Armadillo Aerospace Lunar Lander Rocket Flies at X Prize Cup
"Lunar Lander Rocket Flies But Fails In Bid For Prize Dollars"
: A little bit of Apollo Moon history was revisited here today. The
: Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was staged for the first
: time at the Wirefly X Prize Cup.
: The NASA-sponsored Challenge is part of the two-day Cup being held
: October 20-21 at the Las Cruces International Airport. NASA is
: providing $2 million in prize money for the Challenge.
: Roaring off into clear skies over a stretch of remote terrain, the
: Armadillo Aerospace vertical takeoff and landing vehicle rose to
: altitude, remained aloft, scooted horizontally a distance, but ran
: into trouble at touch down on a landing pad.
: The craft—nicknamed “Pixel”—came down too fast causing breakage of
: landing legs. Fire damage caused by the hard landing has curtailed
: the vehicle’s second flight - needed to claim NASA prize money.
: Depending on overnight fixes to software and hardware, another
: attempt at grabbing Lunar Lander Challenge money may be attempted.
: John Carmack, lead rocketeer of the Mesquite, Texas-based
: Armadillo Aerospace, admitted in a pre-flight interview of being
: nervous about the team’s space shot today. Test flying of their
: rocket hardware on Thursday was highly successful, but some
: technical snags cropped up during those early shakeout hops.
: For one, Carmack said their vehicle kicked up significant dust
: making it tough to remotely control the touch down. “I couldn’t
: see a damn thing,” he noted, as he piloted the automated craft
: with a hand-controller.
: For Pixel to take to the air today, it had to pass regulatory
: safety oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office
: of Commercial Space Transportation. That body granted Armadillo
: Aerospace an experimental permit to fly, Patricia Smith, Associate
: Administrator for the office told SPACE.com.
: Despite the landing problems, Carmack remained optimistic about
: the flight.
: “I think that the best benefit that NASA can possibly get out of
: this is an operation like this – going from concept to almost
: successful flight in under six months by a team of 8 people part
: time for about $200,000,” Carmack said after the flight. “That
: should change some of their current contractors that are going to
: be spending tens of billions of dollars doing different things.”
: Winning the Level 1 competition was worth $350,000 in prize money
: – a purse provided by NASA’s Centennial Challenges. This NASA
: effort is meant to promote technical innovation through a novel
: program of prize contests.
: Rocket teams for the Lunar Lander Challenge are scored on their
: ability to meet challenge requirements, the accuracy of their
: landing and, in case of a tie, the number of “round trips” they
: can complete within a specified period of time.
: New ideas, like those stimulated by the Lunar Lander Challenge can
: help return humans to the Moon by 2020, said Art Stephenson, vice
: president of space exploration systems for Northrop Grumman’s
: Integrated Systems sector.
: Armadillo Aerospace had competitors for this year’s Lunar Lander
: Challenge. However, other teams experienced technical as well as
: financial woes, narrowing down the field to Carmack and his team
: this year.
: While the pursuit of the Challenge did significantly accelerate
: the development of Masten Space Systems’ commercial XA-1 vehicle,
: the group had to delay taking part in the contest.
: Vertical Takeoff and Vertical Landing spacecraft are hard, Masten
: said. “We knew that when we started this business. In the end, it
: was Murphy that conspired to delay enough key elements that we
: couldn’t meet the X Prize Cup deadline,” he said.
"Rocket Fest Begins with Noble Failures - Lander damaged during
first bid to win $350,000; second try planned"
: No one won a share of the $2.4 million in NASA prizes being
: offered at a New Mexico rocket festival on Friday, but some of the
: competitors recorded new "personal bests."
: On the first day of this year's Wirefly X Prize Cup, Armadillo
: Aerospace's lunar lander prototype rose to new heights, even
: though a mishap spoiled its bid to win a prize in the Northrop
: Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. And one of the robot climbers in
: the Space Elevator Games reached the top of its tether for the
: first time, even though the task wasn't done quickly enough to
: earn a payoff.
: For those teams and other competitors, the good news is that they
: all have a chance to try again on Saturday.
: The X Prize Cup, conducted at Las Cruces International Airport,
: had its share of fizzles as well as fantastic blastoffs — and the
: impresario behind the annual event, Peter Diamandis, said even the
: failures taught a lesson.
: "We need to tell people that failure is OK," he told the crowd.
: "It's OK to take risks, and some of these vehicles are taking real
: One of those vehicles was Pixel, the rocket craft that Armadillo
: entered in the $2 million Lunar Lander Challenge. Pixel's task was
: to blast off under remote control from one launch pad, hang in the
: air for 90 seconds and rise at least 50 meters (164 feet) off the
: ground, then land at a second pad 100 meters (328 feet) away. Then
: it had to retrace its steps to return to the starting point, after
: an opportunity for refueling.
: Doing all that successfully would earn the Armadillo team a
: $350,000 prize from NASA.
: Pixel accomplished the first half of the task smartly, with
: Armadillo team leader John Carmack at the controls. As thousands
: of spectators cheered, Carmack guided the craft up to the required
: height, then over to the required landing spot. But Pixel landed a
: little bit harder than Carmack planned, and the feet on its legs
: broke off. What's more, the engine flared up with flames that
: burned some of the craft's circuitry.
: Those problems ruled out the return trip, meaning that Armadillo
: could not win the $350,000.
