Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

X-Prize Lunar Lander Competition a Go 124

Tiger4 writes "The X-Prize foundation and NASA have signed off on a $2.5 million prize for proof of concept lunar lander vehicles. From the article, 'NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale told MSNBC.com that the point of the competition was to "take advantage of new innovative technologies that have been developed" since the last lunar landing, during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972." There are two levels of competition, "In the Level 1 competition, the vehicles must be in the air for at least 90 seconds during each leg of the round trip, and land on a flat, even surface. The Level 2 competition is harder -- requiring 180 seconds of flight each way, with a rocky, lunar-style landing site.' NASA and X-Prize people are still working on the final rules, but they are already signing up teams and expect to see vehicles in time for the X-Prize exhibition in New Mexico, October 18-21, 2006."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

X-Prize Lunar Lander Competition a Go

Comments Filter:
  • Consolation Prize (Score:2, Interesting)

    by foundme ( 897346 )
    Is there a reason to have consolation prizes for second and third place? I wouldn't mind "cost-recovery" of up to $xxx for non-winners, but to actually award them a prize? There is no room for "good enough" in Space.
    • by yincrash ( 854885 )
      what if three different finalists all are successful, just some are better than others? just because there is one winner doesn't mean the runners up are failures.
    • because the winner may not pan out in full scale development whereas second place or beyond might. Also by the time the actual design and build of the final systems are in place there might be changes in tech which advance the other finishers to the top
    • There is no room for "good enough" in Space.

      Nobody will end up in 2nd or 3rd place with a "good enough" idea either. It is going to be some pretting friggin good ideas, worthy of a prize. Even if some idea does not win the contest, it might very well inspire some genius elsewhere to come up with something better or it could also be improved, tested and used. You never know.

    • This year's second place could improve their idea enough to become next year's first place.
    • Remember, your GOV issued equipment is made by the lowest bidder. If 3 companies complete the task, and the second place winner offers a lower bid than the first and third, the second is going to get the contract. First place may have put on a better show, but its all about budget cuts. This logic is why we still use the M16A2.
    • Are you kidding? Space is OFTEN about "good enough." Weight is at a premium.

      In the lunar lander for Apollo, you could puncture a hole clear through the hull by dropping your screwdriver. In some places it was as thin as several stacked sheets of aluminum foil. It held in the oxygen so it was "good enough."

      Looking at the shuttle, there are many places where they settled on "good enough." In fact, you could say the entire design was a "good enough" compromise from the SSTO concepts they had started out with.

    • why has the parent been modded troll ? Why is it trolling, especially when IMO he has a valid point, or atleast a point that can be discussed about?
    • There is no room for "good enough" in Space.

      Ha ha. Judging from this comment, you don't really know a lot about the technical and economic aspects of space flight. Usually, it has to be inexpensive and "good enoug", because even inexpensive space flight costs a helluva lot. Try going for expensive and the best money can buy, and you'll be broke before even getting anything on the launch pad.

  • by Silas Palmer-Cannon ( 973394 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:07PM (#15282483)
    This is probably a good way to gain technology while minimizing cost. How much would it cost for NASA to do this in house? 100 million? 200 million? Too expensive? Here's the solution. Offer college students 2.5 million as a prize for a "competition". Good work guys.
    • Note that NASA would be spending the $100M to ensure that things will work, preiod. The private developers are willing to assume a greater level of risk -- which is the main reason for the cost saving.
    • This is probably a good way to gain technology while minimizing cost. How much would it cost for NASA to do this in house? 100 million? 200 million? Too expensive? Here's the solution. Offer college students 2.5 million as a prize for a "competition". Good work guys.

      Historically such competitions and prizes tend to breed solutions optimized towards winning the prize or competition - not general technologies.

      Furthermore, I fail to see what 'technologies' NASA stands to gain here. Vehicle control algorithm

      • Given that a lack of good press is the single most critical factor inhibiting NASA's ability to do interesting projects, I'd say that if "all" they get out of this is good press, then it's money well spent.
      • Historically such competitions and prizes tend to breed solutions optimized towards winning the prize or competition - not general technologies.

