Tuesday, 22 Sep, 2009 Technology

Private Companies Compete for the Best Lunar Module


A number of private firms take part in a competition for creating the best lunar module. The winner will receive $1 million prize. Currently the leader is considered to be the Texas-based firm called Armadillo Aerospace that carried out back-to-back flights of its Scorpius. The competition was launched by NASA and participants have time till October 31st.

All participants will be judged by the accuracy of their vehicles' landings on pads as well as by how long these vehicles will fly. It is worth mentioning that the pads are 60 meters apart and one of them is constructed on rocky, pitted landscape that was developed to resemble the terrain on the lunar surface. It is worth mentioning that Armadillo Aerospace was the 2008 winner of the $350,000 prize for presenting a demonstration flight of its vehicle. Thus $1.65 million remain for the contest's main leg and runners-up.

The $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is just the starting point of a richer competition to create a spacecraft that would actually land of the lunar surface. Up till now 20 teams registered for the competition to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.

"We feel it's absolutely within the capacity of private industry to land on the moon," said William Pomerantz, who manages the lunar space contests for the X Prize Foundation. The competition attracted both, aerospace veterans and talented beginners. One of the contest's goals is to prepare the base for commercial space travels, which would be less expensive and take advantage of more proficient ways of studying and exploiting space.

"Our teams are not wholly dependent on NASA, but certainly they're all viewing NASA as anchor tenant that can help them get to where they want to go more cheaply and more regularly," Pomerantz was quoted by Discovery News as saying. Bethesda, Md.-based Futron Corp., estimated that in ten years the commercial lunar services will represent an industry worth between $1 and $1.5 billion. According to the company's report of July 2009, in the next decade there will be 6 markets that would be involved in commercial lunar services, including: the sale of hardware to governments; services for government customers; products intended for commercial industries and entertainment.

Jeff Foust, Futron analyst, mentioned: "If one or more teams are able to win this prize competition, they will be able to serve markets potentially far larger than the prize purse".

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