: "I was fully prepared to fly on bloody stumps back to the middle
: pad," Carmack said later. "But we wound up cooking a couple of
: Carmack said his team planned to fly again on Saturday, and after
: the spectators left, the Armadillo team hatched what could be a
: history-making plan:
: - The team would try to repair Pixel, possibly using parts from
: Armadillo's other lander prototype, nicknamed Texel. If Pixel
: could not be repaired, Texel might be flown instead. In either
: case, another bid would be made for the $350,000 prize.
: - Texel had been reserved for a more ambitious challenge - which
: involves 180 seconds of hang time and an uneven, moonline launch
: site rather than the smooth launch pad provided for Friday's bid.
: The prize for that feat is $1 million.
: - But if Armadillo wins the $350,000 prize, the team might opt
: instead for a pure demonstration flight, aimed at breaking the
: duration record for flight by a rocket ship that takes off and
: lands vertically, team member Phil Eaton said. He said the current
: record is 142 seconds, set by the Delta Clipper in 1996.
: Armadillo is the only team competing this year for the prizes. Any
: money that's not won - incuding $650,000 that was set aside for
: potential runner-up prizes - will be carried over for next year's
: In an e-mail, Ken Davidian, a contractor for NASA's Centennial
: Challenges program, said the space agency was backing the prizes
: "to stimulate the development of certain technologies relevant to
: NASA's return to the moon," as well as "to encourage the creation
: and success of new businesses and organizations that have proven
: operational expertise in the demanding technologies of interest to
: Carmack said he was happy with his team's effort, noting that his
: landers were capable of more change in velocity, or delta-V, than
: the SpaceShipOne rocket plane that won the $10 million Ansari
: X Prize two years ago. He said Pixel and Texel were built with
: volunteer labor for "$200,000 or so and change." Most of the funds
: have been provided by Carmack, a millionaire video-game programmer.
: Over on the other side of the X Prize Cup grounds, more than a
: dozen teams were trying to win prizes worth a total of $400,000 in
: the NASA-backed Space Elevator Games. One competition requires
: teams to manufacture tether material that is stronger than the
: current standard, while another contest calls on teams to build
: beam-powered robotic climbers capable of making their way up a
: 50-meter (164-foot) tether in less than a minute.
: The Space Elevator Games got their start last year in California,
: but this year marks the first time the competitions have been
: conducted at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico.
: Friday's strong winds led many of the teams in the climber
: competition to pass up making an attempt — but the University of
: Michigan's team, led by Julie Bellerose, reached a milestone when
: its robot reached the top of the tether in six and a half minutes.
: No one had ever made it all the way to the top before, even though
: the pace was too slow to qualify for a prize.
: Randy Lieberman, who leads the Spanish-sponsored Recens team in
: the climber competition, said this year's entries represent a
: significant advance over last year's. He also emphasized that his
: ultimate goal was to set the stage for the development of space
: elevators, futuristic "highways to the sky" that could
: theoretically drive down the cost of getting to orbit.
: "The serious money really isn't in the competition," he said.
: "It's in making the technologies work for the elevator."
"Rocketeers Reach for Space at New Mexico Games"
: Aspiring rocketeers launched themselves with rocket boosters and
: sent solar-powered vehicles climbing up a tether on Saturday in a
: contest that tests the viability of low-end commercial space
: The engineers and amateur rocket scientists from California to New
: York were competing for $2.5 million in cash prizes at this year's
: Wirefly X Prize Cup held over two days at the Las Cruces Airport
: in southern New Mexico.
: Passionate inventors blasted bulbous four-pod vehicles into the
: air in a $350,000 lunar lander contest sponsored by NASA and
: Northrop Grumman. Competitors had to send their craft, about the
: size of Volkswagen Beetle and powered by jets of oxygen and
: ethanol, to an altitude of 50 meters and then land it on a target
: 100 meters away after a flight of at least 90 seconds.
: Other innovators waited for a lull in winds over the remote desert
: strip to use solar power to move crafted vehicles 50 meters up a
: cord within one minute in order to claim $400,000 in prize money
: in the space elevator games.
: The competition drew thousands of curious onlookers to Las Cruces
: to gawk at the futuristic craft and snap up souvenir T-shirts and
: even rubber balls pitted like the surface of the moon.
: Competitors and organizers of the X Prize Cup are looking beyond
: its playful side and hope the contest will develop low-cost
: aerospace technologies to put access to space within the grasp of
: ordinary people.
: "The only way to make spaceflight cheaper and safer is to do more
: of it," said Gregg Maryniak, director of McDonnell Planetarium and
: former executive director of the X Prize Foundation.
: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson toured the competition on Friday
: and has taken every opportunity to promote the desert state as the
: base for private companies reaching for the stars. He has pledged
: more than $100 million to develop Spaceport America, which is
: scheduled to be fully operative by 2010, outside Las Cruces.
: British tycoon Richard Branson said last year he would use the site
: as a base for his space tours firm, Virgin Galactic, which plans to
: blast tourists into suborbital space by the end of the decade.
: Because of last month's failure, officials scrapped Saturday's plan
: to launch a rocket at the spaceport carrying the ashes of the late
: "Star Trek" star James Doohan, who played the burly flight
: engineer "Scotty" in the 1960s show.
: "We had calls from people as far away as South Africa who wanted
: to attend the launch so it was disappointing for them," said Susan
: Schonfeld of Houston-based Space Services Inc., who planned to
: blast the ashes into space.
Mark Reiff <markreiff@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
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