        I guess that depends on how you define "historically." There have been some pretty major technological and societal changes brought about by such competitions. One of them is accurate clocks and, thus, accurate trans-oceanic navigation [missioncollege.org]:

        The Board of Longitude was established in England in 1714 and offered 20,000 pounds (12 million dollars in today's currency) to wh

      • Amen. Not only guidance - lets look at the thrust requirements. 180 seconds each way, at 9.8 m/s^2 -> ~1800 sec delta-v. Sounds an awful lot like an actual landing, right? Well, look at the rules: the craft gets to *refuel* at its landing spot. This is a *huge* advantage for the models. Also, the models are tiny. It's akin to saying "Look at my model rocket! Silly NASA and their Saturn Vs!"

        On the other side, the models need way too much thrust for their mass in order to stay aloft on Earth. Luna
    • It's the same way that Scaled Composites spent ~$25million in order to win $10million back with the original X Prize. The prize itself is a nice way to ensure some immediate payback of the development, with a definite figure given as well as a reason for a company to think "hey, we could produce [product], why didn't we ever try building one before?".

      After the first payoff it's then up to the company to make money just like any other business, as Scaled Composites did by signing with Virgin Galactic. It's n
    • I, for sure, wouldn't go to the moon in a college student vehicle. Call me snob...
  • Andromeda. The hundred-trillion-gagillion dollar prize would be worth it then.

    Ok, dumb joke. But, it's like the X Prize Organization is escalating it's spnsorship to new heights. I find this quite encouraging. What a way to push science and engineering. This really tickles my libertarian bone - no government involvement.

    Oops, I forgot! There's some real libertarian haters here on /.. I guess because they confuse Libertarians with conservative Republicans?

    NOTE: Using a lowercase 'l' when describing my Libert

  • Talk about cost-effective NASA spending...
    • $2.5M is NOTHING to them. Nothing.

      I hate to play this card, but by the end of 2006, we will have spent a (conservative) estimate of $315 billion in Iraq.

      Heck, compare this to non-government entities. If ol' Bill could get college students to write him a completely new OS for 2.5M, he'd probably jump at the chance.
    • This is good sue of NASA money if any of the projects get implemented or even if some ideas from the projects get implemented.

      It's good that NASA is looking outside their walls for ideas too. Their are lots of brilliant people out there. It's time we tap into that. Space travel is obviously dangerous and tricky business. Anything that makes it safer and and easier, even if it's just one thing, is worth them money. Spend the 2.5 mil and get some ideas for a new ship? Doesn't sound bad.
  • by Null Nihils ( 965047 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:15PM (#15282508) Journal
    I wonder if we'll see an increase in "bounty" based development. It certainly seems likely. A large number of smaller F/OSS projects also offer a significant monetary prize or "bounty" for someone who can implement tech to solve a specified need, want or problem. The Google Summer of Code is also, in my mind, a similar deal.

    This stands in contrast to older, beaurocratic methods that are closed and contract-based.

    This new openness is, in my opinion, closer to the ideals of a free market than the latter mentioned system.
    • Yes. Lots more.

      Why? Becasue it is CHEAP, very cheap. 10-100x cheaper then paying poeple do it.

      Summer of Code pays a timy amount compared to just getting a job.
    • "This stands in contrast to older, beaurocratic methods that are closed and contract-based."

      How do you think those contracts are often won? The government has often, and still does, set up contests like this, where big defense contractors compete for a bounty which comes in the form of a contract to produce the final product. In aerospace the bureaucracy is not so much a problem in the contracting system -- even without corruption and bureaucrats there are still only a tiny handful of people and corporation
    • Armidillo Aerospace (Score:3, Informative)

      by iendedi ( 687301 )
      Seems that Carmack and company like the bounty idea. I hope they are right, I would really like to see these guys bag one and get a win. From Armidillo's website [armadilloaerospace.com]:

      The lunar lander centennial challenge is our top priority this year unless something else pops up. We had a commercial opportunity that was exciting, but it seems to have fallen through. I'm not thrilled about landing on inclined, boulder strewn fields, but the payload and delta-V requirement are easier than we expected. Having two levels and

    • On the topic of "bounty development," Kodak in 1998 offered a prize for coders to develop scripts for their new digital cameras (DC260) so the idea has been around at least that long.
      ---
      I took the competition to mean that Kodak and FlashPoint couldn't figure out anything interesting to do with a CPU in a camera. Or maybe they just didn't know what to do with their scripting language which sucked as badly as a high school science fair project. I wasn't about to spend any time using it...but I must have had
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:15PM (#15282509) Homepage
    Can I win the contest using my parachute-based landing system?

