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Space Science

Masten Qualifies For $1 Million Space Prize 40

Posted by Soulskill
from the fly-me-to-the-moon dept.
RobGoldsmith writes "Masten Space Systems successfully qualified for first place in level two of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Wednesday. Flying a brand new vehicle named XA-0.1E (nicknamed Xoie), Masten demonstrated their ability to build, debug and fly a vehicle on a very short timeline. " Reader lessgravity points out a video of the craft completing its mission. Apparently, the team was given an extra shot at the challenge on Friday after having trouble during their scheduled attempts on Wednesday and Thursday, which didn't please John Carmack, founder of rival team Armadillo Aerospace.
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Masten Qualifies For $1 Million Space Prize

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  • I'm really happy for David but...

    John's been working on his vehicle for about a decade. Losing the the prize because the judges decided to go soft on the rules has really got to hurt.

    Heck, Carmack's spent so much money on his vehicle that he's had to take time off to put out new versions of Doom and Quake just to refill the coffers.

    • And yet they didn't see fit to spend an extra few months on their guidance system to be sure they came in first. Why did they fly in September if they could have worked another month?

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @02:18AM (#29932693)

        Their guidance systems came within about 2' of each other, at which point it's already absurd to call a "winner" on that factor alone since it will have NO bearing in any real world usage. The contest rules prioritized the wrong deciding factor. And because of that (basically it was down to an extra crap shoot that only the other team was allowed) Carmack is legitimately pissed. Run this test 10 times and average it out, with a big penalty for total failure. THEN we'll see which design is something that should be used in a real mission landing.

        • by kwerle (39371)

          Their guidance systems came within about 2' of each other, at which point it's already absurd to call a "winner" on that factor alone since it will have NO bearing in any real world usage...

          I thought the whole point was that there would be NO "real world usage".

          har har

      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @03:45AM (#29932913) Journal

        And yet they didn't see fit to spend an extra few months on their guidance system to be sure they came in first. Why did they fly in September if they could have worked another month?

        Basically, after qualifying for the prize he wanted to focus on other aspects of the rocket which would be more useful for the (rather more lucrative) commercial operations they have planned, and spending a load of money and time to buy and rerun with a differential RTK [wikipedia.org] GPS system would mostly only be useful for getting a better contest score.

        It's really worthwhile to read through the statement from John Carmack. He definitely doesn't hold anything against Masten (he says he would have done the same thing in their place and also said that it would be "probably also beneficial to the nascent New Space industry to get more money to Masten than Armadillo, since we have other resources to draw upon"), but does hold some bitterness towards the decision of the judges:

        http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=16507 [hobbyspace.com]

        For the past couple weeks, as it became clear that Masten had a real shot at completing the level 2 Lunar Lander Challenge and bettering our landing accuracy, I have been kicking myself for not taking the competition more seriously and working on a better landing accuracy. If they pulled it off, I was prepared to congratulate them and give a bit of a sheepish mea culpa. Nobody to be upset at except myself. We could have probably made a second flight in the drizzle on our scheduled days, and once we had the roll thruster issue sorted out, our landing accuracy would have been in the 20cm range. I never thought it was worth investing in differential RTK GPS systems, because it has no bearing on our commercial operations.

        The current situation, where Masten was allowed a third active day of competition, after trying and failing on both scheduled days, is different. I don't hold anything against Masten for using an additional time window that has been offered, since we wouldn't have passed it up if we were in their situation, but I do think this was a mistake on the judges part.

        I recognize that it is in the best interests of both the NASA Centennial Challenges department and the X-Prize Foundation to award all the prize money this year, and that will likely have indirect benefits for us all in coming years. It is probably also beneficial to the nascent New Space industry to get more money to Masten than Armadillo, since we have other resources to draw upon. Permit me to be petty enough to be upset and bitter about a half million dollars being taken from me and given to my competitor.

        The rules have given the judges the discretion to do just about anything up to and including awarding prize money for best effort if they felt it necessary, so there may not be any grounds to challenge this, but I do feel that we have been robbed. I was going to argue that if Masten was allowed to take a window on an unscheduled day with no notice, the judges should come back to Texas on Sunday and let us take our unused second window to try for a better accuracy, but our FAA waiver for the LLC vehicle was only valid for the weekend of our scheduled attempt.

        • Which is my point. We shouldn't really be getting our panties in a twist over Jon Carmack losing a contest that Jon Carmack lost.

          If he really cared about it then he could have spent another month perfecting it. Doing it early smells of "Best of luck but I'm busy with other things." Which is fine, but it just means that if he doesn't care, then I most certainly won't. :D

          • by RedWizzard (192002) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @06:24AM (#29933381)

            Which is my point. We shouldn't really be getting our panties in a twist over Jon Carmack losing a contest that Jon Carmack lost.

            If he really cared about it then he could have spent another month perfecting it. Doing it early smells of "Best of luck but I'm busy with other things." Which is fine, but it just means that if he doesn't care, then I most certainly won't. :D

            You have a point, but so does Carmack. The judges reduced the impact of the weakness of Marsten's vehicle (reliability). They've effectively changed the focus of the competition. And Armadillo might well have won the level 2 prize a year ago given the same sort of leeway. I don't think it's at all unreasonable for Carmack to feel aggrieved. I would in his position.

          • by QuantumG (50515) *

            Jon Carmack

            His name is John, for fuck sake he's not french.

    • by TheLink (130905) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @01:32AM (#29932575) Journal
      Carmack's plan is to build a spacecraft to take him to Mars so that further research can be done - especially on interdimensional travel.
    • by ddt (14627) <ddt@davetaylor.name> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @02:05AM (#29932655) Homepage

      They've never been lax with John when he had complications like these. This really comes across as unfair to me, particularly in light of the fact that he has done the most with the least money while also being the most open about his process.

      • by saiha (665337)

        Well they shouldn't be lax with anyone on this. But do you have specific examples where they have been unfair? Or a site that could show this? John's blog unfortunately seems quite sparse (though maybe his .plan would be a better source).

        • Well they shouldn't be lax with anyone on this. But do you have specific examples where they have been unfair? Or a site that could show this? John's blog unfortunately seems quite sparse (though maybe his .plan would be a better source).

          I agree that they shouldn't be "lax", but I feel that they should follow the spirit of the contest and make decisions to help execute the ultimate goal. Having said that, it should be done fairly, and to the letter. If not given extra time, and that is in the rules, that isn't really in the spirit.

          I think that it may have been a good call, but only once the facts are out will it be truly known. If the rules were written with much forethought and righteousness, and the judges had righteous intention

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            So in your excitement you didn't see the kink in the fuel line (or whatever happened), I think that a good contest SHOULD overlook that.

            I'm guessing you went to one of those schools where they patted you on the head if you got the answer wrong and gave you an 'A' anyway because at least you made a *effort* to get it right.

            The universe doesn't "overlook" mistakes like a kinked fuel line (or any other serious flaws that you missed "in your excitement") -- indeed, it rewards such mistakes in a totally appropriate way.

  • WA-5H? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Toze (1668155)
    Well, if they've got XA-0.1E, how about WA-5H for the next version. Or maybe KA-7.33?
  • While I really appreciate the parent's bringing up the matter of Wednesday's X-Prize competition, I was somewhat less impressed by all the links in the parent post going to the winner's own accounts of the event, particularly when the contest is somewhat mired in controversy.

    You have to give a few points for including the one link to the New Scientist news report. But:
    "... in level two of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge Wednesday. Flying a brand new vehicle ..." ... seems like a pretty good plac

  • Seeing the article above this one [slashdot.org] they better de-bug [wikipedia.org] it in more ways than one.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @08:19AM (#29933907) Homepage Journal

    The official rules, which are no longer available btw, contain many caveats of the form "at the sole discretion of the judges".. these give the judges power to change the rules as they go along and they're not ashamed to do it. If they have a competition next year I expect many people will be looking at this situation and seriously doubting if it is worth competing.. how can you put time and money into a competition built on shifting sands.

  • "very short timeline"

    meaning it only stayed in the air for 30 seconds ;)

  • You can watch the Unresonable Rocket guys compete live right now.... http://space.xprize.org/lunar-lander-challenge [xprize.org]

  • Well this definitely begs the question: Where's my ************ flying car?!

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