Masten Space Systems And Armadillo Aerospace Take The
NASA will award $1.65 million in prize money Thursday to a
pair of innovative aerospace companies that successfully simulated
landing a spacecraft on the moon and lifting off again.
NASA’s Centennial Challenges program will give a $1
million first prize to Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California,
and a $500,000 second prize to Armadillo Aerospace of Rockwall,
Texas, for their Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge flights.
The competition was managed by the X PRIZE Foundation. The Northrop
Grumman Corporation is a commercial sponsor that provided operating
funds for the contest to the X PRIZE Foundation.
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge involves building
and flying a rocket-powered vehicle that simulates the flight of a
vehicle on the moon. The lander must take off vertically then
travel horizontally, flying a mission profile designed to
demonstrate both power and control before landing accurately at
another spot. The same vehicle then must take off again, travel
horizontally back to its original takeoff point and land
successfully, all within a two-hour-and-15-minute time period.
The challenge requires exacting control and navigation, as
well as precise control of engine thrust, all done automatically.
The rocket's engine must be started twice in a short time with no
ground servicing other than refueling. This represents the
technical challenges involved in operating a reusable vehicle that
could land on the moon.
The prize purse is divided into first and second prizes for
Level 1 and Level 2. Level 1 requires a flight duration of at least
90 seconds on each flight and Level 2 requires a duration of at
least 180 seconds. One of the landings for a Level 2 attempt must
be made on a simulated lunar terrain with rocks and craters.
Masten Space Systems met the Level 2 requirements by achieving
accurate landings and captured the first place prize during flights
of their "Xoie" (pronounced "Zoey") vehicle Oct. 30 at the Mojave
Air and Space Port. Masten also claimed a $150,000 prize as part of
the Level 1 competition.
Armadillo Aerospace was the first team to qualify for the Level
2 prize with successful flights of its Scorpius rocket Sept. 12 in
Caddo Mills, Texas. Armadillo placed second in the Level 2
competition, earning a $500,000 prize.
The average landing accuracy determined which teams would
receive first and second place prizes. The Masten team achieved an
average accuracy of 7.5 inches while Armadillo Aerospace's average
accuracy was 34 inches.
The events of the past two months have brought the four-year
Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge to a conclusion. All $2
million in prize money has been awarded.
"The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge has had its
intended impact, with impressive performances by multiple teams
representing a new generation of aerospace entrepreneurs" said
Andrew Petro, NASA's Centennial Challenge program manager at NASA
Headquarters in Washington. "These companies have demonstrated
reusable vehicles with rapid turnaround and a surprising degree of
precision in flight, and they have done all this at a much lower
cost than many thought possible."
Four teams had been in pursuit of the 2009 Lunar Lander
Challenge prizes during the competition that opened in July. The
BonNova team dropped out of the competition last week. Unreasonable
Rocket, a father-and-son team from Solana Beach, California,
conducted flight attempts during the final days of the competition
but did not complete any qualifying flights.
In the Level 1 competition, Armadillo Aerospace previously
claimed the first place prize of $350,000 in 2008. Masten Space
Systems qualified for the remaining second place prize on Oct. 7,
2009, with an average landing accuracy of 6.3 inches. Because there
were no other qualifying Level 1 flights this year, the Masten team
will receive the second place prize of $150,000.
NASA's Centennial Challenges program's goals are to drive
progress in aerospace technology that is of value to NASA's
missions; encourage participation of independent teams, individual
inventors, student groups and private companies of all sizes in
aerospace research and development; and find innovative solutions
to technical challenges through competition and cooperation.
The Northop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is one of six
Centennial Challenges managed by NASA's Innovative Partnership
Program. The competition was managed for NASA at no cost to the
taxpayer by the X PRIZE Foundation under a Space Act Agreement.
NASA provided all of the prize funds.
An awards ceremony for the winning teams will be held at noon on
November. 5 in room 2325 of the Rayburn House Office Building in