  • I would like to see a competition calling for teams to send vehicles to the REAL moon, just like the Ansari X-Prize winners had to actually go into space.
    • I would like to see a competition calling for teams to send vehicles to the REAL moon, just like the Ansari X-Prize winners had to actually go into space.

      First off, the contest was for a lunar lander not for a vehicle that can go to the moon, another vehicle to orbit the moon, and another vehicle to land on the moon, because that is what it would take.

      Do you have idea what the costs involved are in building a rocket capable of lifting a vehicle away from the earth's orbit so it can travel to the moon? Acco
  • by kraemer ( 637938 )
    Armadillo Aero has this one nailed. http://www.armadilloaerospace.com/ [armadilloaerospace.com]
  • Two top contenders (Score:4, Informative)

    by chroma ( 33185 ) * <chromaNO@SPAMmindspring.com> on Sunday May 07, 2006 @06:29PM (#15282549) Homepage
    A couple of the top contenders, who have been working on this type of vehicle even before the prize was announced are: Masten Space Systems [masten-space.com] and John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace [masten-space.com].
  • Obligatory (Score:2, Informative)

    by Life700MB ( 930032 )

    Obligatory images from the first prototype [frontiernet.net].


    --
    Superb hosting [tinyurl.com] 20GB Storage, 1_TB_ bandwidth, ssh, $7.95
  • There's no rule against reusing old technology like the Apollo Guidance Computer [klabs.org]? Or building a low-tech Salvage 1 [geocities.com] is there? Granted it's not sexy but it should work. :P
  • Gravity? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BaronSprite ( 651436 )
    Wouldn't the thrust systems need to be significantly different for a 180 second hop on earth when compared to the moon? Not to mention weight of fuel and what not...
    • Re:Gravity? (Score:2, Informative)

      by TemujinKhan ( 966642 )
      uh.. yeah. better question is to ask what should the safety margin for over engineering a project of this scope should be. Gravity on the Moon is 1/6 that of Earth, so that implies if the system works here, then you have a built in 6x safety margin there. (never mind that the whole point of the competition is to develop a workable auto-pilot assisted takeoff/landing system)
    • That's what I thought too. Maybe the idea is that moon hops would be much longer.
    • Re:Gravity? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by grozzie2 ( 698656 ) on Monday May 08, 2006 @03:35AM (#15283790)
      Figure out the impulse required to do a 3 minute hop at the bottom of a 9.81 m/s^2 gravity well. Now figure out the impulse required to go from a stable low orbit to a soft landing in a 1.635 m/s^2 gravity well. The numbers are going to be amazingly close. For the next step, figure out your stability problem for a 3 minute hop, vertical takeoff, lateral displacement, and then soft landing with a 3 minute flight time, including silly things like wind drift and possibly some random turbulence enroute. Refigure the problem for the orbit to lunar surface in vaccuum.

      Overall, not a bad deal. For 2.5 million, you get propulsion and stability that's on par with that needed for a lunar landing. Add some guidance, and you have the whole package. Of course, this doesn't really touch on the actual expensive part of the project, and that's the ride up to lunar orbit.

      Will have to wait till the final rules are published, but, there's a big ticket item missing from the discussion so far, and that's the subject of mass budget. If this is going to really represent a lunar landing package, there will be an all up mass budget for the lander, and, a specific amount of that mass needs to be reserved for payload.

      The problem for the Apollo program wasn't making a lunar lander, it was making a lunar lander that fit within the mass budget, and still had room left for 2 astronauts. That required compromises and risk management that wouldn't be acceptable in today's climate. If folks think a space shuttle is a 'scary contraption', then they should go take a look at the LEM used by the Apollo program. When the candles were lit for an Apollo mission, there was NOBODY trying to kid around that it was a 'safe' endeavour, and EVERYBODY understood, and accepted, the possibility of a mission ending in fatal failure. the LEM was probably the most fragile contraption ever lofted into space.

