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NASA Space The Almighty Buck

NASA Offering $2 Million Prize for Lunar Lander 159

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-hard-could-it-be dept.
coondoggie writes "If you build it, NASA will not only come, it'll give you $2 million dollars for your troubles. The space agency today said it will offer $2 million in prizes if competing teams can successfully build a lunar lander at the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge at Holloman Air Force Base, in Alamogordo, N.M. Oct. 27 and 28th. To win the prize, teams must demonstrate a rocket-propelled vehicle and payload that takes off vertically, climbs to a defined altitude, flies for a pre-determined amount of time, and then lands vertically on a target that is a fixed distance from the launch pad. After landing, the vehicle must take off again within a predetermined time, fly for a certain amount of time and then land back on its original launch pad."
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NASA Offering $2 Million Prize for Lunar Lander

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  • Re:Economics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shaneFalco (821467) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @08:32PM (#21107577)
    Call it a labor of love.... the guys that go for it are not so much interested in making it rich but in contributing to the next space landing...... Super Geeks... with a capital S
  • by SamP2 (1097897) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @08:42PM (#21107667)
    Agree to that. The 6x gravity on Earth vs moon, as well as all ballistic and overheating problems associated with the atmosphere, would not be present on the moon. For other issues it's vice versa, like requiring a completely airtight compartment for lunar landing and withstanding the pressure difference (BTW, due to properties of material resistance, building a vessel that has internal pressure higher than external (spaceship, lander) is MUCH tougher than a vessel with external pressure higher than internal (submarine).

    The lunar lander used in the Apollo programs would never be able to perform a landing on Earth. And building an Earth lander for use on the moon would grossly inflate your fuel use compared to what you need, increasing the lander's weight and worsening consequences of a potential fuel leak/ignition.

    The difference in conditions is not trivial at all, it is different to the point where the resources required to build such a "vessel" exceed the transferable benefit.

    Oh, and the $2M prize for any kind lunar lander prototype is a joke. Try $200M.
  • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @08:53PM (#21107809)

    Any rocket scientists out there have any idea what the real benefit of the challenge is?
    IINARS. But, I can think of why this would be beneficial. If you can meet the challenge here on Earth, and you can do it for round-bouts $2 million, then you have figured out how to do a complex task very cheaply. NASA won't be sending a slightly-modified version of your lander to the moon, but they may well come away with some cost-saving ideas.

    And then there's the whole fun of it.
  • Re:Economics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by servognome (738846) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:06PM (#21107915)

    The thing I always wondered about these kinds of contests, like the x prize, is doesn't it cost more to build your craft than you win?
    But if you win you are the leader for any big money contracts that follow.
  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:23PM (#21108085)

    Will they let the chinese show up? Or maybe the Japanese?
    Those are orbiters, not landing modules, so no. Anyway the Lunar Lander Challenge has nothing to do with sending anything to the moon. Rather it requires the ability to fly a particular (VTOL) flight profile and quick turnaround times. It's aimed at getting private developers to develop technology that none of the world's governments seem to be working on (i.e. quick turnaround).

    I'm so tired of my tax dollars being wasted on international dick-waving contests like this. I wish NASA et al would just whip out the rulers- it'd be cheaper. Then again, it wouldn't feed the defense contractors, now would it?
    I'm tired of people making uninformed comments about stories they clearly haven't even read and still getting modded up for it. We don't always get what we want.
  • That's so 1969... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tinrobot (314936) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:30PM (#21108163)
    It makes me sad that almost 40 years later, they have to reinvent the technology from scratch.

    We should be competing for a Mars lander by now.
  • America is dying (Score:5, Insightful)

    by megaditto (982598) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:33PM (#21108191)
    $2M for a working rocket spaceship
    $2B for a half-assed video hosting site Youtube

    I am the only one saddened by this?
  • by Uberminky (122220) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:50PM (#21108317) Homepage
    We're all entitled to our opinions about how NASA is running their show, but even still, I have to disagree with your post.

    From what I saw on those links you pointed out, those projects have very different goals from the lunar lander challenge. In both cases (as far as the articles made clear) the respective countries were running state-sponsored (not privately funded) programs to get their gadgets into orbit around the moon to take measurements, test out equipment, etc, without ever touching down. The lunar lander challenge, on the other hand, isn't really about the moon part, so much as the lander part (hell, the challenge takes place on earth). My understanding is that it is geared towards developing privately funded solutions capable of performing a task roughly equivalent to what a helicopter can do (vertical takeoff, controlled flight, vertical landing), but without an atmosphere. It's not nearly as much of a marvel as putting a probe in orbit and mapping out a planet (or moon), as NASA has already done (though maybe not to the degree that these new projects plan to), but it's privately funded, and I believe it is done in the name of making future trips to other planets cheaper. NASA's $2M prize is nothing compared to what the various companies could (and probably already have) shell out, so in fact this is actually a money-saver for NASA. If/when we have any sort of permanent setup on the moon, whether it is a colony of humans or an automated ore-extracting plant, or whatever, we will need this capability. Sure, we have it (NASA has done it, and with people onboard to boot), but the basement designers will, out of necessity, find ways to do it that are cheaper, requiring less-exotic materials, less human interaction, etc. These groups will explore the problem space in a way more akin to how the Russians developed much of their space technology (fly it until it breaks, redesign until it flies again, rinse, repeat... which resulted in some pretty bulletproof systems).

