Organizations Announce Competition to Promote Research in Zero Gravity
"Decades of demonstrations have shown that the microgravity of space provides a unique window on biological and physical processes," says Art Dula, Trustee of the Heinlein Prize Trust. "Because of substantial recent funding by NASA and the private sector, access to microgravity will soon be more commonplace. This opens an incredibly exciting opportunity for the research community."
The Heinlein Prize Trust is a non-profit foundation which promotes the commercial uses of space. It provides financial prizes to commercial space entrepreneurs, enhances public awareness of commercial space, and uses space to inspire students about opportunities of the next frontier. SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of 10. With the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 vehicles, SpaceX says it offers highly reliable/cost-efficient light, medium and heavy lift capabilities for spacecraft insertion into any orbital altitude and inclination.
The winning experiment will be launched into Earth orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, the organizations say. NASA recently selected Falcon 9 / Dragon to transport cargo to the International Space Station.
The Microgravity Research Competition is open to U.S. universities and non-profits organizations with industry partners. The winning team will also get to witness the launch of their experiment from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
"SpaceX is excited to offer our Dragon spacecraft as a platform for in-space experimentation services to mainstream researchers," says Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and CTO. "We plan to fly 'DragonLab' missions starting in 2010 for this express purpose."
In space, there is no gravity-induced convection, sedimentation, hydrodynamic shear force, hydrostatic pressure, or mass transfer, according to the competition announcement. Experiments in microgravity can reveal novel mechanisms fundamental to cell processes, disease processes, and the adaptation of living systems to changes in physical forces, it says.
The announcement, available online, provides an overview of microgravity's practical applications and details on the competition. Proposals are due March 20.
The application and judging process will be supported by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. The winner will be announced April 18, at the Awards Banquet for the 2009 Rice Business Plan Competition hosted by the Rice Alliance.
"We very pleased to participate in this important competition," says Brad Burke, managing director, Rice Alliance, "because of the important role of commercializing the promising technology research and innovations."
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