Bonnova, a design and engineering firm competing in the Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, announced their craft's first liftoff, which was achieved during a January 11 flight test of the lander, "Lauryad." The lightweight lander is constructed from high-strength carbon fiber and weighs only 77 pounds dry.
The lander's long-duration multiple start engine encountered several hard starts in early testing. The damage was remedied and progress established after the innovative solution invented by team creative director, Vanna Bonta. The invention, REORPS (Rocket Engine Over-pressurization Release Protection System), has a patent pending.
"Obstacles are an opportunity for invention," said Bonta, a novelist and film talent whose longtime family friends comment on her early inclination for mechanics. A former neighbor remembered Bonta rebuilt her first car engine "from the crankshaft out" as a teen.
Bonnova rocket team chief engineer, Allen Newcomb, manufactured and implemented the REORPS to consistent, successful results, demonstrated in videos of hotfire tests and the recent lift off. As an aerospace engineer, Newcomb designed the avionics for the hybrid rocket engine on Burt Rutan's history-making SpaceShipOne that won the $10M dollar Ansari X-Prize.
Newcomb has been working on the lunar lander for two years. After spending a fraction of some of the competition's expenditures, the Lauryad lift off marks a significant milestone on the project, demonstrating that the team has actual working flight hardware.
Paraphrasing Arthur M. Wellington, Newcomb commented, "Elegant engineering is doing with one dollar what anyone can do with ten."
The innovative design has a number of novel, patentable features. The project has attracted the interest of several veteran aerospace engineers who have volunteered their time and expertise to the effort.
The lunar lander competition is sponsored by NASA, backed by a one million dollar grand prize.
Bonta blogged about witnessing the first inception on a paper napkin to lift off, "It's a unique privilege to watch it be birthed into existence. It's hard science applied to the course of human future with equal respect to adherence to precise physics and the ability of innovation."
photo credit: Derry O Donovan