Annual Competition Spurs Private Development Of Space
The Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander
Challenge has finally had to spend some of NASA's Centennial
Challenges prize money. Armadillo Aerospace won the Level One
Challenge at this past weekend's competition in Las Cruces, NM.
The Level One Challenge required competing spacecraft to lift
off and climb vertically 50 meters; translate 100 meters
horizontally; and make a controlled vertical descent to land on a
second pad, with a required minimum duration of 90 seconds for the
flight, and a return flight to the original launch pad within
Last year, Armadillo had an engine shutdown commanded by an
onboard computer seven seconds before reaching its goal. In 2006,
it failed when a landing gear leg broke.
But the Las Cruces Sun-News reports that on Friday, the upstart
commercial spacecraft developer completed both flights required to
win the $350,000. A later attempt at the Level Two Challenge, which
doubles the hover-time minimum and adds a requirement to land on an
uneven, simulated lunar surface, was unsuccessful, leaving an
additional $1.65 million in prize money unclaimed for a third
After the event, Armadillo Team Leader John Carmack told
reporters, "It's great that we won the Level One, but we're going
to keep working towards Level Two, which we can hopefully compete
for again soon. We know exactly what we need to nail down and we
expect to have it solved in the next couple of weeks."
Ten teams originally declared their intent to compete in this
year's event. One dropped out before teams were publicly
identified. Of the remaining nine, only Armadillo and TrueZer0
actually flew machines at this year's event.
This year's competition took place at the Las Cruces
International Airport, reportedly moved there on short notice after
the US Air Force withdrew its permission to hold the event at
Holloman Air Force Base. Armadillo's first attempt at Level One
Challenge ended early after officials in charge of closing the
airspace to regular traffic didn't provide a long enough window to
accommodate the flight.
NASA is funding the competition to spur development of private
space vehicles that can land instruments on the moon's surface.