      The Apollo program had a 81% success rate, with 1 of the 11 attempts resulting in a fatal outcome even before it was launched. 10 of 11 attempted launches actually went off, and one of those failed it's primary mission, but thru hard work and some ingenuity, mixed in with a lot of good luck, the astronauts actually got home alive. Compared that to the shuttles 98% success rate, the Apollo success rate was atrocious. Shuttle has had 2 failures in well over 100 launches, Apollo had 2 failures in 11 attempts, and 10 launches.

      Here on /. folks like to comment 'well if we could go to the moon 50 years ago, why not today'. Frankly, 'we' didn't go to the moon 50 years ago, it was our parents and grandparent generation that did that. They were willing to accept risk as a fact of life, analyze it, deal with it, and accept the results. The society of america today could not possibly put a man back on the moon, the public doesn't have the tolerance for the cost, either financially, or in human costs. They want a system that's guaranteed to work, and guaranteed to not break on the way. Well folks, with rocket technology, it ain't gonna happen. You have to either accept the risk, or, go develop some new breakthru propulsion system that doesn't rely on strapping people on top of a huge bomb, then doing a controlled explosion to send it into orbit.

      If the shuttle system is being scrapped because it's not 'safe enough', then stop looking to the moon and beyond for rockets. Shuttle is just a baby, meant to go to low orbit. The big boys that are needed to go farther can make big bangs substantially larger than a space shuttle is capable of. If you are going to strap the quantities of lox and h2 together in tanks light enough to carry on up to orbit and beyond, once in a while the whole mess is going to go boom. Accept it, deal with it, or forget it. That's what your grandparents did, and thats how they got to the moon, and they did it using slide rules and will power.

      • If the shuttle system is being scrapped because it's not 'safe enough', then stop looking to the moon and beyond for rockets. Shuttle is just a baby, meant to go to low orbit. The big boys that are needed to go farther can make big bangs substantially larger than a space shuttle is capable of. If you are going to strap the quantities of lox and h2 together in tanks light enough to carry on up to orbit and beyond, once in a while the whole mess is going to go boom. Accept it, deal with it, or forget it. That
  • ...as in:
    the vehicles must be in the air
    • Actually, they're proofs of concept, which means the contenders don't have to develop a vehicle to deliver the landers to the moon... they can simulate the lunar landing on earth. That makes the prize a lot more attainable for a private startup venture than requiring them also to build up a lunar capable launch infrastructure.

      As such, Armadillo would actually be an excellent contender for this prize, considering their current design is a really souped up lander in the first place.
  • Does the 90 seconds in the air have to be before it blows up^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H possibly experiences capsule divergence issues?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    $350,000.00 for first flight? I don't think so. A decent aerospace engineer must cost a business around 120 grand or so for a year of work, and then there are all the materials, construction, infrastructure.

    This sounds more like a bonus add-on to the existing x-prize than the "new prize" it's being touted as. Or maybe it's another cookie to try and get a guy like Paul Allen to dump far more into it then he'll ever get back...except it is a nice thing for him to do...give back.

    Don't get me wrong...I'm all fo
    • Maybe they're planning on people adding to the prize as time goes on, just like the X-prize.
    • The labor is definitely at issue, but you make one flaw in your argument.

      Aerospace engineers in smaller businesses do not make 120 big ones in a year. That is preposterously high. The cost adds up when you add more engineers to the equation. At a minimum, you need a jack-of-all-trades aerospace engineer (ie: theory, design, drafting, and analysis... a fairly rare combination seeing as drafting is usually "below" an aerospace engineer), an electrical engineer, a software engineer, maybe a propulsion engineer
      • You have to figure in overhead cost.

        The engineer's salary is just the beginning. You also have to figure in taxes, Social Security, cost of benefits, how much it costs to pay for the engineer's desk, light, heating and air conditioning, computer, and all the other things.

