#SC15HACK Team: Space Development Competitions

Group consisting of David Evinshteyn, Gregor Hartmann, and Nick Nielsen

The group discussed the (familiar) possibility of offering prizes to stimulate research, discovery, and achievement converging on spacefaring and interstellar goals. To make the pot big enough to be tempting, it was suggested that a large number of research universities might be persuaded to chip in a small portion of their endowment to create a new endowment independent of any one university, but which would be conferred upon the successful program in a competition for the pot of money. An alternative to university funding would be an appeal to wealthy donors whose names could be attached to long-term, large scale projects as a legacy and for prestige.

The emphasis would be on science-based missions that would return significant data. Among the possibilities were discussed placing a radio telescope on the far side of the moon, in the shadow of Earth’s radio noise, and a mission to the focal point of Jupiter (which represents a more current-technology doable project than a mission to the focal point of the sun, at 542 AU). The far side of the moon has a great many craters, which might be used to create radio telescopes by laying down wire mesh in a properly-shaped crater. Such a project might begin with a smallish crater and work its way up to larger radio telescopes. Further research would be necessary to determine whether the focal point of Jupiter would be a worthwhile project in its potential returns, and whether it is technological feasible to station a probe there. It was suggested that a polar orbit around Jupiter might make this possible.

It was also envisioned that a graduated series of missions, each more ambitious than the last, could continue to keep such a competition vital by always establishing new achievements. In order to spread the wealth around, a major project could be divided into distinct segments, individually the objects of competition — like defense department projects that keep major contractors in business by spreading around the building of major projects to more than one vendor. For example, a radio telescope on the far side of the moon could be divided into three segments: 1) the booster, 2), the lunar orbiter, and 3) the lander that would include the radio telescope itself.

In order to make this attractive, and the focus of research that would involve not only interested individuals but would draw in entire university departments in a spirit both of competition and achievement, the successful competitor would be promised funding for their project that would be ongoing for a period of time sufficient for a significant portion of the careers of individuals involved. Investigators would have proprietary access to data from the project for a given period of time, as an inspiration for students to devote themselves to an project that could define their careers in science and engineering.