Archive for July 2006
Three teams will compete for Lunar Lander Challenge, according to the new X Prize Cup 2006 website that appeared today. The teams are not mentioned by name. It also says the prize purse is $2.5 million, but that information may need to be updated. [Update: Now says $2 million.]
Other attractions listed on the schedule are static engine firings, rocket bike, rocket truck, jet pack flights, and high power sounding rockets. Seems that the Mark-1 X-Racer plane will be on display, but not in the air this year.
Orion Propulsion’s Tim Pickens said he’s been contacted by X Prize Cup organizers about bringing his rocket bikes, his rocket truck and Orion’s mobile test stand to liven up the eXpo, but negotiations aren’t complete. Hey, they won’t get you to space, but ground rockets are better than none.
Rocket Reality Check, Alan Boyle’s report in yesterday’s Cosmic Log on plans for the X Prize Cup, was updated this afternoon. DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker told Alan the agency had been in discussions with the X Prize Foundation about sponsoring the “Vertical Takeoff Challenge X Prize,” but the discussion is on hold because of budget uncertainty. “At this time, DARPA will not sponsor any of the X Prize competitions.”
Alan also eXcised some stray words about the reason why Rocket Racing League’s prototype X-Racer may not fly at this year’s X Prize Cup. So if you read the story yesterday, read today’s version for a more accurate explanation from Rocket Racing chief Granger Whitelaw.
On the subject of reality checking, I saw Jim Benson, Founder, Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of SpaceDev at Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2006 conference in Las Vegas last week. X Prize’s Peter Diamandis has said that folks like SpaceDev would be interested in going for the prize, so I asked Jim if SpaceDev might be one of the not-yet-public contenders for Lunar Lander Challenge. The answer was no. SpaceDev is a too busy going for a COTS (Commercial Orbital Transport Services) award from NASA and working on other contracts to field a Lunar Lander Challenger.
And more reality checking: After posting the item about Masten Space’s name for its Lunar Lander Challenge ship — Trinity 1 — found on Race2Space.org, I asked Dave Masten what inspired the name.
The nearby historic location? “A lot of history in the area, some of the greatest physicists of the 20th century worked there,” Dave said. “But I’m not terribly fond of what was produced there, nor how it was produced.”
Is it a girl’s name, inspired by The Matrix movies? “She is my kind of girl,” Dave answered, “but The Matrix world is way down on my list of sci-fi to use as naming inspiration.”
Then why name it Trinity? Dave replied, “Actually, I think it was a placeholder that the web person forgot to remove.”
So… does this mean there’s another Lunar Lander Challenge team out there with a ship called Trinity 1?
Jon Goff posted an update to Masten Space Systems blog, detailing the work in progress on XA 0.1, the vehicle specially designed to win Lunar Lander Challenge prize money. He says hold-down tests if not tethered flight tests will most likely begin at the end of next week.
Jon doesn’t mention the Lunar Lander Challenge in his technical update, but the previous post by Masten Space business manager Michael Mealling says they’ve teamed with a company called Race2Space to find and manage vehicle sponsorships.
The result is a website called Race2Space.org where you can sign up for all sorts of sponsorship slots.
So far, Race2Space has only one Team in its Teams section: Team Masten. And also the first mention of Team Masten’s Lander Challenge vehicle name:
Race2Space is proud to offer public sponsorship on the outer skin of their experimental space vehicle, Trinity 1, that will be participating in the X Prize Cup Competition October 2006.
Gain out of this world exposure in advertising your business or name on Trinity 1 and you will be assisting sponsorship on mans greatest adventure.
A couple of weeks ago the Lunar Lander Challenge page at X Prize said Level One of Lunar Lander Challenge would be funded by half a million dollars from DARPA and re-named Vertical Rocket Challenge. Now the page says all DARPA’s prize funds are in question, so until further notice, the total purse for X Prize’s Lunar Lander Challenge has been reduced to $2 million of NASA money. Level One is now called Vertical Lander Challenge.
A post by Jeff Foust on Personal Spaceflight last week wonders What’s going on with the X Prize Cup?
One of the highlights of the event is going to be the Lunar Lander Challenge, and the two companies most likely to compete, Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems, provided some updates on their progress yesterday at the NewSpace 2006 conference in Las Vegas. Neil Milburn of Armadillo said that their first “Quad” vehicle is built and ready for testing, while a second is being built. (One will be flown for the Level 1 of the challenge, while the second will be used for the more challenging Level 2.) The Quad replaced their Vertical Drag Racer design, which Milburn said was “marginal” for the Level 2 portion of the challenge. Dave Masten of Masten Space Systems said that they are very busy with the development of their entry, the XA-0.1, and plan to start flight testing next week in Mojave.
It’s not clear if there are any other entrants likely to compete in Las Cruces in October, although there have been rumors of one or more stealth teams working on vehicles; if that’s true, they’re being very quiet about it. Both of the known entrants are going to have to overcome some significant technical and regulatory hurdles in the next three months, and any stumble that forces one or both to drop out could make the Lunar Lander Challenge a lot less compelling an event.
Ken Davidian from NASA’s Centennial Challenges Office responds in the comments section:
In addition to the Lunar Lander Challenge (which will still be pretty darn compelling even if there is only one team competing since there will still be a lot of purse money remaining to be won in future editions of the competition), there will be the Beam Power Challenge and the Tether Challenge competitions taking place at the XPCup event. And based on last year’s experience with these two competitions, and despite what one might think in advance, these will also be very compelling to watch. For obvious reasons, I’m pretty excited about all these competitions and I think the general public will be, too.
Recent issue of the Marshall Star (page six) has a story about Orion Propulsion‘s three-year contract to develop an innovative regulator/valve for Project Orion’s upper stage and the Orion capsule’s attitude control systems. (The story was written before NASA chose the Orion name for its program and capsule, thus sparing the Marshall Star writer sentences like the one above.)
Orion proprietor Tim Pickens says in the article that the aim is to develop a commercial product applicable to a variety of aerospace markets.
This is one of the reasons that Tim decided not to lead a Lunar Lander Challenge team this year. But the former Ansari X Prize team leader doesn’t rule out an attempt in 2007, if the contest isn’t won (or held) in October.
The cover line is X Prize Rocket Men. The article makes it sound like Armadillo is mostly interested in exploding engines and crashing vehicles, but the quote from X Prize eXecutive board member Gregg Maryniak is encouraging: “I don’t want to jinx them by saying they’re the favorite, but the requirements for this contest happen to be pretty close to what they’ve been doing for the last few years.”