Monday, March 26, 2007

Space Access '07 - X Prize Cup Operations

X PRIZE Cup Operations – Nicole Jordan and Will Pomerantz

(Note: Select "Space Access '07" for all posts on that conference).

They gave a 2006 recap. The 2006 event had a live webcast, 7,000 kids attending, and 20,000 attendees overall. The event featured a rocket belt demonstration, high powered rockets, fly-bys from various aircraft, a rocket racing league trainer, and the Space Elevator games. The schedule for the event was complicated. In planning they tried to leave room for errors in the schedule. They tried to have something happening every 15 minutes. The schedule was designed to be flexible.

They discussed the event site’s layout. They considered where the crowd is, where the challenges will be held, and so on. They, and also the FAA, wanted safety first. They investigated insurance costs. They had 5 staff on operations, plus White Sands Missile Range staff. There were volunteer safety officers from the Air Force, etc. They had a fuel depot manager.

Organizationally their safety responsibilities were depicted as follows:

Participant <---> X PRIZE Cup <------> Emergency Response

The Bureau of Land Management controlled land that they couldn’t ride into, although access to this land was needed to recover amateur rockets. They were thinking they might have to ride into the area on horses (laughter), but got to use jeeps finally.

The rules for the Lunar Lander Challenge were discussed. Northrop Grumman gave a major donation for the challenge. NASA Centennial Challenges provided the prize money. Other donors also helped with the event. As an aside, the overall X Prize Cup event will be “Wirefly” for the title sponsor again. The Lunar Lander Challenge demonstrates vertical takeoff, vertical landing rocketry. 2 flights in 150 minutes are required. The “Junior Varsity” version requires 90 seconds of flight, while the “Varsity” version requires 180 seconds of flight and landing on a simulated lunar surface.

They met with the LLC contestant teams ahead of time, and on site, to bring out any issues.

They pick the judges, not the winners of the prize.

They discussed the launch pad design. The launch pad needed to handle extreme heat. The “Varsity” challenge landing pad also required boulders and craters. They showed a picture of the rough lunar terrain being constructed, and discussed the enthusiasm of the group in making sure it was nice and rough enough (laughter). These helpers might be contestants next year, and regret their enthusiasm (laughter).

An FAA experimental permit is needed before a contestant can fly. The first one (ever granted by the FAA to anyone, I gather by tone of voice?) was granted the day before the event.

They allowed Pixel (Armadillo’s now famous LLC challenge vehicle) to get closest to the crowd when it was being worked on. This was arranged to allow the crowd an up-close-and-personal experience. For safety, the actual event was held far from the crowd.

They had some troubles that year. For example, there were loopholes in the rules. For example, there was some debate about what “vertical” means. How far off in degrees would be allowed?

In 2007, there is the possibility the event will be held at the Holloman Air Force Base in conjunction with the air show there. The base has good infrastructure for the space show. For example, they have the communications gear, pads, safety infrastructure, and personnel the space event needs. The combined event would be mutually supporting and it’s likely there would be overlap in audience interest.

For the Lunar Lander Challenge, there is still $2 million on the table. There have been some minor tweaks to the rules this year, such as the definition of “vertical”, and changes to the approved fuel list. An E85 standard Ethanol mix is now allowed. The contestants can repair the vehicle, but must the vehicle must carry any parts needed in the repair, in keeping with the theme of simulating a lunar landing where spare parts are not available in the local terrain. There is a $2,500 registration fee, and a $5,000 late registration fee.

There may be an event in late April, potentially at the Holloman Air Force base (presumably depending on whether or not it looks like that will be the event location), for “on the fence” teams. Compared to last year, the contestants have the luxury of time. For example, they have more time for the legal applications.

They are looking into some improvements this year. For example, the X PRIZE Foundation is planning to promote the teams more, and visiting with them more. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge web site will have sections for the teams. It would be best if the teams could give the X PRIZE Foundation any data they may have as soon as possible. The helps them with the web site, with FAA interactions, and with operations.

There may team summits in April, July, and September. On-site flight tests should happen 1 month early (possibly). The experimental permit is difficult to get, so their advise is to start early, and have a pre-application consultation.

For more see RLV News, or Why Homeschool.

The Space Access web site has more interesting information about the issues with cheap access to space over the years, up to this year's conference. Mark your calendars for next year's highly recommended conference.

The X PRIZE Cup site has more information about the 2006 X PRIZE Cup event.

The X PRIZE site has more information about the X PRIZE Cup rules and other background information. Here's where to go to donate to or get involved with the X PRIZE Foundation to help them run the LLC and other incentive prizes.