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Sun, Oct 22, 2006

Scenes Of A Spectacular XPC Effort: Armadillo Aerospace Puts 'Pixel' To The Test

John Carmack's Armadillo Crew Impresses Space Community

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Challenge only wound up with one competitor this year, despite a number of parties pursuing the mission. Taking on the challenge, for the first time, was John Carmack's truly magnificent Armadillo Aerospace team... fielding two vehicles, one named Texel and the other, Pixel...

As the accompanying photos show, there was were a number of attempts, lots of great flying, and some truly expert work done in order to pursue this lofty goal... but the final flight on Saturday (shown in the last four pix), the one that would have earned Armadillo the first tier prize, was frustrated when minor damage done in the previous landing caused a series of events that initiated an inflight abort when the vehicle banked too aggressively shortly after liftoff, and the vehicle went down, damaging itself beyond the ability to fly again.

As the official XPrize news and photo team, ANN had very close access to these missions and came away impressed with the ingenuity and inventive spirit espoused by Carmack's Rocketeers. While they did not succeed with this outing, we have little doubt that this team will be leading the way to successful attempts in the future. no kidding... these guys were amazing.

XPrize Explains The (Many) Challenges

How amazing were they? Think about it.. the XPrize folks tell ANN that our return to the Moon requires a new generation of lunar vehicles. In these competitions, teams must demonstrate the ability to launch vertically, hover, land precisely, refuel and refly.

The Vertical Lander Challenge (VLC) and Lunar Lander Challenge (LLC) presented by NASA are designed to accelerate the commercial development of a vehicle capable of ferrying cargo or humans back and forth between the surface of the Moon and low moon orbit (approximately 50 meters).

The primary differences between the Vertical Lander Challenge and the Lunar Lander Challenge are the minimum time of flight (90 vs. 180 sec.), the surface terrain at the landing sites (flat vs. rocky) and the degree of difficulty presented for precision landing.

Such a vehicle would have direct application to NASA's space exploration goals as well as the personal spaceflight industry. Additionally, the prize will help industry build new vehicles and develop the operational capacity to operate quick turnaround vertical take-off, vertical landing vehicles, which will be of significant use to many facets of the commercial launch procurement market.

To win either challenge, a rocket-propelled vehicle with an assigned payload must take-off vertically, climb to at least 50 meters, fly for a pre-determined minimum amount of time and land vertically on a target that is approximately 100 meters from the takeoff point. The vehicle must then fly back to the original pad under the same guidelines and land on the original launch pad.

Yes, we did not see success this year... but its only a matter of time before challenges like this and far greater one to follow are not only met, but exceeded... such is the spirit of the XPrize.

ANN will have other stories about Armadillo's efforts and others involved in this challenge, shortly.

FMI: www.xprize.org, www.armadilloaerospace.com

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