Lunar Lander Challenged

One small step for NASA, One giant leap for the X Prize

Archive for May 2006

FAA responds, X Prize quiet

Michelle Murray at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation answered some of the questions about Lunar Lander Challenge deadlines and FAA requirements for those thinking about competing. “Within AST, we have four experimental permit applications in various stages,” Michelle revealed. She can’t say who, but three must be Armadillo, Interorbital and Masten.

If these three and Mystery Contestant Number 4 pass FAA muster and get experimental permits, they still must abide by the final rules set forth by X Prize Foundation to win any (TITLE) Lunar Lander Challenge prize money. And, of course, they must also build vehicles and flight-test them for X Prize inspectors, somewhere and sometime before the personal spaceflight festival in New Mexico.

(If the final rules have been released, and if anyone knows of an official place to find them, a link would be helpful. See Peter’s Principles: How to use contests to spur innovation 1. Tell a story. We make sure the rules for winning are very clear and that the teams are doing something with a dramatic finish.)

The 120-day review period means a team should finish its application in about three weeks to fly anything at this year’s Lunar Lander Challenge. Earlier, if they want to do untethered flight tests to qualify for the show.
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Written by spacefaring

May 30, 2006 at 5:13 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Interorbital eXcluded? Rules in fluX?

Interorbital Systems
Randa and Roderick Milliron of Interorbital Systems

It seems that the Lunar Lander Challenge rules may eXclude Interorbital Systems from the competition. The following fuels and oxidizers shall be considered safe for operation at the Competition Venue: ethane, ethyl alcohol, gaseous oxygen, hydrogen, lesser than 70% H202, isopropyl alcohol, kerosene, liquid oxygen, methane, N20, propane, butane. The following fuels and oxidizers shall be considered unsafe for operation at the Competition Venue: greater than 70 percent H202, nitric acid, hydrazine, unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, monomethylhydrazine, any hypergolic propellant combination.

One week after the contest was officially opened for registration, I asked Ken Davidian from NASA’s Centennial Challenges office and also Ian Murphy from the X Prize Foundation if there would be any restrictions on choice of propellants. They both said that anti-gravity would be excluded (for some reason), but could not think of anything else.

Interorbital CEO Randa Milliron expressed doubts about that even before the latest revised rules were circulated to interested parties. “I hope they don’t ban all hypergolics out of ignorance or misinformation,” she said. Hypergolic propellants spontaneously ignite on contact. Apollo’s Lunar Excursion Modules relied on them, and so will NASA’s next-generation lunar lander.

Hypergolics have a reputation for being highly toxic and unstable, Read the rest of this entry »

Written by spacefaring

May 28, 2006 at 11:25 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Advantages of Using White Fuming Nitric Acid (WFNA) as an oXidizer in Rockets

Interorbital Systems Educational Briefing

By Randa Milliron

For over sixty years, White Fuming Nitric Acid (WFNA) (HNO3) has been successfully used as an oxidizer in the United States, Russia, Germany, and France. The French Diamant rocket used a WFNA/hydrocarbon combination to place France’s first satellite into orbit in the early 1960s. In the United States, the early rocket-assisted takeoff (RATO) units, and later the second stage of the Nike-Ajax used WFNA and JP-4. Several German rockets in World War II used WFNA. In addition, the German OTRAG rocket, designed in the 1970s, used WFNA and kerosene. Today, the Russian Small Cosmos Satellite Launcher still uses nitric acid as its booster oxidizer.
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Written by spacefaring

May 28, 2006 at 10:05 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Burt Rutan, Humorist

Video of the keynote speech at ISDC 2006 by the Will Rogers of the new space revolution can be seen at Rockets Away: Blogging the New Space Revolution.

No Lunar Lander Challenge connection, exactly, except that Burt did win the Ansari X Prize, and this is a great speech.

Written by spacefaring

May 25, 2006 at 4:05 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Perfect rocket rules?

May 30 is the deadline for comments to the FAA on proposed rules governing Experimental Permits for Reusable Suborbital Rockets.

Links to the proposed rules and the register of comments can be found at Selenian Boondocks, Jonathan Goff’s place. Jon works for Masten Space, and he’s a little worried about the total lack of feedback the FAA has received so far:

Does everyone just think that this is the epitome of Rules-y Goodness and Purity or something?

We’re going to be preparing and submitting our comments in the next day or so, and I encourage any of you who have useful comments to make (and even some wingbats–after all, we can always use people who are so crazy that they make all of our comments seem like sweet reason in comparison) to join us. This is kind of important guys!

Some background on the rules from Jesse Londin’s Space Law Probe, via RLV and Space Transport News.

Written by spacefaring

May 25, 2006 at 12:49 am

Posted in lunar lander

Space prize news

The first Heinlein Prize for accomplishments in commercial space activities is won by Peter Diamandis. — Houston Chronicle

Update May 25: Michael Belfiore got a press release.

Update May 26: Press release posted on X Prize web site.

Written by spacefaring

May 24, 2006 at 11:55 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Son of Apollo

This Air&Space/Smithsonian article about NASA’s new lunar lander design helps explain why Lunar Lander Challenge is so challenging.

