Xoie - Reusable Rocket

Published Jan-14-10

Breakthrough:
A reusable rocket engine that simulates the desired flight of a spacecraft capable of landing and then leaving the moon.

Company:
Masten Space Systems, United States

The Story:

Xoie - Reusable Rocket The space agency NASA continues to develop means of exploring the solar system with down-to- earth help via open innovation contests.

Lunar Lander Challenge

The Lunar Lander Challenge required teams to build and fly a rocket-powered vehicle that simulates the flight of a spacecraft on the moon. The lander had to take off vertically and reach an altitude of 50 meters (160 feet) and fly horizontally for 100 meters (330 feet) before landing accurately on a designated pad. Then it had to fly back to its original point of takeoff and land safely and successfully. Both flight paths had to be achieved within a two-hour-and-15-minute time frame.

Exacting Open Innovation Competition

The open innovation competition demanded that thrust, control, and navigation had to be controlled automatically. The rocket’s engine had to be started twice within a narrow time band, and no ground service was allowed other than refueling. The stringent rules represented some of the technical challenges that will face NASA when operating a reusable craft capable of landing on, and then leaving the moon.

NASA has a monumental task in developing a reusable lunar craft which is why it is seeking outside help - to tap into the brains of so-called 'citizen inventors.' To illustrate the scale of the challenge the space shuttle has reusable rocket engines which require exhaustive servicing between missions. This kind of on-the-ground maintenance will not be available on the Moon.

The competition was split into two levels. Level 1 required a flight duration of 90 seconds and for Level 2 it had to be 180 seconds. And one of the Level 2 landings had to be on a simulated lunar terrain of rocks and boulders.

Rocket Power

The 2009 Lunar Challenge opened in July 2009 and four teams were in pursuit of the prize. They had to compete by October and those that met the requirements were then ranked according to landing accuracy. The overall winner was Masten Space Systems, an aerospace startup company in Mojave, California. They are developing a line of reusable VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft and won the competition with their “Xoie” vehicle that provided more than 1,000 pounds of thrust.

Previously, a team called Armadillo Aerospace successfully met the competition requirements with a landing accuracy of about 35 inches. And then one day before the competition was due to close Masten pipped them to the launch pad with a landing accuracy of about 7.5 inches. It netted them a $1 million payday.

The Lunar Challenge formed part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges and was hosted with the X-Prize Foundation and Northrop Grumman Corporation. It was designed to spur the development of space transport and to help build an industry of companies that can send reusable craft routinely to the moon. The aim was also to jumpstart a new era of lunar exploration.

Charles F. Bolden, Jr., NASA’s Administrator is a big fan of what open innovation competitions can achieve. “Everything we’ve seen since NASA began the Centennial Challenge program tells us that prizes do work ... but it’s not about money; it’s about vision and inspiration.”

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