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Lunar Spacecraft Compete For $2 Million NASA Prize 48

coondoggie writes "Nine rocket-powered vehicles will compete for NASA's $2 million, 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, Oct. 24-25. The goal is to accelerate development of commercial Lunar Landers capable of bringing payloads or humans back and forth between lunar orbit and the lunar surface. NASA of course would expect to use some of the technology developed at the Challenge. 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 land vertically on a target that is a fixed distance from the launch pad. After landing, the vehicle must take off again within a pre-determined time, fly for a certain amount of time and then land back on its original launch pad." Details about the teams involved with the competition are available at the X-Prize website. The event will be broadcast live via webcast next weekend.
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Lunar Spacecraft Compete For $2 Million NASA Prize

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  • by stonefoz ( 901011 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @12:18AM (#25421917)
    I would have competed but I had an error in the firmware for the lander, meters converted to feet. Now I just have a crater in my back yard. Perhaps NASA doesn't need the help.
  • For some reason one of the higher profile high school and college robotics competitions (whose name escapes me) would seem to lead toward this goal, at least as far as the frame and payload of a lander/takeoff vehicle is concerned. Of course, in this they'd have to switch from propellers to rockets, and they'd have to massively scale up both in size and in payload, but if the contest only covers the scope of the mechanics of flight and not the part about keeping occupants alive and comfortable then this co
  • Lunar Challenge (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm impressed that Armadillo Aerospace has claimed that they are making a profit. The big question of course is *how*? Are they selling a lot of t-shirts? Or are they raking in the cash from rocket racing investors?

    I actually think they'll be able to pull it off this year. The big question is whether they can beat Paragon Labs. I'm hoping that there will be more than one successful run this year.

    • Re:Lunar Challenge (Score:4, Informative)

      by Teancum ( 67324 ) <[ten.orezten] [ta] [gninroh_trebor]> on Saturday October 18, 2008 @08:39AM (#25423287) Homepage Journal

      There are three things about Armadillo Aerospace to remember:

      • They have (comparatively) low overhead for their facilities and personnel. While I think they now have a couple of full-time employees, it is just a couple of them... plus a couple of aeronautical engineering interns and others who are all making peanuts. John Carmack's salary doesn't figure into the equation (yet). Being in Texas and Oklahoma doesn't hurt either, especially with the decommissioned air base in Oklahoma that is desperate for customers and practically subsidizing Armadillo's efforts.
      • They have been doing a couple of smallish contracts for NASA and a few other companies that are mainly propulsion studies. Armadillo is widely acknowledged as having the most practical experience with smaller liquid-fueled engines than almost anybody in the industry at the moment, where the cost of the rocket fuel is one of the major budget items for them, which is generally something most rocket launchers typically ignore due to how insignificant it is compared to operations and vehicle costs.
      • Armadillo engines are being used with the Rocket Racing League [], where at least six of them have been sold to paying customers. I believe this is the largest source of money at the moment, and something that looks like a steady source of future income.

      John does post on here occasionally, so he might fill in some details, but there is a source of income for the company. They are also not stopping with these few revenue streams either, but have some huge ambitions for the future.

  • Land? IRL? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @12:51AM (#25422055) Journal
    I am not ready to be landing spacecraft on the moon IRL. I can't even do it in the simulator []
  • DC-X ??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @01:35AM (#25422227) Homepage Journal

    According to what the NASA statement wants from the vehicle, this sounds exactly like what the DC-X already was capable of doing and that technology is already available and tested. Why re-invent the wheel here?

    I mean, am I crazy, or does it seem that NASA just likes doing the exact same thing over and over again, except using a whole new technology each time just to make everything more expensive than it needs to be?

    • Re:DC-X ??? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jcupitt65 ( 68879 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @02:18AM (#25422361)
      You're right that these projects are not doing much technically that's not been done previously by government programmes. Their innovation is that they are dramatically cheaper and that someone other than NASA is taking the risk and making the investment.
      • Agreed, mod up.

        However such innovations are necessary to commercial development, and their importance should not be underrated. It's one thing to develop a technology, it's another to bring that technology to market. Both require the same level of ingenuity.

        Similarly, you wouldn't criticize Alexander Graham Bell for seeking outside help in turning his "Watson, I need you" gadget into the most valuable patent in the world. NASA is doing it in a way that I expect would be most embraced by the /. crowd. Wo

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      so should we still be using Atlas or Redstone rockets? or maybe we should scrap this contest and just reuse the Apollo Lunar Module design. there's nothing wrong with trying new & potentially better technology. that's the whole purpose of technological research--to drive technology forward.

      besides, the DC-X project was never completed. if McDonnell Douglas wants to complete the DC-X and submit it into the competition, then they're free to do so. of course, the prize for this contest is only $2 million,

    • by Sibko ( 1036168 )

      Why re-invent the wheel here?


      NASA pretty much doesn't have the budget anymore. They can't afford to keep the ISS running while operating all the various probes, funding new missions, and trying to develop new technology for more lunar missions.

      2 million dollars is a steal to develop the landing/liftoff component of a new lunar module. I imagine if it were left up to NASA it'd cost ten times as much.

  • Just asking... It seems like it would fit the definition:

    "Rocket-propelled vehicle and payload (the frog is its own vehicle and payload, and can be rocket-propelled via bottle rocket) that takes off vertically (frogs jump), climbs to a defined altitude (frogs can jump consistently to a defined height), flies for a pre-determined amount of time (frog stays in the air a while), and then land vertically on a target (a lilypad) that is a fixed distance from the launch pad (1.5 feet away). After landing, the veh

  • I couldn't help but notice that 7 of the 10 teams were from California with the other 3 teams being from Texas, Idaho and Colorado. I have a hard time believing nobody on the east coast is capable of competing in this competition, so the question is then why is there so much apathy outside California? Perhaps it is exorbitant transportation costs and most of these teams appear to be amateurish, but I just can't help but think the competition isn't as fierce as it could have been.
    • Aerospace has traditionally been a Midwest and West Coast tradition. With the exception of rare places like Huntsville, Alabama (where the Army ensured it got the space it needed), there just wasn't room on the densely populated East Coast for tests.
      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        Huntsville, Alabama (where the Army ensured it got the space it needed)

        More likely where the Senator from Alabama (back when Southern Senators basically served for life, and thus tended to have lots of seniority) ensured that Alabama got the Federal dollars it wanted.

    • by rbanffy ( 584143 )

      Probably because, unlike the products of the Ansari X-Prize competition, these teams have little or no incentive outside the competition prize itself.

      There is no market for lunar landers right now.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @07:12AM (#25423039)

    climbs to a defined altitude, flies for a pre-determined amount of time

    Why not be specfic, since the details are available ?

    There are two levels of difficulty. FTFA :

    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.

    The much more difficult Level 2 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.

    You get to refuel, then you have to come back in the same fashion.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern