A Texas zero gravity experiment has won a $25,000 cash award and a free ride into space aboard a privately built rocket.
The winning team from the University of Texas would see their work go up on a Falcon 9 rocket from private spaceflight firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), one of the sponsors for the first Microgravity Research Competition. Other competition sponsors included The Heinlein Prize Trust and the Rice Alliance.
"Microgravity opens a new window on biological and physical processes, enabling innovation in biotech, nanotech, and other fields," said Art Dula, a trustee for the Heinlein Prize Trust. "Furthermore, microgravity can now be accessed by companies and universities on a commercial basis."
The proposed experiment focuses on developing drug delivery systems for medical applications. The results could help promote the science and technology of implantable devices for controlled, long-term drug release research which could yield treatment means for diseases such as cancer.
"The winner's experimental payload will be launched on a future flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and remain in a microgravity environment onboard SpaceX's DragonLab spacecraft for an extended period of time before returning to Earth," SpaceX officials said in an online statement.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX has begun testing on its Falcon 9 rocket at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for its first launch later this year. The firm has already signed a contract for its rocket and Dragon spacecraft to help haul NASA cargo to and from the International Space Station, and could take on private paying customers too.
SpaceX previously celebrated its first successful launch of the smaller Falcon 1 rocket in September 2008, proving that fourth time's the charm after three failed attempts.
The company had delayed its latest launch attempt, a planned Monday Falcon 1 liftoff to carry a Malaysian satellite into orbit, while engineers study compatibility issues between the rocket and its payload.
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