Lunar Lander Challenged

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

Archive for June 2006

Vicious cat-fight breaks out at NASA over space race

SpaceDev‘s Jim Benson apparently did not specifically mention Lunar Lander Challenge during his talk at NASA Ames described in The Register, By Ashlee Vance in Mountain View, Published Thursday 29th June 2006 01:23 GMT
Two ladies spar over journey to the Moon
A most unusual cat-fight broke out last night at the NASA Ames center here, as two women battled to learn when they will be able to take cheap flights into space.

Written by spacefaring

June 28, 2006 at 9:51 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Joint propulsion prize panel

This should be interesting.
Prized Competitions and Advancements in Rocket Propulsion Systems, Tuesday afternoon July 11 at the AIAA’s Joint Propulsion Conference in Sacramento.

Chaired by: N. Sarigul-Klijn, University of California, Davis, CA

Invited panel members who are directly involved in prized competitions or helped propulsion research and development in connection with the prized competitions will share their knowledge and views. Panel member presentations and audience interacted question/comment session are planned.

Guest speakers include: Dr. Nesrin Sarigul-Klijn, Professor and Leader of Space Engineering Research and Graduate Program (SpaceED), University of California at Davis; Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and Founder of the X-Prize Foundation; Kenneth Davidian, Program Manager of Centennial Challenges, NASA Headquarters; Mr. Frank Macklin, Vice President of Engineering at SpaceDev; and Mr. Tim Pickens, President of Orion Propulsion Inc.; Dr. Jim Busby, XCOR Aerospace.

Written by spacefaring

June 24, 2006 at 9:12 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Lunar Lander Challenge & more on Google Video

Via Clark Lindsey’s Space For All, news of X Prize Cup and Lunar Lander Challenge promo at Google Video.

What comes after the Space Shuttle? Will we go back to the Moon? These questions and more could be answered at the 2006 X PRIZE Cup this October in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Dr. Peter Diamandis describes how a next generation Lunar Lander will fly.

After the Space Shuttle part 2 The Space Shuttle fleet will soon retire. As NASA looks to go back to the Moon, something amazing will be happening in the New Mexican desert this October. Dr. Peter Diamandis tells us about the challenge to build a lunar lander and the 2006 X PRIZE Cup, promising something incredible for everyone.

Written by spacefaring

June 23, 2006 at 11:34 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Welcome to Mojave/Sad News

On the second anniversary of the first day of the Personal Spaceflight Revolution, Masten Space Systems arrived at Mojave Airport/Spaceport.

Masten on the Move

After running into a certain percentage of Scaled Composites‘ handsome propulsion department in front of the Voyager in Mojave, I found Mike Mealling, Pierce Nichols and new Masten Space Systems intern Zac from MIT inside the airport restaurant at lunchtime today.

In a matter of weeks, Mike said, you should be able to see the XA 0.1 practicing tethered flight tests from your table at the Voyager. And even if you can’t see it, you will definitely be able to hear it. After lunch, I followed them back to the new shop, a former barracks that was most recently used by the X Prize Foundation volunteers who worked on building SpaceShipOne replicas. There I met intern Arabella from Embry-Riddle, who was busy unpacking cartons of books. Mike wouldn’t let me take pictures, so check Masten Space Systems blog for his official photos.

Alex Bruccoleri stopped in for a visit, and was impressed by all the wide open space in Masten’s new digs. Alex is an intern at XCOR, where company growth has led to serious overcrowding. I sneaked into XCOR behind Alex when he went back to work, and talked with Jeff Greason for a few minutes while he was finishing his lunch. Jeff was the guy who suggested to Mike Mealling that Masten Space consider setting up shop at Mojave Airport.

About half the XCOR hangar is shielded from unauthorized eyes by a temporary wall of black plastic sheeting. What is back there? “Something,” Jeff said, with a mysterious smile. (Is it possible that XCOR has a secret Lunar Lander Challenge vehicle in development? Probably not. More likely something to do with the ATK methane engine contract.)

The Velocity plane that’s being turned into Rocket Racing League’s prototype X-Racer is in full view for interlopers, along with a schedule that indicates flight testing may begin in August.

