Lunar Lander Challenged

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

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.

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Written by Robin

June 6, 2006 at 7:19 pm

Posted in lunar lander

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