Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace is set to launch its Mod rocket craft on the launch pad this morning, in its third attempt to win $350,000 of NASA's money here at the X Prize Cup in New Mexico. This time, they're equipped with an extra advantage, thanks to fellow rocketeers from a competing team.
On Saturday, Armadillo was bedeviled by a problem with contamination in the fuel line - a glitch that forced them to abort their first launch try, and ultimately ruined the second attempt as well. During that second effort, the Mod's engine suffered fatal damage and gave out just seconds away from winning the Level 1 prize in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.
When the rocketeers from Unreasonable Rocket, another competitor in the Lunar Lander Challenge, heard about Armadillo's problems, they had an idea. It turned out that they had struggled with the same grit-in-the-line glitch early in their development effort, and they crafted a nifty little filter to take care of the problem.
Unreasonable Rocket offered the filter to Armadillo - and now it's installed on the Mod, along with a new engine, actuator and other parts.
Twenty-year-old Paul A. Breed, the junior member of Unreasonable Rocket's father-and-son team, said skeptics have asked him whether this was actually a scheme to sabotage a competitor.
"No one seems to get it," he told me as Armadillo was setting up on its starting pad, almost a mile (1.4 kilometers) away on Holloman Air Force Base. "We're not out to get each other."
Although the other challenge teams certainly wish they were in a position to go for the $350,000 Level 1 prize - or the more ambitious $1 million Level 2 prize - they also wish Armadillo well. That came through loud and clear Saturday night when rocketeers reviewed the day's events.
Armadillo's team, meanwhile, fixed up the Mod and got some rest.
"The guys are eager, fresh-faced and smiling," Will Pomerantz, who is overseeing the challenge for the X Prize Foundation, reported this morning.
This morning's task is the same as it was Saturday: Lift off, rise at least 50 meters in the air, move over to another launch pad 100 meters away, land, then reverse course back to the start - all in 150 minutes.