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Lunar Lander Challenge recap

Posted by: Lourens - Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:05 pm
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Lunar Lander Challenge recap 
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Post Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:05 pm
Well, it seems that the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is over. So, time to look back. Was it a success, or a failure, or something in between, and where in between?

I have mixed feelings, many things went wrong (publicity, demise of X-Prize Cup, and a controversial jury decision to top it all off) but the end result is quite encouraging (two companies that completed the Level 2 task, and a third doing interesting stuff as well). I'm not certain whether to ascribe the bad parts to circumstances or to shoddy organising. The economic crisis can't have helped, but on the other hand many things went wrong before that as well. Maybe the mainstream public just isn't interested?

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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Thu Nov 05, 2009 1:11 am
I think that overall it was a success, but you'd probably expect me to say that. At a very minimum, the LLC moved up the Masten Space schedule by at least six months, which is quite an advancement.

Someday I'd like to go into detail about the behind-the-scenes, but for now it's just scuttlebut to be shared in person. should probably write it all down and release it in a couple years.

But yeah, there are six and a half groups in the US who have hovered a rocket vehicle (DC-X, AA, MSS, UR, TZ, Nasa's very low performance Micro Lunar Lander, nasa's other very low performance Lunar Lander Testbed, maybe count the MKV-L), where there were only two before the LLC started. Some of the knowledge is just being reinvented, but there is a good deal of innovation and advancement in the field as well.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Thu Nov 05, 2009 10:49 am
I think from a technical standpoint it was a success. Of course, AA and MSS have been doing pretty much the same thing before the LLC anyway, but there is now doubt, that the LLC has speed up their development and as Ben has already pointed out: there has not been done a lot of work in the VTVL area before (at least not with rockets). Without the LLC, the guys behind TZ probably would not have done anything in that area and I guess the Breeds would not have put such an enormous effort into a hovering rocket either.


From an organizational standpoint, there are definitely things that could have been done better:

.) not being able to host a public event in the last 2 years, just as competition finally heats up certainly did not help to increase publicity (maybe they just thought that it would be only AA trying to fly all over again?)
.) not even having a proper webcast/tv coverage for AA's qualifying L2 flight this year was like the tip of the iceberg of the "public outreach disaster"
.) I still don't know if letting the teams fly on their own terms was a good or bad decision. Would have MSS and UR really flown this year in case there would have been a single competition event sometime in October? I mean as it turned out they both needed all the time they could get (with the exception of Xombie which was ready a lot earlier).
.) randomly re-interpreting rules last minute to ensure all the prices will be won certainly wasn't one of my favorites either.

@ Ben
Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry at MSS winning, you guys really deserved it! But I would have preferred it without that grain of strange tasting salt. :|

Oh and please write down all that behind the scenes stuff! I would really like to know that stuff, even If I had to wait some years for it.


PS: I'm really curious about the upcoming ceremony and especially about what John Carmack will have to say about how things turned out in the end.

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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Sat Nov 07, 2009 1:17 am
RE: Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Competition:

First, congratulations to the Four Teams which managed to get Landers into the air, and FAA permits to fly these untethered in competitions!

Not only were the technical issues daunting, the paperwork issues (with serious FAA consideration of safety for viewer crowds of ten thousands) were also challenging!

A few notes:

There has always been some flexibility in the rules (such as “extra flight time windows” when possible) with the emphasis on making technical comparisons possible, rather than blocking promising efforts due to technicalities. As I recall Armadillo benefited from some of these (such as taking off with a “propped up” broken leg on a questionably safe flight).

Armadillo started with at least a two year head start, flying a vehicle of this type at the “Countdown ...” X PRIZE Cup event, before this competition was even announced. “Bad Luck” cost them most of this lead, and perhaps Hubris finally cost them first place, as they dismissed the possibility that anyone else would qualify and have a chance at improving the landing accuracy.


It is not certain that “Public Interest” does not exist for such events. What has been demonstrated is that “Corporate Advertising Interest” does not exist in them. Hypothetically, there should be a connection, but in fact advertising practices follow very much a “Herd” mentality, with very few willing to take a risk on an activity “out of the mainstream”. The X PRIZE itself attracted a lot of publicity on MSN news sites when it was being run. Far, Far more publicity than the recent “Americas Cup”, ocean sailing competition. But that sailing competition raised over $1200 Million in corporate funding for the competition teams, while the X PRIZE generated very little funding. Note that even the Lunar Lander competition has generated more accessible news coverage than the mentioned sailing competition! I don't have a solution to this discrepancy, but offer it as an observation. If ongoing efforts continue to make space related efforts interesting (and overcome NASA's efforts to make space seem dull – with only media hype to add “spice”) then a “daring” sponsor could join Google in putting some money into these efforts.


Off the subject;

While I rather enjoy the noise of really big rockets, I also know that small rockets, like small computers, will be crucial to affordable spaceflight! The biggest “Estes” style rocket launch to date was vying for attention last week. Not actually and Estes motor, but an ATK product. NASA spent about $450 Million to fly a stock Shuttle SRB (standard fuel grains and nozzle in a lengthened casing) in a very large model rocket. Model in this case doesn't mean reduced scale, but means a boilerplate mock up, a totally nonfunctional simulation of planned upper stages, capsule, and escape tower.