    Opinions about NASA aside, I would personally like to see us build colonies off of this planet. Maybe we've got plenty of time left on this one, maybe not, but we don't really know, and I would love to visit the moon one day. And if I can develop something in my basement that makes that more affordable for the next generation, I'm gonna give it a try.
  • by Plutonite (999141) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @10:08PM (#21108443)
    No, you missed the big news:

    15B for a "social-networking" website where people can "poke" each other and buy each other little gifts that are pictures of teddy bears and ducks.

  • by Orange Crush (934731) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @10:47PM (#21108761)
    Wouldn't overheating be an even bigger problem on the moon? There's no atmosphere to conduct/convect away waste heat.
  • They have to. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by freeze128 (544774) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @12:27AM (#21109473)
    The original designers of all that equipment have either retired or died. The manufacturing methods were too slow anyway. It's also possible that some of the components may have even become outlawed because of environmental concerns (lead solder or maybe some really toxic fuels). Does the lander HAVE to be wrapped in gold foil like the LEM? I have heard that the price of copper is going through the roof. It just makes sense to completely re-invent the technology, and start fresh.

    I'm not worried about the technology, it's the implementation and deployment that bothers me. Why bother to design a lander that runs off of sunlight and generates its own oxygen from waste products when it's going to be launched by people who can't tell the difference between yards and meters? It might not even make it to the moon. Those knuckleheads will probably send it towards Omicron Persei 8.
  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @01:17AM (#21109749)

    But they haven't won yet, they have no lander. I'm saying it can't be done for anywhere near 2 mil.
    They haven't won yet, but they have successfully flown the level one mission [armadilloaerospace.com] outside of competition. So they certainly do have a lander. I don't know if their costs have exceed $2M, but if they have it won't have been by much. Carmack makes the point in this post [armadilloaerospace.com] that their vehicle is probably the first rocket in history to have more spent on consumables than on the vehicle itself:

    Pixel had more rocket powered flight time that weekend than Space Ship One had in all of its flights combined. We have also spent more on operational consumables (helium, lox, alcohol, truck rental) than the vehicle itself cost, which is probably a first for any rocket vehicle.
    That means the costs so far are almost certainly below $2M.
  • Re:Economics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@@@gmail...com> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @02:08AM (#21109983) Homepage

    The thing I always wondered about these kinds of contests, like the x prize, is doesn't it cost more to build your craft than you win?

    But if you win you are the leader for any big money contracts that follow.

    Not in this case - because the contestants are going to be universities and small private teams, which in no way have the ability to develop, design, and manufacture a real lunar lander. (Nor even to manage such an effort.)
     
    This prize really is something of a boondoggle for the taxpayers - because it won't really provide anything useful. The general algorithms for something like this are pretty well known, and the specific algorithms are strongly tied to the exact configuration and performance of the actual craft (and have to include corrections for things like fuel slosh and any bending moments and body resonace that won't show up at this scale). I.E. it isn't going to scale from these models to a real lander well, if at all. (Unlike the contest for a full-scale glove.) This contest, unlike the DARPA Grand Challenge, isn't headed off into unknown technology.
     
    But technology prizes, in the wake of the X-Prize and the Grand Challenge, are currently fashionable - so NASA is running one whether it makes sense or not.
  • Re:Economics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Grave (8234) <awalbert88&hotmail,com> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @12:04PM (#21114855)
    Actually it makes complete sense. The idea isn't so much to actually find a viable lunar lander design (though it is possible for it to happen), as it is to generate interest and excitement about it. At the moment, space exploration barely gets any attention on the nightly news, and despite many other countries planning for moon trips, the public doesn't seem to be very interested in it. On the other hand, if you asked most people if they believe we'll still be limited to the Earth in a hundred or two hundred years, they'd laugh and say no. Well, we've got to start sometime, but it takes money. If the public doesn't support it, then contests like this are a great way to make it happen.

    And if nothing else, it just might get some kids interested in science and engineering, which are the two crucial fields to furthering space exploration (and progress in general) that we have the fewest graduates in.
  • Re:Economics? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@@@gmail...com> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @01:59PM (#21116667) Homepage
    Here's the thing - this 'get the public interested' card has been played again and again - and it never works. The general public simply isn't interested in space travel, and except very briefly in the 1960's - never was. The public isn't stupid and sees stunts for what they are.
     
    As for space not being in the nightly news - why should it be? Like Antarctic exploration, it has become routine. Routine stuff, especially stuff with low viewer interest never makes the news.

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