Armadillo Aerospace Wins Level One of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge
Armadillo Aerospace team leader John Carmack wore a big smile yesterday as the team earned $350,000 in prize money for winning Level One of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In addition to officials from NASA and other space-industry organizations, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was on hand to witness the victory and to show his support for the private spaceflight industry. Armadillo made an attempt at Level Two of the Challenge today, but experienced technical problems that prevented them from accomplishing a successful flight.
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a two-level, $2 million competition designed to accelerate commercial space technology as part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. After Armadillo’s $350,000 win this year, $1.65 million remains on the table. The vehicles developed for the competition simulate lunar landers capable of ferrying payloads or humans back and forth between lunar orbit and the lunar surface. The third Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was held at the Las Cruces International Airport on October 24 and 25, 2008. To win, the team had to construct a rocket-powered vehicle that could rise to a height of 50 meters, translate to a landing pad 100 meters away, land safely after at least 90 seconds of flight time, and then repeat the flight. Two levels were defined: one with smooth landing pads, the other with a replica lunar surface and a 180 second flight time as an additional difficulty.
Ten teams initially registered to compete, though an anonymous team dropped out of the competition in August. The final nine teams for 2008 were: Acuity Technologies, Armadillo Aerospace, BonNova, High Expectations Rocketry, Paragon Labs, Phoenicia, Seraphim Werks, TrueZer0, and Unreasonable Rocket, but only two teams ended up flying their vehicles at the recent competition in Las Cruces.
“It’s great that we won the Level One,” said Carmack, “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.”
John Carmack is widely recognized in the video game industry for the creation of games like Doom and Quake. He started Armadillo in 2000 to compete for the Ansari X PRIZE, which was later won by Scaled Composites and SpaceShipOne. Armadillo made a smooth transition from suborbital flight to lunar landers when the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was announced as one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. In 2006, Armadillo’s “Pixel” was the only craft to fly at the X PRIZE Cup, and narrowly missed winning Level One of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge due to broken landing gear. In 2007, the team missed the prize by seven seconds.
The other competitor to fly in pursuit of Level One was new team TrueZer0. TrueZer0 is a four-person team based in Chicago, IL that consists of a mechanical engineer, an electrical/CS engineer, and a father and son who own and operate a machine shop. The team, led by Scott Zeeb and Todd Squires, began building their vehicle just 10 months ago. Their craft did fly to a height of 50 meters, but wasn’t able to complete the 100 meters translation to the second pad.
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is supported by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, the State of New Mexico, and Northrop Grumman. The X PRIZE Foundation manages the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge for the NASA Centennial Challenges Program, which provides the $2 million prize purse for the competition.
Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, said, “After three years, I’m overjoyed to congratulate John Carmack and the entire Armadillo Aerospace team on a successful flight to capture Level One in the 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge — persistence, talent and hard work proved to be a winning combination. Though they’re not taking home an award, TrueZer0 put forth a gutsy effort as newcomers to the competition, and I look forward to seeing what they’re able to accomplish next year. We are thankful to NASA’s Centennial Challenges program for providing the purse funding and for their support of this important challenge.”
“By completing multiple flights in the matter of a few hours, Armadillo Aerospace demonstrated a remarkable level of rocket engine reusability, a feature that will be essential to more efficient operations on the Moon and beyond. The TrueZer0 team, a newcomer to rocket development, deserves a lot of credit for flying their vehicle to 50 meters on its first untethered flight. Armadillo and TrueZer0 represent the spirit of innovation that NASA hopes to encourage with the Centennial Challenges program,” said Andy Petro, Manager, Centennial Challenges Program, NASA.
“New Mexico and Spaceport America are committed to enabling the commercial space industry. The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is accelerating technology development. Armadillo Aerospace’s capture of the $350,000 Level One prize marks a significant milestone in the race to space. No longer will space be relegated to government agencies,” said Steve Landeene, Executive Director, New Mexico Spaceport Authority.
“Northrop Grumman is proud to help support the Lunar Lander Challenge. This contest is inspiring innovation and creativity as we prepare to return to the Moon. Congratulations to John Carmack and the Armadillo Aerospace team for their persistence and creativity in winning Level One,” said Jim Berry, Chief Engineer for Space Systems, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems.
Armadillo Aerospace will be honored in an official ceremony at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in mid-November. More details forthcoming.
ABOUT THE X PRIZE FOUNDATION
The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the Foundation captured the world’s attention when the Burt Rutan-led team, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world’s first private spaceship to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for suborbital spaceflight. The Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. The Foundation and its partner BT Global Services are creating prizes in Exploration (Space and Oceans), Life Sciences, Energy & Environment, Education and Global Development. The Foundation is widely recognized as the leading model for fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit www.xprize.org.
ABOUT NORTHROP GRUMMAN CORPORATION
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. Northrop Grumman provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. With more than 120,000 employees and operations in all 50 states and 25 countries, Northrop Grumman serves U.S. and international military, government and commercial customers.
ABOUT NASA’S CENTENNIAL CHALLENGES
Centennial Challenges is NASA’s prize program to promote technical innovation through competitions open to all Americans. The Lunar Lander Challenge is one of seven current competitions designed to tap the nation’s ingenuity in support of NASA’s goals. Centennial Challenges is managed by NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office.
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SOURCE: X PRIZE Foundation