The Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing Contest, a competition designed to get private space companies more involved in helping replace NASA’s aging fleet, just began its second phase on Saturday with three teams vying for a $1 million prize.
Scorpius, a 1,900-pound, rocket-powered craft, built by Armadillo Aerospace, ascended 50 meters (164 feet) into the air, flew over to land on a simulated rocky lunar surface 50 meters (164 feet) away, and then rose and flew back to land where it started. The flight included a requirement of at least 180 seconds of flying time [SPACE.com].
The successful landing puts Armadillo in a comfortable position as it waits to see if the other teams can complete the takeoffs and landings. If they can’t, Armadillo will walk home with the cash. The team also won the $350,000 phase 1 competition, a similar mock landing that only required 90 seconds of flight time.
The competition is part of the X Prize Foundation, which funds projects that benefit humanity and has already forked over $10 million to achieve a privately funded manned spaceflight. Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the foundation, called Saturday’s flight “a stepping stone toward suborbital tourism, rocket racing and landing on the moon” [Dallas Observer]. The two other teams are scheduled to attempt the phase 2 landing in October.
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Image: Armadillo Aerospace
Space startup company Armadillo Aerospace won the $350,000 prize on Friday in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, proving that a private company has the know-how to build a craft capable of ferrying supplies or astronauts around the lunar surface. At the X Prize event in New Mexico, Armadillo’s craft won the Level One Challenge when it successfully lifted off and climbed vertically 160 feet, scooted sideways in the air for more than 90 seconds and touched down on a landing pad; finally, the craft had to refuel and make the return journey.
The challenge is meant to encourage private space companies to literally aim for the moon with their technology, and X Prize officials called Armadillo’s triumph a validation of that approach. Peter Diamandis, X Prize Foundation CEO, said: “The incredible legacy of Armadillo is their ability to fly over and over again in a low-cost fashion. They actually build the vehicle, fly it, see what happens, and make the repairs. They can iterate multiple times in a couple of days…. It’s really the garage rocket scientist approach to low-cost reliable vehicles. I think it’s something that the larger companies and the government should be learning from” [SPACE.com].
A rocket-powered plane trailing a bright blaze of flame streaked across the Wisconsin sky yesterday, as spectators at the EAA AirVenture air show got the first glimpse of a new sport called rocket racing. But in a setback, the Rocket Racing League wasn’t able to send two rockets soaring into the sky to race against each other as hoped, as the Federal Aviation Administration is still in the process of approving the second aircraft.
[T]he Rocket Racing League is aimed at melding human spaceflight with NASCAR-like competitions in the sky. The racers are designed to belch 15-foot (4.5-meter) flames from their engines that can be easily seen by spectators, and carry limited amounts of rocket fuel to fly through a three-dimensional aerial race course [SPACE.com]. League officials hope to eventually let onlookers follow the planes’ progress through the looping flight path by projecting videos from cockpit cameras onto huge screens, and are also hoping to build a computer game in which players could race against the real pilots.