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Carmack 100kft Micro Prize

The Carmack 100kft Micro Prize
In discussions on the mailing list aRocket of the relative difficulty of launching a rocket to 100,000 feet, John Carmack established a $5,000 prize for the first person or group to reach that goal.

This page logs the rules set up for that competition, and archives the text of the emails that established the prize and its rules. If someone registers a launch attempt or wins the prize, that information will be recorded here as well.

The Rules:

  1. The prize is $5000 USD, and has been augmented with a further $5000-$5500 by the people listed at the end of this page. The collection of the prize from each benefactor is up to the prize winner.
  2. The launch attempt must be registered by a post to aRocket at least 30 days prior to the attempt, with the following information:
    • A reasonable description of the vehicle
    • The launch location
    • The launch date
  3. The rocket must gain 100,000 feet from launch altitude using rocket propulsion.
  4. The rocket must record a GPS serial log of the flight with at least one report above 100,000ft plus the launch altitude.
  5. The rocket must be recovered essentially intact, the recovery system having functioned.
  6. The rocket must be recovered within 24 hours of launch.
  7. A report on the vehicle and operations must be made available on the web for posterity, with a level of quality suitable for publishing in a magazine. The report's author retains copyright.
  8. Good video of at least the launch must be shared. Ideally video is captured of the entire flight to recovery, but this is not required.
  9. If multiple stages are used, they must all be recovered successfully.
  10. Armadillo Aerospace is disqualified from the competition.
  11. The competition is judged by John Carmack.

Any revisions or additions to the rules will be recorded here.

Launch Attempts
As of late August 2011 no one has attempted a launch. Launch attempts in the near future registered on ARocket are:
RocketRocketeersLaunch LocationLaunch Date
FourCarbYenJim JarvisBlack Rock Desert, NV30 September - 2 October 2011
Qu8kDerek DevilleBlack Rock Desert, NV30 September - 2 October 2011
Proteus 7Curt Newport and Jeff TaylorBlack Rock Desert, Nevada, USA1-2 October 2011
Black StreakRobin HagueMull of Galloway, Scotland, UK1 September 2011

The Original Emails

February 22 2011, "[AR] Reality check"

The idea that you are going to launch a two stage Q to N rocket from a balloon and have some hope of it performing as expected is just insane. Big motors, staging, balloon ops, and long distance telemetry are all significant challenges, and they should not be initially attempted all together.

Go launch your Q booster from the ground, hanging from something that resembles your balloon platform and with an inert upper stage. Engineer a recovery system, which should unquestionably be an easier task than all the other things you were planning on doing. If it works, you get your booster back. If it doesn't, you get to internalize an important lesson. It is true that your booster construction needs to be more robust for a ground launch, but the challenges there are tiny compared to the challenges of balloon launch.

Everyone here will cheer your effort if you make it out to the desert and light the rocket, even if it CATOs on the pad or lawn darts. If you actually clear 100,000', maintain telemetry, and recover the rocket with everything behaving as you predict, you will move into a distinctly different category in the eyes of most people here. Heck, if you succeed and write up the experience for the benefit of others, I'll donate $5k to your project. If you decide to go for it, let me know and we can hash out details. Getting the FAA approval isn't trivial, but it is a lot easier than actually building a rocket that will work, and it doesn't cost you any significant money.

For those that have followed this more closely, I'm curious - how many amateur rockets have had truly successful flights over 100,000'? I know there are often waivers good for that, and I have heard of a couple flights (some people on list...), but I don't really know how common they are. How many have "gold standard" GPS lock reports above 100,000'? How many have had successful recovery? Have any rockets flown above that altitude twice?

Armadillo is expecting to fly over 100,000' next month, and I am not trivializing any aspect of the effort. If we get the vehicle back intact, we ahould be attempting a 100km flight on the next trip.

John Carmack
February 23 2011:
You have misread my statement.

If you succeed and write up the experience for the benefit of others, I'll donate $5k to your project.

I am not going to bankroll any attempt, because I don't expect you to succeed. Offering cash for a task that seems trivial (successful 100,000' flight) compared to the primary task being discussed (two stage rockoon flight to 400 miles, not to mention orbit) and watching it go unclaimed is a demonstration that the primary task being discussed was wildly unrealistic. I live in a bit of a glass house here -- everyone involved in the X-Prize except Scaled were wildly unrealistic, including Armadillo.

I don't think it is a noble effort to make grandiose plans and squander resources on a project with an infinitesimal chance of success. In the abstract, it is good for the "gene pool" to have some of those long shot attempts, but I feel sorry for the concrete examples I see. I don't want you to have spent your $160k and time on something that turns out to be a complete failure.

The bottom line is that you aren't going to put something in orbit if you aren't a millionaire, and you should just get over it. Getting something to space (100km) is a much more credible goal for an amateur effort, and still highly (but not wildly) optimistic with funding at this level.

