIZE and Judging staff who have an affiliation with any team, including secondary affiliations through financial investment in institutions who have business relationships with a team, will be recused from key decisions through the lifetime of the competition.

We look forward to working with all of our teams, and wish them all the best of luck as they pursue the remaining $1.65MM in prize money available as part of the Lunar Lander Challenge.

We look forward to working with the X Prize Foundation and will be watching for what the changes to the LLC will be. Will has always been a good guy to work with.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Little Update and Some Troubling News

We at Team Phoenicia got over our frustration with the manufacturing and funding issues and got back to work. We have more parts coming in. We're changing some of our suppliers and getting the parts from them reordered. We're also engaging some very helpful people for the fund raising. There's never ever enough money unless you're John Carmack. (Oh! Hi John!) We're looking for for October 2009.

Except...there may not be an October 2009.

We are hearing some disturbing rumors. In all probability this is a game of internet telephony and we are mishearing. However, what we are hearing is making us distinctly uncomfortable. The rumor is that the X Prize Foundation, due to the enormous cost of running the Lunar Lander Challenge in one fell swoop in October with all the teams is considering changing the format of the LLC to one like the original Anasari X Prize and the current Google Lunar X Prize: whoever does it first, wins. There's no big gathering. There's no big event. The X Prize Foundation and judges just show up at the team's locale for the flight and observe. Then they're done.

Which means any other team other than Armadillo is pretty much out of the running for taking the Level Two First Place. No one else is even close to ready for it. Period. Armadillo just has to sort out their valve issues and whambam they have the prize. If they don't get it by the first try, they have the money, the time and the experience to have it by next June.

It would make the Lunar Lander Challenge a success. A NewSpace start-up won the top slots and leveraged it into a real, honest to goodness space venture (suborbital tourism). That would make both the Anasari X XPrize and the subsequent Lunar Lander Challenge seeds for a completely new industry and prove the model for using prizes. However...and there is a however...it will not be the success that it could have been. Or rather it will be if the changes are not implemented.

Consider: the whole purpose of the LLC is to provide seeds for teams to grow from just building rockets for a competition and through that competition to gain credibility and experience to sprout into start-up space companies. This is what is happening Virgin Galactic. This is what is happening with the Armadillo-Rocket Racing League-New Mexico alliance. This is great. Let's make it better.

If that extra time for preparation, there is the chance - more than a chance! Has anyone been watching TrueZer0 and Unreasonable?! Or Masten? Or Speed Up!!! - that the other teams will catch up and be able to fly an exciting, interesting competition for the Level Two Lunar Lander Challenge. Then Paul et al and Todd & Scott et al, Bob and Dave - AND US!!! - will have time to build and fly a rocket in a sanctioned public arena with attention from media and the major players. This will build up their reputation as more than merely being tinkerers. Positive attention, especially for a start-up such as the NewSpace ones, with fresh blood - who is all of us here! - is especially hard to get.

By allowing the extra time to develop the rockets for the other teams and preventing the First Prize from being taken before October 2009, the X Prize Foundation allows the other seedlings, the other teams time to grow. They may or may not be grown enough to survive past October 2009, but at least they'll have had a creditable chance to have grown more credibly and be better prepared. The whole purpose of this competition is not just to give out the prize: it's to foster new development and sprout new companies. Let the LLC continue to do so. Let's not change the format.

Not yet.

Perhaps if no one gets in in October 2009, then change it to the first come, first serve, since the Prize will evaporate at the end of FY2010. John et al have had 8 years of metal bending to get to this point and Armadillo will still have its subortbital space tourism venture no matter what happens with the LLC, format change or no format change. Until its crunch time, let's grow the teams more and let's have the excitement build again for October. Then let's see the skies of Southern New Mexico flight up with the fires and smoke trails of not one, but several rockets. Let's see the scorch marks of not one, but many engines upon the launch pads. Then let's see, not one very hard working team be rewarded and acknowledged, but all of those that fly to the finish.

Impassioned speech over. Let's hope that its just internet rumor and we're just hearing a lot of dropped packets in our internet game of telephone. Rumors online are pretty strong stuff and in the blogosphere they pop up a lot. If it's not though, we sincerely hope the X Prize Foundation doesn't make this decision. From our point of view, it's a mistake. A pretty big one.

PS videos to come soon, we hope!