        Most places, overhead cost for an engineer runs around 100% of his/her salary, meaning that an engineer whose gross salary (before taxes and other deductions) is $60K/year actually costs the employer ca. $120K/year.
    • A decent aerospace engineer must cost a business around 120 grand or so for a year of work,

      It's a little dangerous to post concrete numbers in a field that you don't actually know anything about. I consider myself "a decent aerospace egineer" and I cost my employer something like 1/4 million per yer. And I have single-digit years of seniority - there's much more expensive folks out there. There's also cheaper people, of course. But when you include things like benefits, $120k p.a. is barely going to buy

    • ... they are doing it for the love. People competing for the prize are doing this because they can do it and because they want to do it. The prize is a consolation prize and yes helps recoup costs but that is about it. The original X-prize was $10M and Burt Rutan got $20M from Paul Allen in funding on top of materials he already had. Its a token prize to get people going, not meant to be a business decision. Doing it for love, not profit. The way the competition is set up there are already 2 serious contend
  • How hard would it be to deploy a tether on the moon and be able to pick up and move a lander? The gravity on the moon is obviously less, so the strength requirements of the rope would be significantly less. I wonder if its possible to use a hemp rope suspended from a satellite to move things on the moon.
    • You better lay off smoking that rope for a spell.
    • Re:Moon Tether (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If you mean like a synchronous skyhook (aka "beanstalk", aka "space elevator"), it won't work. Whereas synchronous orbit of the earth is at the awkwardly high altitute of 22K miles, the equivalent for the moon is roughly 10X as high (as a result of the slower rotation of the moon about its axis).

      Plus there's this big planet that happens to be EXACTLY at the required altitude, so until it can be demolished (to make way for a hyperspace bypass) you're going to have a really hard time with this!
      • ahhhhhhhh, so earth's in geosync orbit around the moon! but wait, that makes the moon a planet and earth moon's moon! still, explains why we only ever see one side
  • Back in the day. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by PatTheGreat ( 956344 )
    You know, it's vaugely surprising that they're even testing modules. Back in the day, when they were doing this the first time around, the lunar lander set down on the moon without ever being tested. They were depending on the relatively low gravity on the moon, and thus the lander could not actually stand up under it's own weight on Earth. So they couldn't test it under Earth gravity, and so they didn't test it at all.
    • Re:Back in the day. (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No. It could stand it's own weight, and they did test it, both the concept on Earth (Lunar Landing Research Vehicle) as well as the actual vehicle in space on Apollo 9.
    • Check this out:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Landing_Researc h_Vehicle [wikipedia.org]

      There was a jet engine that lifts 5/6 of the weight, leaving lunar-like gravity effects (though not inertial effects) for the rocket engines to deal with.
      • they used this during the Apollo program, ostensibly to allow the astronauts to practice landing the LEM while still on Earth. They called it the flying beadstead. It was damn near a death-trap. Neil Armstrong - the guy who piloted the first real LEM landing (and subsequently, first man on the moon) - had to eject himself from it when it went out of control and crashed in a small fireball. I believe I heard that the "out of control" part was from the guidance system being unable to keep the jet propulsi
    • No, there were many tests. Remember the 'flying bead stead' and the tests in space with earlier Apollo missions. Yes, I was around back then, a mere kid though...
  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Sunday May 07, 2006 @09:22PM (#15282998)
    There's a story in "Chariots for Apollo" about the potential problem of hitting the descent stage engine bell on a uncharted rock. They had to consider that landing on a rock could damage the bell, push the bell into the ascent stage, etc... But they had neither the time nor the money to design and execute a test + spare LM to see what would happen. One day as they were moving the LM on a crane, the rig slipped, and the whole thing landed, engine bell down, on a pile of crates. No significant damage. One of the managers turned to the team and said someting like "You just got your million dollar test for free."
  • Bigger prize (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Council ( 514577 ) <rmunroe@ELIOTgmail.com minus poet> on Sunday May 07, 2006 @11:04PM (#15283247) Homepage
    Am I the only one who sort of wants them to say, "Hey! Anyone who goes and builds a moon colony gets all our money."

    Enough with this baby-step stuff.
  • I'm gonna go build my own lunar lander! With blackjack! And hookers! In fact, forget the lunar lander and the blackjack! Ahh, screw the whole thing.
  • If I created the X-Prize, I would want several winners. Each of those projects will have something to contribute to the end product designed by NASA for an auctual Lunar trip. One may have a revolutionary liftoff thruster, while it may suck at landing while another might land extremely smoothly, but take off poorly. If you only accept one winner then your possibilities are limited while three has many more possibilities.

"The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was." -- Walt West

Working...