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Armadillo Aerospace's "Pixel" launch vehicle also competed in last year's competition.   (Source: Armadillo Aerospace, 2006)
The sad part was the lander was seemingly doomed from the start.

Armadillo Aerospace, led by gaming legend John Carmack of id Software fame, tried valiantly to win the X-Prize as the sole competitor in the field.

The X-Prize, a long standing competition, aims to provide monetary rewards to design teams who successfully complete a space or space-related challenge, as well as other challenges that aim to benefit mankind.  It is run by the X-Prize Foundation.

The most famous X-Prize event has been the Ansari X Prize event, which gave a $10 million USD prize to the first team to complete a successful suborbital flight.  The award was eventually won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne team led by Burt Rutan and financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.  This team would go on to found Virgin Galactic with billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

Armadillo Aerospace, which also competed unsuccessfully in the Ansari X Prize, aimed to win the new Lunar Lander Challenge.  The challenge was sponsored by Northrop Grumman. 

At stake was a $350,000 USD purse, for the Level 1 challenge, which as the sole competitor was theirs to win or lose.

The Level 1 challenge required the team to launch a rocket from a designated launch area, reach an altitude of 150 feet (50 meters) and then hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a landing pad nearly 330 feet (100 meters) away. The flight then would be repeated in reverse - and both flights, along with all of the necessary preparation for each, had to take place within a two and a half hour period.

Originally four teams had planned to compete, as chronicled by DailyTech, but the other teams were not able to produce working crafts for the launch.

Over two days of attempts, Carmack's crew struggled with many difficulties.  They made six flight attempts, two of which looked very successful.  One of the other attempts lasted 83 seconds, even with a crack in its combustion chamber, a sign that the Armadillo Team is improving upon its designs.

On Saturday, the craft was poised to capture victory, but the multi-legged lander self-aborted and tipped over upon touching down.  Then on Sunday came the worst disaster which doomed any future launch attempts.  The craft was undergoing ignition and preparing to launch when a boom rocked the desert landscape and flames sprung up, engulfing the craft.  The engine fire was very destructive to the craft and caused pieces to fall off and disconnected its cabling.

Peter Diamandis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the X Prize Foundation, was quick to react with a pre-scripted response scenario.  He elaborates, "From the field, we heard a little bit of a boom and there was a hard start on the engine of some type."

Pete Worden, one of the Lunar Lander Challenge judges and director of NASA's Ames Research Center, had consoling words for the Armadillo Aerospace team afterwards. "It's over for them for this X Prize Cup.  I do think they are getting's a robust design. I think they'll make it. Once again, it proves that rocket science is hard."

Carmack's team was not available for immediate comment, but they decided not to try for another nighttime attempt, on account of the massive damage.  They will likely be back next year though with a refined design.

If Carmack's team eventually succeeds, they can set their aim to the Level 2 challenge.  The Level 2 Challenge is far more difficult and requires the rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface, packed with craters and boulders to mimic actual lunar terrain. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform a real lunar mission.

The total prize for completing the Level 1 and Level 2 challenges is $1.35 million USD.

With that kind of motivation and a legend like Carmack at their helm Armadillo Aerospace seems poised to one day overcome their demons and win this challenge, despite this setback.

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By Erudite on 10/30/2007 9:28:58 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not a rocket scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't imagine that amount of money covering the kind of cost it has to take to actually complete a project like this.

That being said, I realize that the money isn't the only thing they're after. The really sad thing now for them, is they went from having a huge investment in a lander vehicle to having a huge investment in pieces of a lander vehicle.

I hope they do better next time.

RE: $350,000?
By Gul Westfale on 10/30/2007 11:26:28 AM , Rating: 2
i heard that armadillo has a defense contract for some of their tech, so they don't really need the 350k.

RE: $350,000?
By wordsworm on 10/30/2007 11:53:50 AM , Rating: 5
I think it's about honour and achievement rather than winning money. As was said in the article, the people involved are all billionaires. Some other people commented that Carmack isn't a rocket scientist. I don't know if any of you were fans of the TV show The Pretender. I'm not a big fan of it. But one idea was that a man/woman of intelligence can become anything they want to be. I think this is a great hobby for a billionaire. I admire people who try to reinvent themselves regardless of where they've been.

I do believe Bill's about to get involved in the cancer fight. He's not a medical doctor, but he's got two things going for him: lots of money, and what appears to be a sincere desire to change the world for the better.

RE: $350,000?
By Sahrin on 10/30/2007 7:55:18 PM , Rating: 2
5 points for mentioning The Pretender - that show rocked.

RE: $350,000?
By timmiser on 10/30/2007 1:44:59 PM , Rating: 2
I think the main goal of all the X-Prize winners is not the initial X-Prize award but rather the possible corporate or NASA contracts that could result from their low cost design. For example, the Ansari X-Prize winners have already created a long term goal of selling tourist rides into space which could result in a profitable future endeavour.

