Tech Talk: Just give me the prize

On Oct. 4, 2004, test pilot Brian Binnie piloted the Burt Ratan designed, Scaled Composites built spaceplane SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 70 miles to win the first Ansari X-Prize of $10 million for the first private company to fly a reusable spacecraft to an altitude of 62 miles twice in two weeks.

In doing so, the SpaceShipOne team also helped usher in the latest generation of prizes aimed at encouraging private companies, teams and individuals to develop, test and field technologies once limited to the manpower and budgets of governments and their big business contractors.

SpaceShipOne’s success eventually spawned a multi-billion dollar deal between Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson, who partnered to form Virgin Galactic, whose first passenger carrying space planes are scheduled to fly in 2011. It also opened the door for private, commercial space flight, with as many as 26 different private ventures racing to put everything from small satellites to people’s ashes into space.

While winning a prize for reaching the edge of space might seem like a goal outside the reach of the typical college student, it turns out that there are opportunities for anyone with a dream, some knowledge and the will to participate in prizes and contests at all levels of technology development, from developing new hardware and software using existing technologies to putting landers on the moon.

Over the next several weeks, Tech Talk will take a look at several of the organizations, prizes and competitions that are out there and will explore how even college students can get involved, compete and actually win.

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