Throughout history competition has helped to incentive progress in science. The American aviator Charles Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize in 1927 for example, which was a non-stop flight from New York’s Long Island to Paris, France, covering a distance of 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km) in a single seat, single engine, purpose built monoplane known as the Spirit of St.Louis. This caused a dramatic change in the passenger aircraft industry, taking people from the United States to Europe in a matter of hours. Similarly, in 1996 Peter Diamandis set up the now famous Ansari X-prize competition, to open up sub-orbit space flights to the wider population. This was won by Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites using the SpaceShipOne Spaceplane in 2004.
The British Interplanetary Society is now in discussions with The Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS) [www.i4is.org], and the UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS) [ukseds.org] about launching a new technical design project which sees students around the world compete for an award, as part of an interstellar based engineering exercise. Called the “Alpha Centauri Prize”, after the nearest Star system to our solar system, this competition is sure to lead to innovative breakthroughs in design concepts, whilst educating students about the possibilities of space exploration.
Any teams wising to submit their early involvement or people wishing to get involved in organisation or the project, should contact the BIS here.