$2 Mil Inspires Desert Rats: Out in Fontana, Calif., the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency’s “Grand Challenge” robotic ground vehicle competition is rolling into its semifinals. The prize is $2 million. Teams from across the country will be competing in a 175-mile jaunt across the Mojave Desert and whoever makes it the fastest within a 10-hour time period, wins. DARPA ran this little test in 2004, and no one could complete the course. The real goal—driven by Congress and the Pentagon—is to “accelerate research in autonomous ground vehicles that will help save American lives on the battlefield.” DARPA will announce the finalists—there will be finalists this year because the “entire field has advanced significantly,” says DARPA head Anthony Tether—for this year’s competition either late on Oct. 5 or early Oct. 6. The field will run the Grand Challenge on Oct. 8.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.