All you pooh-pooh-ers.....
By HVAC on 10/30/2007 1:19:58 PM , Rating: 1
...if you have anything to say....say it on the launch pad with your own ship.

Otherwise ... STFU! We don't want to hear it, read it, or know anything about your negative attitude.

RE: All you pooh-pooh-ers.....
By Ammohunt on 10/30/2007 6:25:13 PM , Rating: 2
Wow! off your meds i see. I have built many rockets 99% of them have been successful. How many have you built?

RE: All you pooh-pooh-ers.....
By Urkis on 10/31/2007 9:52:04 PM , Rating: 2
I commend you on your many successful designs. John Carmack's budget is very low (relatively speaking) and he still has his full-time day job at id, so this was not a bad attempt given those circumstances.

RE: All you pooh-pooh-ers.....
By Ammohunt on 11/1/2007 5:42:32 PM , Rating: 2
Estes Designers Special rocket kit ;)

By Alphafox78 on 10/30/2007 4:07:45 PM , Rating: 3
So after they land on mars, at what point are they going to open up the gates of hell?
This seems like one step closer the completing Johns devious plan!

RE: Hell
By SavagePotato on 10/30/2007 11:59:04 PM , Rating: 2
Basicaly what Carmack needs to do is hire Dolph Lundgren for a Doom movie sequel.

This will have two effects. One Dolph is a rocket scientist, so he can get some pointers or maybe even get him to help out on the ship.

Two, the new movie will be so unbeleivably horrible it actualy will open a gate to hell itself. Possibly destroying the competition. At the least providing a realistic backdrop for the shooting of Doom 3, in which Bruce Campbell will star and eclipse all other efforts.

RE: Hell
By SavagePotato on 10/31/2007 12:00:56 AM , Rating: 2
Oh and of course Bruce will save all our asses in the process by vanquishing the forces of hell, while simultaneously shooting the movie.

Give it up
By Ammohunt on 10/30/2007 6:04:09 PM , Rating: 2
Quake != Rocket Science

RE: Give it up
By Ringold on 10/30/2007 8:09:08 PM , Rating: 2
Hotels != Space Stations

Hasn't stopped Biggelow from being successful, though.

RE: Give it up
By Urkis on 10/31/2007 9:39:31 PM , Rating: 2
"At one point on Saturday, they were within seconds of winning the money"


By BlueNC79 on 10/30/2007 9:25:53 AM , Rating: 5
BFG shot it down

You broke my Wookie!
By Enoch2001 on 10/30/2007 9:25:36 AM , Rating: 2
Impressive attempt, and a pity that they failed. Hopefully they'll have better luck next time, but I wonder what John Carmack brings to the table that decades of trained rocket scientists don't already possess? As as far as Virgin Galactic is concerned, we'll see what happens... I'm reluctantly optimistic but at the same time realize that these flights still only cater to the rich. It will be some time (if ever) that the "average Joe" will be taking trips into space.

RE: You broke my Wookie!
By semo on 10/30/2007 10:20:18 AM , Rating: 2
i'm not sure about the details but some engineers were killed during testing at virgin atlantic. not a good sign for a 21st century startup business.

i remember reading this in a newspaper just after it happened but haven't thought about it (or heard of any news) since.

By Mitch101 on 10/30/07, Rating: -1
RE: Reality
By xsilver on 10/30/2007 10:30:33 AM , Rating: 5
I dont think you necessarily need to be a rocket scientist to contribute to a project like this.
I would like to assume that Carmack can bring a lot to the think tank of a project like this because of its open ended nature; requiring lateral and inspirational thinking to move the project forward.
eg. Think of him more like a glue guy than a rocket scientist.

RE: Reality
By Trisagion on 10/30/2007 10:33:52 AM , Rating: 2

Reality: John Carmack is not a Rocket Scientist.

Considering he's self taught and Armadillo was founded only 6 years ago and that their vehicle managed to get off the ground (something that even early NASA had difficulty with), calling him a rocket scientist wouldn't be that off the mark.

RE: Reality
By codeThug on 10/30/2007 10:34:52 AM , Rating: 2
You're absolutely right.

Most rocket scientists would not have the guts to try to pull this off from scratch...

RE: Reality
By Micronite on 10/30/2007 10:47:05 AM , Rating: 3
Or the money.

RE: Reality
By AntDX316 on 11/1/07, Rating: 0
RE: Reality
By miahallen on 11/1/2007 4:06:53 AM , Rating: 3
When was the last time you heard of ANYTHING being successful on the first attempt?

Everything STARTS with failure, question is will they let failure turn into defeat!

RE: Reality
By JS on 10/30/2007 10:40:16 AM , Rating: 3
I kinda thought the whole idea with these prizes was to attract interest and development in space projects from smart people and companies outside the established space industry.

Smart people can make a big difference in fields they are not traditionally part of, if nothing else for thinking "outside the box" and approaching problems in novel ways.

