LLC Judging Protest
Statement by John Carmack
Founder, Armadillo Aerospace
Competitor, Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge
For the past couple weeks, as it became clear that Masten had a real shot at completing the level 2 Lunar Lander Challenge and bettering our landing accuracy, I have been kicking myself for not taking the competition more seriously and working on a better landing accuracy. If they pulled it off, I was prepared to congratulate them and give a bit of a sheepish mea culpa. Nobody to be upset at except myself. We could have probably made a second flight in the drizzle on our scheduled days, and once we had the roll thruster issue sorted out, our landing accuracy would have been in the 20cm range. I never thought it was worth investing in differential RTK GPS systems, because it has no bearing on our commercial operations.
The current situation, where Masten was allowed a third active day of competition, after trying and failing on both scheduled days, is different. I don’t hold anything against Masten for using an additional time window that has been offered, since we wouldn’t have passed it up if we were in their situation, but I do think this was a mistake on the judges part.
I recognize that it is in the best interests of both the NASA Centennial Challenges department and the X-Prize Foundation to award all the prize money this year, and that will likely have indirect benefits for us all in coming years. It is probably also beneficial to the nascent New Space industry to get more money to Masten than Armadillo, since we have other resources to draw upon. Permit me to be petty enough to be upset and bitter about a half million dollars being taken from me and given to my competitor.
The rules have given the judges the discretion to do just about anything up to and including awarding prize money for best effort if they felt it necessary, so there may not be any grounds to challenge this, but I do feel that we have been robbed. I was going to argue that if Masten was allowed to take a window on an unscheduled day with no notice, the judges should come back to Texas on Sunday and let us take our unused second window to try for a better accuracy, but our FAA waiver for the LLC vehicle was only valid for the weekend of our scheduled attempt.