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Fri, May 05, 2006

Aero-News Alert: X Prize, NASA Join Forces To Offer $2.5M Lunar Lander Challenge

Competition To Take Place At 2006 X Prize Cup

ANN has been authorized to be the first news service to break the details of an amazing challenge that has resulted from a cooperative effort between Peter Diamandis' X Prize organization and NASA. 

Thanks to the efforts of the X Prize Foundation, commercial space flight is a reality -- and now, in collaboration with NASA's Centennial Challenge program, the foundation is setting its sights on a new goal... the moon.

NASA and the X Prize Foundation have signed a Space Act Agreement to formalize their collaboration on a Lunar Lander Challenge. The Space Act Agreement states that the X Prize Foundation -- which provided the catalyst for the recent explosion in private spaceflight companies with the Ansari X Prize -- will administer and execute the competitions at no cost to NASA, with NASA providing Prize funding to the winning contestants.

"The teams that participate in the Lunar Lander Analog Challenge are contributing to NASA’s return to the moon while also accelerating the development of the suborbital spaceflight industry," said Brant Sponberg, NASA's Centennial Challenges program manager.

"They are advancing rocket and lander technologies that may allow explorers to move to and from the Moon and to and from Earth and near-space."

The $2.5M Lunar Lander Challenge will require a vehicle to simulate a trip between the Moon and low Moon orbit. The competition is divided into two courses. The more difficult of the courses, level 2 (above), requires a vehicle to take off from a designated launch area and elevate to at least 50 meters. It must then fly for at least 180 seconds before landing precisely in a area simulating a rocky lunar surface 100 meters away. The vehicle has the option to refuel before repeating the requirements of the first leg while traveling back to the original launch area.

The less difficult of the two courses, level 1 (below), requires a minimum flight time of 90 seconds and has a flat even surface on which to land and refuel. 

The $2.5 million is the total Prize purse for the competition. Level 1 will offer $350,000 for first place and $150,000 for second place. Because of its increased difficulty, Level 2 will offer $1.25 million to the winner, $500,000 for second place and $250,000 for third place. If any Prize is not won at the 2006 X Prize CUP, the leftover purse will rollover to the following year.

"The X Prize Foundation is pleased to collaborate with NASA in this important milestone of space flight,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman of the X Prize Foundation.

"This is a collaboration that works because the X Prize Foundation and NASA share the goal of pushing new technologies for space exploration. We look forward to hosting this competition at our X Prize Cup Expo."

The Lunar Lander Challenge will take place at the X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico on October 18-21, 2006, where ANN will not only be on site, but will again be providing exclusive news services on behalf of that august organization. As the world’s first space show, the X Prize Cup is the only annual event where the entire family can visit to see the next generation of spaceships up close and in the sky.

Additional details of the Lunar Lander Challenge -- including official rules for the competition -- will soon be available at the Centennial Challenge website.

(ANN thanks Zoltan for the top three lunar lander images, and AGI for the lower image.)

FMI: www.xprize.org, www.centennialchallenges.nasa.gov

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