XPC: 2006 vs. 2007
This year's XPC event was combined with
the bi-annual air show at Holloman AFB and it differed
considerably from XPC
2006. In 2006 there were the Space Elevator Challenges
(Power Beaming and Tether Strength) in addition to the
NG-LLC. This year the space elevator competitions were
held separately in Utah. Also, in 2006 there were a
number of static rocket engine firings, many amateur
rocket launches, Rocketman flights, etc. This year there
were just two high power amateur rocket launches (one
on Saturday and one on Sunday) and the NG-LLC. On the
other hand, the audience got lots of thrills this year
from the amazing aircraft demonstration and acrobatic
flights via the air show segment of the event.
As in 2006, there were lots of space
related exhibits, booths, and displays on the grounds
and in the exhibition hall. Also, as last year there
was one day (Friday, Octother 26th) devoted to education.
Over 6000 kids participated. In addition, the ten
finalists in the Pete
Conrad Spirit of Innovation Award had displays in
the exhibition hall and the three top teams were awarded
prizes on Sunday by Pete Conrad's widow.
The air and space shows took place Saturday
and Sunday, Oct.27-28, and were open free to the public.
reported that 85,000 people attended the event over
the 2 day event plus the education day on Friday.
News Conferences and Announcements
and Media Day on October 26th included several news
conference presentations. As noted below, announcements
were made by Rocket Racing League, Teachers-in-Space,
and Rocketplane Global. On Saturday, Orbital Outfitters
unveiled a prototype of their first spacesuit intended
for use in space tourism suborbital flights.
Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge
The XPC included the Northrop
Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge (NG-LLC) contest,
which provides a total of $2M in prize money. Although
nine teams had originally signed up for the competition,
only Armadillo Aerospace managed to get a vehicle flying
and able to pass all the LLC and FAA qualification requirements.
There were four time windows within which
LLC flights could occur. Each window was 150 minutes
long. A window was scheduled for early in the morning
and in the afternoon on Saturday and on Sunday. Within
a window, a team had to take its vehicle from the staging
area over to the starting launch pad and prepare it
for its flight. When ready, the team withdraws to a
safe distance and then begins the flight. Via remote
control, the vehicle must rise to at least 50 meters,
move sideways horizontally over to a point above a second
pad and then come down for a landing. It is refueled
and then flown back along a similar path. Still within
the time window, the vehicle must be returned to the
involve many details but basically the challenge was
divided into two levels. In level 1, the flight time
each way must be at least 90 seconds. For level 2, the
flight times are 180 seconds plus the landing pads are
made in a manner that simulates lunar terrain with rocks
and an unlevel surface.
Armadillo's Mod Vehicle Falls Short
of the Prize
Armadllo planned first to go for the Level
1 event, which offered a $350k first place purse. Once
they won that, they would then go for the Level 2 competition
and its $1M purse within the remaining time windows.
In 2006, Armadillo came very close to
winning the Level 1 prize but they had problems with
the landing legs, which had not been carefully designed
due to time constraints as they rushed to get the vehicles
ready. This year they were quite confident of winning
at least the Level 1 event and probably Level 2 as well.
They had carried out many flight tests at the Oklahoma
spaceport and even flewy a full Level 1 rehearsal.
For Level 2 they would use the Pixel "quad"
vehicle, which they flew in the 2006 event but which
was now upgraded with new, improved legs and other enhancements.
For level 1, they would fly "Mod", which was
of a brand new modular design that will allow multiple
units to be connected together to achieve high altitude
flights. Mod and another modular vehicle had been built
in just two months after Texel, Pixel's sister quad
vehicle, was destroyed during a test flight in Oklahoma
back in August.
As reported in the postings listed below,
ignition problems with the engines tripped up Armadillo's
efforts to win either level. They got off to a bad start
when clogging in the fuel line forced them to cancel
their initial flight in the first window on Saturday
morning. In the afternoon window the first flight went
well but during the return flight the engine was partially
damaged at startup. Despite considerable damage to the
nozzle, the vehicle made it over to the pad where John
Carmack let it hover a few meters off the ground, hoping
to fulfill the 90 second flight time. Unfortunately,
the engine damage worsened, causing the vehicle to begin
to swing back and forth and he had to bring it down
just 7 seconds short of the required time. The vehicle,
off balance due to the swinging, tipped over on landing
but was not damaged.
For the Sunday morning window, the first
flight again went well but once more there was another
ignition "hard start" when the vehicle took
off on the return leg. This time, though, the engine
damage was so severe the vehicle immediately came back
down onto the pad.
The team replaced the engine and tried
once again in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the engine
blew out completely and even started a brief fire. The
vehicle itself was not severely damaged but this ended
their attempt at Level 1. The LLC judges and organizers
agreed to let Armadillo go for Level 2 with Pixel in
an additional window on Sunday evening (according to
the rules, only 4 windows per level were allowed at
a given LLC event) but the team chose not to take advantage
of this opportunity. They felt they did not understand
the engine ignition problems and decided it was best
to call it quits and try again next year.
I've collected my blog entries from Space
Transport News about these events along with some
photos. I also include links to other blogs, news reports,
articles, photos, and miscellaneous resources related
to the events.