XCOR’s new PR chief Jim Busby came out to escort me from the premises (in a friendly fashion), and gave me some very sad news that I’d somehow missed last week. A great space journalist of our time, Aviation Week’s west coast editor Michael Dornheim died when his car went off the road in the hills above Malibu.

I meant to stop by Scaled Composites and tell the front desk Happy Anniversary, but after Jim told me about Mike Dornheim, I completely forgot to do that and just went home sad. I remember on June 20, 2004, the day before the first spaceflight of SpaceShipOne, Burt Rutan said in the press conference that if you wanted to know about his space program, the best thing ever written was the story by Mike Dornheim in Aviation Week.

I only knew Mike slightly, mostly by his work, but also a few memorable occasions in person. I’ll miss him. We all will.

Written by spacefaring

June 21, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Aero-News eXclusive: X Prize Cup major event

The featured Aero-Cast of the day in yesterday’s Aero-News Network was an interview with Peter Diamandis.

Here’s what Peter said about Lunar Lander Challenge at X Prize Cup: “This year we’re thrilled that we going to be having the 2006 X Prize Cup really be a mega-global event. We’re going to be announcing shortly that we’re going to have something like 3 million dollars in cash prizes this year.” [note: X Prize Cup’s website has promoted more than $3 million in cash prizes for some time now, but only $2 million in prize funding, from NASA, has been announced.]

“Our major event is going to be the Lunar Lander Challenge. We have interest from 40 different companies interested in competing. We hope that we’ll have anywhere from eight to 10 vehicles actually built by this October that are able to do vertical takeoff, go to altitude of some number of hundreds of feet, hover, and then do precision landings on simulated lunar surfaces, refuel and then go back to the original launch pad.”

Wow. Forty different companies. These Lunar Lander Challenge aspirants are a secretive bunch — so far only Armadillo, Masten and Interorbital have gone public about interest in this year’s contest, and Interorbital still isn’t sure it will be allowed to compete under the rules. So far as this part-time reporter blogger knows, the final rules for Lunar Lander Challenge have not yet been released.

“We’re talking about as many as 20, 30, 40 rocket-powered events this October 18th through the 21st,” Peter told Aero-News Network, which will be providing exclusive news services at X Prize Cup, as it did last year.

“Our vision is really to build the Oshkosh of space. The place that you and your family go to see the spaceships, touch them, watch them fly in front of you, something that becomes a global event that people put on their calendar a year in advance.”

Written by spacefaring

June 14, 2006 at 9:08 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Vertical Drag Racer grounded; Nomex cooler than eXpected

John Carmack wrote to the aRocket list yesterday night to say the Armadillo team drove all the way to Burns Flat, Oklahoma, to try to fly their VDR. Unfortunately, the ship didn’t get off the ground because when they were going through their actuator tests, they found they didn’t have spark.

“One of those days where hypergolics sound like a good idea…” John commented. (Luckily, they were only in Oklahoma, not stuck on the Moon.)

According to last week’s Armadillo Aerospace News, VDR probably won’t fly in Lunar Lander Challenge, but may be at X Prize Cup on display. But before that, the team really wants to fly it, at least in tethered tests, so look for them back in Burns Flat before too long.

Anyway, another equipment test went well: John said the team’s new Nomex coveralls were surprisingly comfortable in the 100-degree-plus heat at the Oklahoma Spaceport.

Written by spacefaring

June 11, 2006 at 10:48 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Beat Texas?

Does California have a hope against the awesome powers of John Carmack’s Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace team?
A February 26 entry from Masten Space’s blog shows the frame for the XA 0.1, a potential contender for Lunar Lander Challenge (back when it was known as Lunar Lander Analog Challenge).
Masten Space Systems XA 0.1 frame

Elsewhere on the blog, more recent engine firings and bargain-price suborbital payloads.

Masten Space Systems relocates to Mojave Spaceport this month, and plans to begin tethered flight tests of XA 0.1.

Written by spacefaring

June 8, 2006 at 11:10 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Edible yet eXplosive

Written by spacefaring

June 7, 2006 at 12:16 am

Posted in lunar lander

Entry deadline eXtended, reusable rocket prize delayed

The deadline for teams to sign up for Lunar Lander Challenge was originally set for yesterday, but since the final rules still haven’t come out, no teams have actually registered yet. A new cut-off date will likely be announced this week by X Prize space projects director Will Pomerantz.

