Wrapping up the X Prize Cup

Brett Alexander, the executive director for space and X Prize Cup for the X Prize Foundation, brief the media a little while ago about the status of Armadillo’s final, failed flight. Some key points:

  • There’s still little in the way of technical information about the engine failure this afternoon. There was not a catastrophic explosion but instead a fire that burned for about a minute or so. “Pieces” came off the vehicle, such as cables, but the overall structure appears to be intact. The vehicle will be moved to a hangar shortly.
  • There don’t appear to be any plans for any further official briefings about the accident or event in general, although there will be a closed technical debrief with the judges, Armadillo team, and others this afternoon. The X Prize Foundation plans to publish a statement later today/tonight with more details.
  • There were no injuries caused by the fire. The closest people to it were an Armadillo team in a van an unspecified distance away; at the time of the fire they walked away from the site. Fire engines were called in, but the fire put itself out before the trucks arrived.
  • Alexander said that despite Armadillo’s failed bids to win a prize purse, the event in general was a success. Armadillo showed considerable flexibility in trying to win the prize, and the static displays by the other LLC teams and other exhibitors got a strong message about the industry out to the public.
  • Holloman AFB officials estimate the combined attendance over the two days of the show at 80,000, twice the size of the last air show two years ago, and higher than the 60,000 X Prize estimated would attend. In addition, the education day on Friday attracted 6,000 people.
  • Northrop Grumman, who has a two-year deal (2006 and 2007) to sponsor the competition, was “very pleased” with the event even though no one won; they have yet to decide whether to renew their sponsorship. Wirefly, who sponsored the overall Cup last year, pulled out rather late because of financial problems with the company, Alexander said, citing publicly-announced developments regarding that company.
  • The combination of the LLC with a conventional airshow worked well, he said. The airshow events helped fill in what would otherwise be dead time between prize events during the day (although there were still quiet periods with little going on, particularly during the times Armadillo was preparing its vehicle for flight.) X Prize is looking at options for next year’s event, which include returning to Holloman; a decision will be made in the next few months; they are obligated under their agreement with NASA to hold an LLC competition once a year through 2010, in one manner or another.
  • Two or three other teams came close to participating this year, although none got to the point of doing untethered flights, like Armadillo has been doing for a year. Alexander believes that more than one team will be ready to participate next year.

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