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Armadillo Aerospace Nearly Wins Northrop Grumman

Published by Rob on Mon Oct 29, 2007 8:11 am
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Alamogordo, N.M., October 28, 2007 – Seven seconds prevented Armadillo Aerospace from winning the second year of competition in the two million dollar Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Over two days, Armadillo Aerospace attempted four times to achieve the two flights necessary to win the $350,000 Level I competition. Officials expected them to compete in both the Level I and Level II competitions this weekend, worth $1,350,000 in total first place prize purses.

“They nearly made it in their second attempt,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, CEO and Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation. “There were more than 85,000 spectators willing them to succeed, as well as the officials and people working on the other teams. The persistence Armadillo has shown is impressive and deserving of recognition. I want to thank the team for their enthusiastic participation and I hope they will continue their important work!”

Armadillo used the MOD-1 vehicle for all four launch windows in the Level I competition, with each window requiring two successful flights. None of the four prize winning attempts were successful, and having reached the maximum number of attempts for Level I, Armadillo ruled out any attempts for Level II.

Saturday morning’s attempt did not leave the ground due to an igniter problem caused by contamination in the feed lines. Saturday afternoon’s first flight, however, was perfect. The igniter problem reappeared in the return flight and blew a hole in the side of the chamber, preventing it from hovering the required 90 seconds. The landing was aborted with seven seconds left as a safety precaution, disqualifying the flight.

Sunday morning’s first flight was again perfect. The second flight left the ground briefly but was also aborted by the team for safety reasons related to earlier problems.

The team continued to experience problems during the last attempt of Sunday afternoon. The engine exploded on ignition, resulting in a small fire and the flight was aborted. The team followed emergency procedures and fire engines were called in, however no one was hurt.

“This weekend, we’ve had more problems that we’ve had in the last six months. We know what went wrong, but not why,” said Neil Milburn, Vice President, Armadillo Aerospace. “The Cup has given us an opportunity to show what we can do in front of multiple audiences, which we would not have been able to do otherwise. We know we’ll be back again, and we’ll nail it next time.”

Armadillo Aerospace is led by John Carmack, who is widely recognized in the video game industry for the creation of games like Doom and Quake. He started Armadillo in 2000 to compete for the Ansari X PRIZE, which was later won by Scaled Composites and SpaceShipOne. Armadillo made a smooth transition from suborbital flight to lunar landers when the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was announced as one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. In 2006, Armadillo’s “Pixel” was the only craft to fly at the X PRIZE Cup, and narrowly missed the winning the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge due to broken landing gear.

“This was a weekend of outstanding competition,” said Dr. William Gaubatz, Chief Judge of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. “We believe Armadillo set some records in terms of reusability. We hope they carry on and inspire other teams to shoot for the prize and new records.”

The third annual X PRIZE Cup was held at Holloman Air Force Base on October 27 and 28, 2007. It was the first space expo ever in which aircraft and rockets flew at the same event, and is the result of a unique partnership between Holloman Air Force Base, the State of New Mexico and the X PRIZE Foundation. In addition to the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, the 85,000 people in attendance were able to see a state of the art air show with F-117s, F-22s, the Wings of Blue Jump team, acres of static aircraft and space displays, and much, much more.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a two-level, two million dollar competition requiring a vehicle to simulate trips between the moon’s surface and lunar orbit. The Challenge was hosted by the X PRIZE Foundation and sponsored by NASA, with additional financial support from Northrop Grumman. The vehicle had to rise to a height of 50 meters, translate to a landing pad 100 meters away, land safely, and then return, following the same path. Two levels were defined: one with smooth landing pads, the other with a replica lunar surface as an additional difficulty. Nine teams initially registered to compete, though an anonymous team dropped out of the competition in August. The final eight teams were: Acuity Technologies, BonNova, Masten Space Systems, Micro-Space, Paragon Labs, SpeedUp, and Unreasonable Rocket.

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. On October 4, 2004, the X PRIZE Foundation captured world headlines when Mojave Aerospace Ventures, led by legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world’s first private vehicle to space twice in two weeks to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE. The X PRIZE Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics and the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, and will continue to offer new prizes for breakthroughs in the areas of life improvement, exploration, equity of opportunity and sustainability. The Foundation is widely recognized as the leading model for fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit www.xprize.org or email press@xprize.org.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges
NASA’s Centennial Challenges promotes technical innovation through a novel program of prize competitions. It is designed to tap the nation’s ingenuity to make revolutionary advances to support the Vision for Space Exploration and NASA goals. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate manages the program.

Northrop Grumman Corporation
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. Northrop Grumman provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. With more than 120,000 employees and operations in all 50 states and 25 countries, Northrop Grumman serves U.S. and international military, government and commercial customers.

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