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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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  • Lunar Challenge (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 18, 2008 @12:34AM (#25421967)

    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.

  • 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 []
  • by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @02:01AM (#25422307) Homepage

    yea, it seems like using a rocket & balloon combo for space launches might be cheaper or more fuel efficient, but there are also drawbacks. it would take a long time to get up to 80km using a balloon. i think hydrogen weather balloons are only used up to 40 km, above which sounding rockets are used. also, would hydrogen be practical for large payloads? you'd need a balloon large enough to lift a rocket + lunar lander. and AFAIK high altitude hydrogen balloons (and rocket + balloon combos) are only used with relatively small payloads.

    perhaps hydrogen balloons might be most efficient for applications that require little to no flight control and do not demand speed or safety. and unless you could recycle the hydrogen somehow, it'd be least wasteful to use hydrogen balloons when you need to keep something up in the air for long periods of time (such as scientific instruments for conducting atmospheric research). but i don't know what it costs to manufacture rocket fuel compared to hydrogen gas. it may very well be that for non-time-critical applications hydrogen is still cheaper than rocket fuel for launching something into space.

  • Re:DC-X ??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lysergic.acid ( 845423 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @02:35AM (#25422419) Homepage

    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, whereas the estimated cost of completing the DC-X was $50 million...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 18, 2008 @03:30AM (#25422563)

    I can't believe it, you are completely ignoring the composition of Armadillo Aerospace...

    Team Armadillo [] is:
    John Carmack, James Bauer, Tommy Bishop, Russell Blink, Phil Eaton, Joseph LaGrave, Neil Milburn, Matthew Ross

    And just look at the progress pictures... the prettiest jet stream I've ever seen [].

    This is surprisingly more exciting than sports.

  • by Meumeu ( 848638 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @04:51AM (#25422781)
    Most of the energy of a rocket is used to gain speed, not altitude. Even if you can reach 50km, that would only save about 1% of energy for a lunar rocket.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday October 18, 2008 @09:43AM (#25423541) Journal

    Low earth orbit is around 2000km up. Geosynchronous orbit is 35,786km above the Earth's surface. The height of the top of the stratosphere, which is about as high as you can get with a balloon, is 50km. It might be possible to get as high as 100km using a magic balloon. This would get you 5% of the way to LEO, or just under 0.3% of the way to geostationary orbit. The additional complexity of building something as massive as a balloon capable of getting a huge payload of rocket fuel to the edge of the atmosphere does not justify a 0.3% saving (closer to 0.1% in practice) in initial altitude. You can get a similar order of magnitude advantage without the additional complexity by launching from a large mountain.

    If you want a multi-stage design, you'd be better off looking at jet and scramjet technologies than balloons. A jet is much more efficient than a rocket, because the reaction mass and the oxidiser are both taken from outside - it only needs to carry the fuel. Remember, in getting to orbit speed is more important than altitude. Escape velocity is around 11km/s. If you start from a jet at Mach 1, you are at 3% of this speed already. If you start from a jet at Mach 4 and then use a scramjet to get up to Mach 17 (the speed of X30) you are at 50% of escape velocity (70% of orbital velocity) before you leave the atmosphere. This reduces the size of the rocket needed by a huge amount.

Overload -- core meltdown sequence initiated.