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NASA Space The Almighty Buck

NASA Offering $2 Million Prize for Lunar Lander 159

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @08:31PM (#21107573)
    I haven't been paying attention much to other groups, but Armadillo Aerospace is already very close to meeting that mission profile.
  • Re:Economics? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xeth ( 614132 ) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @08:33PM (#21107587) Journal
    For a full-scale thing? Probably. But this is a much easier challenge. From TFA:

    There are two levels of difficulty, with awards for first and second place at each level. Level 1 requires a vehicle to take off vertically from a designated launch area, climb to an altitude of at least 150 feet , remain aloft for at least 90 seconds while traveling horizontally to a landing pad 300 feet away, then land vertically. Level 2, which is a more difficult course, requires a vehicle to take off from a designated launch area, ascend to an altitude of 150 feet, hover for 180 seconds, then land precisely on a simulated, rocky, lunar surface 300 feet away.
    I think this is really geared toward groups of students, and clever entrepreneurs.
  • Re:Economics? (Score:5, Informative)

    by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:13PM (#21107987)

    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?
    These sorts of prizes are not intended to be money making schemes for the competitors. They are intended to offset development costs for technology that has value in its own right. For example Scaled Composites did not spend $20M or whatever to win the X Prize in 2004, they were developing a commercial venture that happened to be close to the X Prize requirements. Similarly Armadillo Aerospace are not building rockets just to compete in the LLC, rather the LLC happens to be something they can compete in without radically altering the direction of the development they were already doing. Though if they won both levels they would recoup the majority of their costs.
  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:15PM (#21108003)
    ah but that is the point. without having to deal with air resistance, and only 1/6 the gravity if you can go 150 feet up on earth you can easily go 1000 feet away from the moon. You also need that increase in fuel as one would be trying to reach lunar orbit. which because of the amazing 1/6 gravity difference is a heck of a lot easier.

    So any vessel that could survive in earth's atmosphere doing such tests would be already 75% done for lunar module.

    Also the company that does it will most likely win the $2 billion dollar contract to build the lunar module for the government. or at least $100 million dollar help us get started fee.
  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:24PM (#21108091) Journal
    The more difficult course, Level 2, requires the rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface, packed with craters and boulders to mimic actual lunar terrain. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform the real lunar mission. []
  • Lander (Score:2, Informative)

    by htnprm ( 176191 ) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @10:17PM (#21108535) Homepage
    ...Some of the kiddies won't even remember this: []
  • Re:Economics? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Skrapion ( 955066 ) <> on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @11:24PM (#21109053) Homepage
    Actually, this isn't like the X Prize, this is the X Prize. It's part of the Google Lunar X Prize [], which, as the name implies, is in being offered by Google and the X Prize Foundation.
  • Re:They have to. (Score:3, Informative)

    by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @10:03AM (#21112883) Journal
    The original designers of all that equipment have either retired or died.

    Not completely - I work as a NASA subcontractor, and I work with a few people who were around for the tail end of Apollo (granted, most are looking to retire soon - but they are still very sharp). But the real problem is information rot. Think about it - all the designs and reports from the 1950's and 1960's are written in paper. Fourty year old paper and photographs. Even in the best of storage conditions, these things degrade. I've been shown original documentation from wind tunnel studies in the Apollo era, and you can't glean meaningful data anymore. The Schlieren [] photograps are so washed out, you can't discern the shock structures anymore. Printed plots are faded. So much data is lost. Not all of it though. A lot of it got scanned a number of years ago, and posted online. In fact, much of it is public, on the NASA Technical Reports Server [].

    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?

    Please, now. Read this report from IEEE Spectrum []. It was as much an organizational problem as a units one. FTA:

    Even if what ruined the Mars Climate Orbiter mission can be overcome, it should not be forgotten. The analogies with the Challenger disaster are illuminating, as several direct participants in the flight have independently told Spectrum.

    In that situation, managers chose to cling to assumptions of "goodness" even as engineers insisted the situation had strayed too far into untested conditions, too far "away from goodness." The engineers were challenged to "prove it ISN'T safe," when every dictum of sound flight safety teaches that safety is a quality that must be established--and reestablished under new conditions--by sound analysis of all hazards. "Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat" was the advice given to one wavering worker, who eventually went along with the launch decision.

    Similarly, various versions of the trajectory debate in the final days of the flight indicate that in the face of uncertainty, decision-makers clung to the assumption of goodness; assertions of trajectory trouble had to be proved rigorously. Just the opposite attitude should have ruled the debate.

    Other complaints about JPL go more directly to its existing style. One of Spectrum's chief sources for this story blamed that style on "JPL's process of 'cowboy' programming, and their insistence on using 30-year-old trajectory code that can neither be run, seen, or verified by anyone or anythin g external to JPL." He went on: "Sure, someone at Lockheed made a small error. If JPL did real software configuration and control, the error never would have gotten by the door." Other sources commented that this problem was particularly severe within the JPL navigation team, rather than being a JPL-wide complaint.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990