If you think designing LSAM is going to be tricky, remember, the people at NASA only have to worry about landing and taking off from the Moon, and risking the lives of a few government employees at a time.

Teams competing for Lunar Lander Challenge are being held to higher standards, because Lunar Lander Challenge isn’t only about Moon travel. It says right there in the prize description that its goal is to develop the operational capacity of quick turnaround vertical take-off, vertical landing vehicles for the personal spaceflight industry and other launch markets — the kind of space travel you can do from Earth, and the kind that will tend to draw a crowd.

Written by spacefaring

May 24, 2006 at 4:32 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Rules Snag, REV 05.22.06

email from X Prize Director of Communications Ian Murphy today

we are not planning on releasing another set of draft rules.


email from X Prize Director of Space Projects Will Pomerantz yesterday to all interested parties

Thank you again for your continued interest in the Lunar Lander Challenge.

A snag at NASA has delayed the release of the final rules for this Challenge. However, I do not want to keep you waiting any longer to receive the rules. Therefore, please find attached the current draft of the rules for this Challenge.

Please understand that these rules are still pending final approval from NASA Centennial Challenges. However, we do not expect that the rules will receive any substantive changes from this point onward. Although these rules should not be considered binding, you can expect them to closely approximate the binding final draft.

This draft rules document contains deadlines for submission of registration materials. These deadlines are approximate, and may be moved depending on how long it takes to overcome this snag and release finalized rules and registration packages to all interested parties.

If you find these rules ambiguous or unclear in any way, this is a good final opportunity to notify us before the rules are set in stone. As previously mentioned, in order to preserve the fairness and equality of the competition, I will distribute all information regarding rules clarification and finalization to all interested parties simultaneously. Please note that this means that questions posed to me that might be of interest to other teams will be generalized, and answers will be provided to all interested parties simultaneously. This rule will apply to only registered teams after the registration deadline.

Finally, if you have sent me a request for documents A or B and have not yet received them, please contact me again.

Kind regards, and good luck!

William Pomerantz
Director of Space Projects
X PRIZE Foundation
310 587 3355

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Written by spacefaring

May 23, 2006 at 6:40 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Space prize advice

Ed Wright of X-Rocket fame, a longtime proponent of space prizes, thinks Lunar Lander Challenge is one of the best prizes that NASA has introduced so far. He hopes NASA will find a way to up the budget to an X Prize-class purse of $10 million or so.

(So, Ed, does that mean you don’t think the prize will be won this year?)

(Honestly, I am beginning to wonder if the rules will be finalized this year. As of last Friday, the final rules for Lunar Lander Challenge were not yet released.)

(And, by the way, the Suborbital Payload Challenge announced last October and currently promoted on the X Prize Cup 2006 Events web page –“Watch as astropreneurs vie for a world record and a $500,000 prize as they launch their reusable rocket ships multiple times in under 24 hours” — hasn’t quite come into eXistence yet. X Prize communications director Ian Murphy said he heard a rumor that it would be delayed until next year.)

Ed Wright also has some sharp observations about NASA’s somewhat larger space prizes offered by the space agency’s innovative partnerships department, the COTS (Commercial Orbital Transport Services) demonstration contracts due to be awarded August 8, according to Michael Belfiore. For instance, Ed says, contrary to popular belief, COTS won’t purchase cargo or crew services to the International Space Station, it will only fund development of systems that may be able to provide a commercial solution in the future.

Ed also thinks the NASA-DOD effort to develop a military spaceplane could spend its money better by putting the X-37’s budget into some high-dollar military space prizes (like DARPA’s Grand Challenge), prizes aimed at developing the low-cost, responsive space launch technology that the military needs and the public space traveler wants.

Ed Wright on The Space Show, Sunday May 21, 2006

Written by spacefaring

May 21, 2006 at 8:50 pm

Posted in lunar lander

FAA approval, still no rules

Michelle Murray, the FAA contact in the Office of Commercial Space Transportation for Lunar Lander Challenge contestants, wrote to say that she has bookmarked this place. Thanks, Michelle!

Michelle is there to help. At Space Access ’06 she told me that she would work to find a way for any serious contestants to get permits in time for the competition.

Will Pomerantz, Director of Space Projects for X Prize Foundation, also wrote to say that he has bookmarked this place. But, still no final rules yet. Will promises to keep us posted.

Here are some questions floating around about the contest. If anyone knows the answers, share if you can.

The draft rules said April 23 was recommended to submit an experimental permit application, and June 22 is the last possible date to get a permit in time for X Prize Cup 2006. Is that still the schedule?

Will teams need two permits? — one for flight-testing at their own sites, and one for the X Prize Cup?

What if some college team just heard about the Challenge on May 5 and decided to spend all summer building something to field in the contest — is there any hope for them? Or is it too late?

How many applications has AST received for vehicles wishing to compete in Lunar Lander Challenge?

Who has signed up so far?

Will the Lunar Lander Challenge flights be performed at Las Cruces International Airport or somewhere else? (down the highway at the UAV test facility? up the road in Upham? somewhere in Texas?)

Will there be anything launched from X Prize Cup that will attempt to go to space?

Written by spacefaring

May 18, 2006 at 8:04 pm

Posted in lunar lander