I admit that some engineering data could be acquired from this expensive kludge, but a lot of people have been led to believe that some significant part of the planned Ares was actually flown! The motor ran, more or less as it has on all but one operational flight, but the flight was a failure! Not necessarily by NASA standards, but it would have failed as a high power qualification flight in TRA and NAR operations!

With failure of three of the four parachutes and unrepairable damage to the “reusable” booster, an “Amateur” flier would would not have qualified for “High Power Certification” with this flight!

Anyone who looks down on “Amateur Rocket” efforts should keep this fact in mind.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Sun Nov 08, 2009 8:54 pm
rpspeck wrote:
RE: Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Competition:

First, congratulations to the Four Teams which managed to get Landers into the air, and FAA permits to fly these untethered in competitions!

As a minor nitpick, our operations so far have been under class 3 amateur waivers, though we do have three or four of them. We have not yet gotten into the permit or license program, which promises to be a whole new pain in the ass.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:04 pm
Marcus, I agree about the XPF promotional problems. There would have been a webcast for our level 1 attempt, but they said they'd do it and then dropped out a day or two before so I wasn't able to get something else arranged in time. These and other stories... well, just talk to me or Paul or John when you run into us sometime.

Re readiness of B vs. E, oddly enough B seemed a lot more rushed, ignoring the overnight fixing on E. We put E together in a month and went through a very quick flight test program before the event, to make sure we had the performance. It was so much like B that it really has very few issues for a brand new vehicle. We also knew that E had a lot more margin for the competition than B (our 196s hover on E is the longest in world history) so we could let the engine run however it wanted without stressing about the behavior in blowdown or any other ways it differs from B.

(Both LLC flights were actually started fairly low on helium, due to leaks and purge use on igniter tests and failed starts. It was in blowdown for about two thirds of the flight, but still had a good bit of margin on pressure. The throttle valve position during the flight is a really neat shelf, as the reduction in tank pressure meant that the engine throttled down without moving the valves much.)

The vehicle matches the CAD model much better as well, so the intertia matrix and CG data for Ian is a lot more accurate. That means it generally flies better, though I still think of it as more fragile.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Mon Nov 09, 2009 7:49 pm
Ben wrote:
As a minor nitpick, our operations so far have been under class 3 amateur waivers, though we do have three or four of them. We have not yet gotten into the permit or license program, which promises to be a whole new pain in the ass.


Until Early 2009, wavers were not an option. The FAA was quite specific, when I talked to them in Washington, DC, 2006: “No 'Motor run time waver' would be issued for a rocket with guidance.” This made a license or permit necessary, and both require a full “Environmental Impact Statement” - with public hearings – for any and all flight locations listed in the paperwork. Motor run time was removed from all rocket classes in 2009, and no specific mention of control has ever been in the written rules. Those teams who flew – or worked hard to be able to fly before 2009 – had to accept this extra “Pain”.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Mon Nov 09, 2009 9:03 pm
Private Exploration on the Moon is not far off!

It is not widely recognized that the terrestrial “Lunar Lander” simulations are quite a bit more demanding than actual lunar operations. The control system, for example, must respond 2.5 times faster for adequate control when hovering at 6 times Lunar Gravity. The motor has to be heavier, with higher thrust and much heavier and faster response control systems.

More important, the reduction of “Specific Impulse” when operating at normal air pressure causes about 30% loss in performance, and to hold this loss down, high feed pressures are used – and heavier, pressurized fuel tanks are necessary.

Eliminating this unnecessary mass, and removing the “Flight Termination” Safety Systems (since there are no bystanders to protect, and these systems only add new ways to kill the lunar astronaut), a “Terrestrial Simulation” Lunar Lander with 25 kg of “Payload” is roughly sufficient to land – OR Return – a human traveler from the surface of the Moon! (More than sufficient with a low mass astronaut!) (Two are necessary for a round trip + Spares and Sample transport units landing with only fuel for return flights.)

This of course assumes one travels “Economy Class”, leaving your RV in lunar orbit, and taking only lunch, water and snacks on your Lunar Surface, Day Trip.

This is well documented in the NASA “Roads not Taken” file:
Solo Lunar Lander, NASA Langley, 1961

http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/Histo ... ch3-5.html

Storable fuels, or good insulation and Sun Shields for the LOX tank are of course necessary.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Fri Nov 13, 2009 9:29 pm
I think you have a good point there, the NGLLC seems to have got easier this last season, putting the contestants closer together. The regulatory changes you mention helped, but also the fact that teams could now do their flights at a location of their choosing, that is, their home base.

Most if not all of Armadillo's problems at the X-Prize Cup were related to operating in a different environment from what they were used to. By this year's rules, AA would have won level 2 last year, as they did successful back to back 180s flights at their home base, at a time when no one else was anywhere near winning level 2.

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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Sat Nov 14, 2009 8:35 am
Yeah, it's easy to claim that sort of thing now.


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Post Re: Lunar Lander Challenge recap   Posted on: Thu Nov 19, 2009 10:26 pm
I'm sorry Ben, I'm not sure I follow you there. I'm not saying that the NGLLC suddenly got easy, just that it was somewhat less difficult. In my opinion you guys won fair and square. It's just that I don't think that Armadillo's loss was completely fair.

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What is this spell we’re under, do you care? The might to rise above it is now within your sphere
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