Earth, Wind & Water

Ramblings of an Earthling, Laserite and small boat sailor

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Race for Z-Prix Heats Up! May 4, 2034

Sailing in the second Space Age.

Excitement is building in the Z-Prix competition for the first solar sail propelled vehicle to leave the solar system, that is to cross the threshold known as the heliopause.  Surprising everyone but herself, the competition was sponsored by Ansari Dhuka, oil sheik, after an epiphany in the sun-scorched Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia.  For the subsidized price of $6m, teams are supplied launch services into low earth orbit.  From there, they must proceed propelled only by the sun, driven by enormous solar sails.  The teams are chasing a $10m prize for being the first to leave the solar system, and a consolation $6m prize for being the fastest, i.e. quickest voyage to deep space.  Spectators can check the progress of the race and solar weather reports at Here are snapshots of the four most serious entrants to the competition.

Icarus - Designed by a team of hot-headed Greek engineers, this audacious effort calls for a risky mission involving mind-bogglingly complicated orbit transfers and multiple, close flybys of the sun.  The flight plan is considered brilliant, but the red-hot rays may be just too dazzling for the space craft to survive its close encounters with the sun.  Sponsor: Onasis Odysseus, Greek Shipping Magnate. Odds: 10 to 1, but will surely shorten if the craft survives its first solar flyby next month.

Ufudu - Meaning tortoise in Zulu, this spacecraft is indeed slow but steady.  Blasting off in 2021, it was by more than a decade the first mission to launch. A simple system with a conventional mission plan.  Plodding ahead of their competition, they have already cleared Mars and the treacherous asteroid belt.  Co-sponsors: Marx Shuttlecock, South African IT wizard, famous supporting open source software and for being one of the first space tourists. Nicknamed "the Afronaut".  Oxen Musk, South African pioneer of electric cars and commercial space flight.  Odds on, hot favorite with the bookies. 4 to 3

Solntse - This Russian entrant is seeking to win the competition through sheer sail power.  Measuring 5 km in diameter, the mass of the sail exceeds the mass of the hull by a factor of 8 to 1.  Some have frowned upon the use of nuclear technology to power control and communication systems, where all other teams have relied on photovoltaic cells. The response from the design team has been, "Russian technology likes abuse! It's simple and robust.  Let's see how well those photovoltaic systems from the other teams work once they're out past the Kuiper Belt".  Scheduled to launch later this year.  Sponsor: Vladimir Khodorkovsky, heir of oligarch. Widely mocked for his perpetual tan and habit of strutting on Black Sea beaches. Odds: 20 to 1.

Sun Devil II.  Designed and built by students and faculty at Arizona State University, this is a solid-looking entry, sporting inflatable sails.  Currently making it's way out of earth orbit.  Multiple aerospace industry sponsors.  Odds: 2 to 1.

A writing project suggested by Tillerman

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