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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lunar Challenge : Armadillo’s MOD shows their possible capability but not reach satisfactory level

Armadillo's MOD shows their possible capability but not reach satisfactory levelArmadillo's MOD Meets with Limited Success on Day 1 of Lunar Challenge.

The first day of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, a grant challenge event that NASA organizes saw Armadillo Aerospace, a space company, make its mark in its first attempt to fly a lunar spacecraft. The task in the challenge is to simulate a lunar flight.

The challenge, which is a two-day event and is the headline act of the 2007 X Prize Cup space and air show. The challenge is broken into two levels. The teams get two tries for each level and have to be successful at each attempt. The event is part of a NASA initiative to tap new technology for its space programs.

Armadillo Aerospace, which is owned by John Cormack, the creator of Doom, completed the first phase of the challenge by successfully launched and flew a privately built lunar probe, the MOD, for a duration of one and a half minutes. The probe was not successful in its second attempt at flight.

The MOD stands 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide and weighs 1,400 pounds at the time of take-off. However, the craft has a thrust of 1,800 pounds. It is a liquid oxygen rocket that has computer controls and a host of sensors, including a GPS. Armadillo said it was more a prototype of vehicles it planned to use for tourist trips into space in the future.

During the first attempt, the MOD completed all the required tasks of the first level challenge - launching vertically off the launch pad to a height of 50 meters, then straightening out and traveling horizontally for another 50 meters, and finally landing back on the flat launch pad. However, during the second attempt, it toppled over five seconds prior to landing on the pad.

The toppled landing meant there was no clear winner on the first day of the challenge, even though Armadillo was the only company participating in the Lunar Lander event. The company had two more attempts left tomorrow to win the challenge and take home the two paychecks for the winner, one for each successful level.

The total prize money for the event is a whopping $2 million. Completing the first level successfully, which requires the craft to fly 50 meters vertically, then another 50 meters horizontally, and then land safely on the flat launch pad, would fetch the winner $350,000 while the second place participant takes home $150,000 for this level.

The second level is much the same as the first, the major difference being the landing surface. While the first level required safe landing on a flat surface, the second level would require safe landing on a rocky surface similar to that of the moon. The winner of this more difficult round would take home $1 million, while the runner-up would get $500,000.

Doug Comstock, the director of the innovative space program at NASA, said Armadillo had two more tries to emerge the winner tomorrow. If Armadillo can iron out the kinks in its probe, it has an easy chance of emerging the winner, considering it is the only participant in the fray for the second year running.

Of the nine teams scheduled to compete this year, the remaining eight teams could not make it to the challenge. While most of these teams were not allowed to compete because of an inability to comply with the safety requirements laid down by the Federal Aviation Administration, one mystery team opted out before the challenge was scheduled to start.

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