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NASA and X-Prize October competition

Shana Dale, the NASA Deputy Administrator (and also a rather nice looking southern gal), announced a set of Challenge prizes for lunar lander technology. Not dry as lunar dust stuff, but real flying hardware to compete at the Las Cruces Race for Space this coming October.

There are two levels of prize with different rewards. The competition will be held again next year if any awards are not made this year. The first level has a first prize of $350,000 and a second prize of $150,000 for a vehicle to make a vertical take off, climb to 50 meters; stay in hover for at least 90 seconds; translate 300 meters and land on a designated landing point. They may then optionally refuel before taking off again and doing the same in reverse. If more than one contestant manages the flights, placement is based on how close they landed to the designated point. If there is a tie, there will be a shoot out… the vehicle to do the most trips in an alloted time will be the winner.

Level Two is a bit harder and the prizes are $1,250,000 first; $500,000 second and $250,000 third place. For this money the must take off vertically take off, go up 50 feet; hover for 180 seconds; translate 300 meters and land in a wild bit of terrain in which remote pilotage is allowed.

This is the first NASA competition with a prize over a million dollars. They appear to be doing this right. They are working with people who handled the successful Anseri X-Prize with Burt Rutan won; it will be a great spectacle for the watching crowds at the rocket races; and it will as a side effect also boost earth based private launch technology.

With some luck I will be there to watch and record the competition this fall.

Personally, I would put my bet down on Jon Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace.

3 comments to NASA and X-Prize October competition

  • Patrick

    Isn’t there a real risk that Earth-gravity rules out a whole host of lunar-viable designs, particularly with regards to structural rigidity, fuel, motor size, rotor/wing size, etc? Anything that goes to 50 meters against G will seriously risk launching at 1/3G, whilst hovering at .999G will be heading to Earth at .32G, etc…

    I do just wonder if there isn’t a real risk here of not getting anything suitable for the job (but of course suitable for mars…).

    I really do approve of the principle though – I firmly believe that at least half NASA’s budget should be moved to the column ‘tax cuts’ and at least half the rest should be devoted to prizes of this ilk. Bravo for thinking NASA people!

  • Patrick,
    The Challenge isn’t trying to get a real lunar lander but is attempting to get people to build bits and fly bits that could be used to build a real lunar lander. For example, the rules allow us to refuel at Pad B which is probably not going to be possible on the moon for the first several trips (once we put a gas station on the moon that changes things though). As far as “rotor/wing size” that kind of doesn’t work on the moon. 😉
    Also, the point is to take off in 1/3G since the goal is build something that can go from lunar orbit to the surface and back. Since we can’t simulate 1/3G here we fly the same rough level of of delta v by hovering. But it is still a rough estimate because performance of an engine in vacuum is much better than on the surface of the earth.
    So, the Challenge is about as close as you can get to simulating a lunar orbit to surface lander without actually trying to do it in space.


  • Patrick

    I agree with all that, MM, what I am really wondering is if we are not nonetheless overlooking something crucial. Ie it seems to me that a design that was utterly useless here could be perfect on the moon – maybe NASA should focus on building construction laboratories on the moon!

    I’m sure a lot of people would pay 1 mill to try and program a lunar vehicle for construction there!