NGLLC 09: BonNova Out, Masten and Unreasonable Coming Up

Those of you active on Twitter over the weekend may have already heard this piece of news: Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge team BonNova has had to surrender their chance at winning any prize money this year. Team Leader Allen Newcomb and the rest of the team put in a fantastic amount of effort this year, including a truly incredibly push for the finish line within the last few weeks. However, their testing program is not as advanced as it needs to be, so the team will need to wait and see if any prize money remains after this week.

Al and the rest of team BonNova should be very proud of their work to date. In a competition where everyone is pushing the limits of rocket efficiency, BonNova's rocket stood out as the lightest-weight and smallest vehicle we've seen to date. We at the X PRIZE Foundation have little doubt that once BonNova is up and running, they will find a good amount of demand for their services. We fully suspect that that will happen soon--but it will not be this week.

This development underscores the difficulty of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. This is not an easy competition.

For now, attention will turn to Masten and Unreasonable Rocket, who both have attempts scheduled for later this week. Masten, as you'll all recall, performed the Level One job admirably just a few short weeks ago, putting the team in position to claim the $150,000 Level One, Second Place prize purse unless their performance is matched or exceeded by Unreasonable on Friday or Saturday of this week. Masten's accuracy score makes it so that Unreasonable would need a mean landing accuracy in the single-digit centimeters in order to bump Masten down to a (no-cash-prize) Third Place slot. Masten won't be wasting much bandwidth worrying about that for the next few days, though, as they are only a few days away from their Level Two attempt. Testing of their brand-new Level Two vehicle, Xoie, has been going smoothly, and the team seems confident. Masten's attempts are scheduled to kick off on Wednesday morning with a 6:30am safety briefing, a scheduled 9:00am NGLLC window start, and a first flight around 9:50am or so (all times are local to Masten's test site in Mojave, CA. Their flight window should begin around 16:00 UTC.) Masten has reserved both Wednesday and Thursday, so they have a second day available for flights if necessary.

Just after Masten's attempts, Unreasonable Rocket will make their first ever attempt to claim part of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. The two Paul Breeds are scheduled to fly the Level One mission on Friday and the Level Two mission on Saturday--Halloween, the final day of the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Challenge window. Of his odds, the senior Paul Breed writes: "Our [tests] say we have a chance to tie Masten in the 90 sec contest, but beating them outright would require some significant luck. Our 180 Second vehicle is going to go down to the last minute. ... If we can fly for 180 seconds we can beat Armadillos accuracy, so it becomes a risk reward game.... IE On Saturday morning if we have a vehicle that would cost 50K to reproduce that has a 10% chance of success and a 90 % chance of destruction do we make the attempt? (0.9 * -$50K) vs (0.1 *$1M ) The calculus changes a little bit depending on Masten's result."

Also, it's worth noting that the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge has received some good press lately, notably pieces from New Scientist and the Economist!

Please join us in wishing the best of luck to Masten and Unreasonable, and in congratulating BonNova for their progress this year!

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