“The final rules could be released as early as tomorrrow afternoon,” X Prize Foundation spokesman Ian Murphy told me today. He estimated the number of prospective entrants corresponding with the prize office at “close to 30.” He said the registration process takes about three weeks and should be completed before July comes around.

Randa Milliron of Interorbital Systems said she was told last week by Ken Davidian in the Centennial Challenges office that no teams have received the official entry forms and master team agreements required to enter the contest.

Right, says Ian from the X Prize, because who can enter a contest until they see the rules?

Ian said he doesn’t know how the final rules might differ, if at all, from the last version released, but he doesn’t look for any loosening of the propellant restrictions that would bar Interorbital.

“The X Prize, NASA and the title sponsor are concerned with safety, safety, safety,” Ian said, over and over. “At the end of the day, we want to create a commercial spaceflight paradigm shift.”

That’s why vehicles powered by hypergolics and rocket fuels considered “highly toxic” are prohibited by the X Prize Foundation’s rulemakers. “If you ingest a tablespoon of that stuff, you die,” Ian said. (Does that mean you can safely eat and drink the permissable propellants? Could SugarShot be one of the mysterious unnamed entrants?)

Randa and Rod Milliron do say that Interorbital’s proposed entry would only be useful for actual Moon landings and not for Earth-based space travel.

“Maybe they should wait until we offer our real Lunar Lander Challenge in a couple of years,” Ian suggested. He said they want to give a prize for $110 million dollars to land a robotic probe on the Moon. Meanwhile, the current Lunar Lander Challenge on the table is pretty out front about advancing technology for space travel to and from locations on Earth.

[Update #2 on June 7, Ian emailed to say he was being a little futuristic about the $110 million real lunar lander prize. “I have no idea what the next space X PRIZE is and even less of an idea of how much it’s going to be worth. I was trying to make a point by saying there will be other chances for IOS if they can’t adjust to take part in this one and the value of an X PRIZE is going to be much greater than the 2.5 million be given away here.” Centennial Challenges does aspire to offer really big prizes (Flagship Challenges) for feats like robotic soft landings on the Moon, and it seems logical that X Prize would aspire to manage a contest like that. But nothing is official yet.]

Ian also said the X Prize Cup’s website will soon be updated, because the Reusable Rocket Challenge expected to happen this year will definitely be delayed until next year for budgetary and logistical reasons. “It’s difficult to put on these contests, and we’re already stretched. We’re spending $1 million to administer Lunar Lander Challenge.”

[Update: On June 7 Ian emailed, “I am being told the LLC is costing more than $3 million, not $1 million. Sorry for the mistake.” That sounds more like it. By comparison, DARPA spent more than $10 million to administer its first $1 million Grand Challenge.]

Level 1 Lunar Lander Challenge entrants would be well-positioned to compete for the Reusable Rocket prize next year, Ian said, because those rules may also require non-toxic alternative rocket fuels.

Ian said it’s not known whether $50,000 in prizes for amateur rocketeers is still on the agenda. “The event plan has changed since we decided to add a live webcast component,” he said. The infrastructure at Las Cruces International Airport can only support 15,000 or 20,000 people, the estimated size of last year’s X Prize Cup crowd, but the wider world can get an “intimate experience of the events” via the webcast, Ian said.

Announcements about Lunar Lander Challenge’s Title Sponsor and Official Teams will probably be made in July, to coincide with the anniversary of Apollo 11.

Written by spacefaring

June 6, 2006 at 7:19 pm

Posted in lunar lander

Armadillo Quad Unveiled

Armadillo Aerospace News updated, with cool renderings of an all-new vehicle called Quad John Carmack’s team has decided to build for Lunar Lander Challenge. This one does not look like it could tip over. The plan is to build two nearly identical Quads and compete in both levels of the Challenge. Possible winnings: $1.6 million

The tall vehicle they’ve been working on, called VDR for Vertical Drag Racer, is ready to fly but just sitting around for lack of friendly skies.

John also tells of a recent visit by commercial space legend Lutz Kayser of OTRAG fame, who dispensed both wisdom and precious hardware.

Armadillo Aerospace News

Written by spacefaring

June 5, 2006 at 11:23 pm

Posted in lunar lander