Sunday, October 28, 2007

At the Wirefly X-Prize Cup

As I happened to be in Orlando, Florida on my honeymoon, my lovely wife gave me permission to fly out to New Mexico attend the Wirefly X-Prize Cup. I arrived around 9am to discover that the first attempt by Armadillo Aerospace to win the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was scrubbed due to a clogged fuel igniter. The second attempt was after lunch and everything went great for the first leg of the flight. Refueling appeared to be going fine when the announcers reported that there appeared to be another clog in a fuel line. This was reported to have been cleared, and the flight appeared to go fine. Due to a requirement of the prize the vehicle has to hover over the landing pad until 90 seconds of flight time is complete. During the last 7 seconds of this hover the vehicle fell. When the dust cleared the module was lying on its side.

Space.com is reporting that the dust may have been the problem. We won't know until Carmack makes a report.

Jason Silverman from Wired Science is blogging about it, and has spoken to Carmack. I saw Silverman there in the Masten Space tent (David Masten has been a fabulous host for AA enthusiasts). Carmack is reported as saying that the clog from this morning was the cause of the crash this afternoon but the damage to the vehicle is minimal.

On the second day I swore to get there early enough to see the first flight. I got from Las Cruses to the airforce base in 50 minutes, but they wouldn't open the west gate for an hour, and then the bus from the parking lot to the show took another 25 minutes so I got there around 8:30am and the team was already deployed. The first leg of the attempt went well, but on the return flight there was a problem immediately after takeoff and an abort. As with yesterday's attempt, the problem was a blowout in the graphite sleeve of the engine. While out in the field they moved the engine from Pixel to the module. I believe the intention was to fly it back after the refit but the X-Prize people told them that this was not an acceptable repair as the engine was not "carried" onto the field (it was on the truck).

The final attempt was after lunch.. and with much anticipation we waited through the setup process, only to be rewarded with a failure to liftoff the pad for the first leg. I saw a plume of LOX cover the pad at about 2 of the countdown.. then flames covered the pad and engulfed the engine. It was over in a matter of seconds. John (in his white shirt) and the others (in their blue outfits) turned towards the camera and walked away shortly after. A fire truck was called in to put out the smoldering vehicle.

Last I heard the AST was out looking at the debris and the rest of the launch window was scrubbed. There would be no more attempts today.

I got some awesome sunburn.

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