I also guess Carmack knows more about rocket science than the average rocket scientist did in the 60's, since we have learned a lot since then. He doesn't have a trillion dollar budget, though. Personally I applaud any serious attempt at space exploration.

RE: Reality
By theapparition on 10/30/2007 11:16:26 AM , Rating: 2
By your same measure, then Paul Allen of Microsoft is a rocket scientist, since his team succeeded?

RE: Reality
By melgross on 10/30/07, Rating: -1
RE: Reality
By Great Googly Moogly on 10/30/2007 12:06:10 PM , Rating: 2
Carmack is VERY involved in the designs, man. You should read his Armadillo Aerospace "blog" once or twice...

RE: Reality
By elFarto on 10/30/2007 12:10:07 PM , Rating: 2

John is very very involved in the construction of the vehicles and development of the software that keeps it up.


RE: Reality
By DigitalFreak on 10/30/2007 3:49:59 PM , Rating: 1
That would explain why it failed, wouldn't it? This ain't DOOM 4.

RE: Reality
By PrimarchLion on 10/30/2007 8:15:06 PM , Rating: 2
This is just really expensive advertising for Doom 4 =)

RE: Reality
By helios220 on 10/30/2007 11:33:40 AM , Rating: 5
Smart but again not a Rocket Scientist.

What do you all believe defines a Rocket Scientist? Is it the degree, is it the experience? Aerospace Engineering is the most common broad major/profession related to the term "Rocket Scientist", with concentrations including Propulsions and Astronautics.

After completing my B.S. Eng. at the #1 rated undergraduate Aerospace Engineering program in the country, I have lost a certain degree of faith in the term 'rocket scientist'. Normal or sometimes even seemingly stupid or otherwise unremarkable people are capable of earning advanced degrees in technically advanced fields. Some are genuinely brilliant, some simply retake almost every class and take 6 years to graduate, some cheat, and some work their asses off.

An education alone does not make you a rocket scientist. Being a professional Engineer working in the Aerospace industry experience is the only thing that would make me come close to using that term, while Carmack may not be at the top of my list he is vastly more qualified then the majority of 'Rocket Scientists' I've met.

RE: Reality
By bldckstark on 10/30/2007 3:05:58 PM , Rating: 2
I had a project at work a few years ago that required high speed air flow to remove a build-up of metal shavings and oil from an automatic grinding machine(can you say "fire"?). I found that the application was going to require velocities in excess of mach 1 and started working on a nozzle to complete the project. The superintendent of the area wasn't happy with the slow progress I was making so he called me and my boss into his office and started to complain. I argued that it was a difficult project and it would take some time to complete. After a while the superintendent got fed up and screamed "C'mon guys! It's not rocket science!" To which my boss replied, "Umm, actually it is rocket science. In order to move air faster than the speed of sound you must use a well designed nozzle of the type used on most rockets." He left me alone to complete it on my timeline after that.

RE: Reality
By helios220 on 10/30/2007 3:49:20 PM , Rating: 2
I should note that I was not attempting to be overly critical of the work of Aerospace Engineers, Engineering Physicists or other related fields. Working in the industry myself I have a lot of respect for those who tackle the complexities of what many consider 'Rocket Science'. The work can be very hard, but most reasonably intelligent people can perform 'Rocket Science' with enough dedication and perseverance to develop their technical skills and related knowledge based on experience.

I have nothing but respect for my fellow Engineers, especially since I ended up passing on the thermodynamics and instead develop military Aircraft avionics for a living. I just don't like it when the term Rocket Science is used as some sort of elite and unattainable status symbol or barrier.

People are capable of great things when they remain dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.

RE: Reality
By mezman on 10/30/2007 2:22:15 PM , Rating: 1
I'll bet he could design a real kick-a$$ simulator though. The pilot would have to launch the lander before the Strogg got to it.

RE: Reality
By Mitch101 on 10/30/2007 5:09:23 PM , Rating: 1
The problem with most overly technical people is they lack a sense of humor. Sure they think they have one but they dont.

This explains it all.

Hopefully you get the joke.

RE: Reality
By helios220 on 10/30/2007 5:55:34 PM , Rating: 2
While it may be likely that you are already aware of this, any +/- rating that a user makes is nullified when they post in the thread which they rated, so it's not like any of the people who chose to contribute to the conversation have anything to do with your down rating.

The DT rating system is often or perhaps I should ay most often unjustified so I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

In regards to geek humor though, there are several comics devoted almost entirely to technical professions, like Dilbert and software engineering.

RE: Reality
By Mitch101 on 10/30/2007 9:29:43 PM , Rating: 2
Good Dilbert link I program on the side to make my job easier and sadly I think I have been in that position more times than I care to remember.

No sleep lost. I think it only takes 3 people to not like what you say and its -1 rating. If we all said the right thing there wouldnt be anything to talk about.

A lot of time the negative responses carry some cool information and links so you sometimes learn new things at the cost of some negativity.

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