The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity, thereby inspiring the formation of new industries and the revitalization of markets that are currently stuck due to existing failures or a commonly held belief that a solution is not possible. The Foundation addresses the world's Grand Challenges by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile, incentivized prize competitions that stimulate investment in research and development worth far more than the prize itself.
Among other initiatives, the foundation carried out two competition related to space.
The first was the Ansari X PRIZE, a $10 million competition to build a privately funded craft that reaches a sub-orbit of 100 km twice in two weeks. It counted with the participation of 25 teams from several countries around te world. Althought the conceptual design aproach was free, several teams independently converged on the idea of using a stratospheric balloon as a first stage and once at float altitude launch their rockets or ships to orbit. The concept was no new, and was used in the past for launching small research rockets (a combination called "rockoon") or more complex systems like FARSIDE four stages rockets. The teams that based their concepts on balloons were: Da Vinci Project from Canada and IL Aerospace Technologies from Israel.
The prize was won in 2004 by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites.
Currently the foundation is running the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth. The deadline of the prize is the end of 2015. The only team that turned it's attention to balloons was Arca Space from Romania, but after several failures their changed their aproach.