I would be happy to see more discussion on aRocket of practical issues with high altitude flights, even well below 100km. It is clearly still far from routine, and there is much to learn.

John Carmack
February 23 2011, "[AR] 100kft micro prize"
I'll open this up to everyone -- $5k for the next ground launched rocket flight above 100,000' with GPS log and successful recovery. It isn't much of a prize, so think of it as if I am sponsoring the nice public report on the flight.

We can have a bit of a discussion about details, then I will officially announce the start. I think the general rules would be:

Publicly register the effort on aRocket with some reasonable description of the vehicle at least 30 days before the first attempt.

Announce the location and dates of the launch attempts, so we all get to share the anticipation and drama.

To win, you need a GPS serial log of the flight with at least one report above 100,000'. You don't need an unrestricted GPS, it is ok to lose data during the high speed portions of the flight.

The vehicle must be recovered essentially intact, within 24 hours of the launch. I'm not going to quibble over a broken fin, but if the main recovery system didn't work and it is smashed up, it doesn't count. Encouraging more effort here would be a major goal.

A report on the vehicle and operations suitable for publishing in a magazine must be made publicly available. Something like Bill Claybaugh's flight report at http://www.rrs.org/main.1.0/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=80&Itemid=93 . You still own the copyright on the report, and you would be free to actually have it published in a magazine if you want, it just needs to be available on the web for posterity.

Armadillo flights don't count, but if Masten is willing to write up a sufficiently detailed public report, they can claim it.

John Carmack
Multiple stages?
I'm fine with multiple stages, as long as they are all recovered successfully. Given the dismal recovery rate of high altitude launches, staging probably doesn't increase your chances...

John Carmack
Open to international entrants?
Yes, international is fine.

Another requirement: there must be good video of at least the launch. Ideally there would be video of the entire flight to recovery, but it isn't required.

John Carmack
February 25 2011 "[AR] 100kft micro prize addendum"
I'll extend it to be "100,000' above launch altitude" in case someone really wants to launch from a balloon. I really don't think that makes the task easier, but if JP Aerospace may be doing rockoon flights, it might be a target for them.

Are any of the Sugar Shot to Space folks on this list now? I would be very happy to wind up paying for one of Richard Nakka's traditionally excellent reports.

John Carmack
Clarifying "launch altitude"
The rocket must gain 100,000' of altitude under its own thrust.

John Carmack
March 7 2011, Regarding the SugarShot project and a sense of the prize being won soon:
The history of rocketry prizes has shown that it is usually a mistake to think they are going to be won Real Soon Now... You may have a better shot than you think. Keep us posted on your progress, regardless.

John Carmack
March 19 2011 in "[AR] 100k Micro Prize":
That is a good summary of the rules. I don't see any real need for additional project management -- I'll answer any questions, and write a check when someone wins. I don't expect any rules lawyering to be necessary at this scale.

Funders of $5500 of prize beyond John Carmack's $5000:

  • Paul Breed, Paul at rasdoc dot com
    Make that 7K, I'm good for 2K.

  • Robin Snelson, robin dot snelson at gmail dot com
    Make it $8K. I'll add $1K.

  • Kaido Kert, kaidokert at gmail dot com
    I'll chip in another $1K. $9K now.

  • Troy Prideaux, geordi at c031 dot aone dot net dot au
    Make it an even 10k - 1K from me.

  • Alex Bruccoleri, alexrocketry at gmail dot com
    Okay so I still think being under 22 takes this prize from being trivial to being significant so I will add $250.00 if the team or person involved is under 22 at the date of launch and $500.00 they are under 18. Some colleges offer support for projects, but being young and lacking experience is a big deal to me so I will put some money up to back that. I realize it isn't much money, but I am a grad student so relative to my worth, it is a lot. Furthermore I understand getting rocketry materials as a minor or under 21 can be difficult. However, I did it when I was a kid and will know if the brains of the operation is the kid or parent/adult signing the papers by talking to the them. To claim my bonus, I will just want to talk on the phone for a brief interview.

    Good luck!

    My contact is alexbruc@mit.edu. My cell is [redacted]. Feel free to get a hold of me at your convenience if you claim the prize.

    -Alexander Bruccoleri

If you have questions about this page, please email the editor, Ben Brockert, at wikkit@gmail.com. The purpose of this page is to have all of the competition texts in one place, and reduce the need for people to ask for updates on aRocket.

As John stated, the prize is meant as a sponsorship of a nice public report on a rocket launch. There is also an implied goal of reducing the frequency of claims that launching a rocket to 100,000' is easy. Please do not bother the people offering the prize money.

John Carmack as Armadillo Aerospace previously offered the High Performance Propulsion Award, a $1000 prize for amateurs demonstrating a propulsion system of particularly high mass ratio and exhaust velocity. It remains open and unclaimed.


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