Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Spinning for the Prize

"The Spirit of California," a design with unique heritage. A spin-stabilized Google Lunar X-Prize contender-that-was [Southern California Selene Group].
Rex Ridenoure
The Space Review

Five years ago, one of the then-active Google Lunar X PRIZE teams quietly signed off, withdrew from the competition, and ceased operations. At the time, it was arguably considered the team to beat in the quest for the prize. This article summarizes that team’s story and highlights a novel advancement in lander architecture derived from this short-lived yet very effective effort.

A long wait

This story starts fifty years ago at Hughes Aircraft Company in Southern California (Culver City), where Dr. Harold A. Rosen, a 37-year-old experienced and clever electrical engineer and radar expert, was leading a small team of engineers putting together what became the first successful series of geosynchronous communications satellites, Syncom. A few years prior, Rosen floated the idea to Hughes management of designing and launching a small, simple spinning satellite to GEO as part of the US response to the USSR’s 1957 Sputnik launch. This project would also serve as a kick-start toward the vision of global GEO satellite connectivity first articulated by Arthur C. Clarke in his seminal 1945 Wireless World article.

Syncom 1 was launched in February of 1963 and achieved the desired orbit, but suffered an immediate electrical failure. Five months later, Syncom 2 was successfully launched and began operating nominally. Syncom 3 repeated the achievement a year later.

 During 1962–1963, while Rosen and his team were immersed in their Syncom work, Hughes was bidding to be the prime contractor for NASA’s planned series of robotic lunar landers, Surveyor. The Caltech/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory had already developed a notional design for the lander and was looking to the emergent US space industry to complete the detailed design and then build the spacecraft.

Rosen was asked to peer review his firm’s proposal, and came away unimpressed. “That design was so big and clunky, and so expensive,” he recounted some 45 years later. “I knew back then that there was a much more elegant and cost-effective way to land.”

Read the article at The Space Review, HERE.

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