After just missing its chance to win the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge at the 2006 Wirefly X Prize Cup, Armadillo Aerospace Corp. founder John Carmack is confident of victory this year despite the fact that as many as eight other competitors are racing to get vehicles ready to challenge Armadillo.

?No other competitor has gotten a vehicle off the ground, while we have made dozens of flights over 90 seconds, and three flights over 180 seconds. At this point, I think it is unlikely that anyone else will qualify this year,? Carmack said.

While confident of a win, Carmack told Space News in an Aug. 22 telephone interview that his Mesquite, Texas-based team did suffer a setback the weekend of Aug. 18-19.

?We crashed one of our backup vehicles while testing a new system,? Carmack said. ?But we still have two complete vehicles on hand, and a third one coming together in the shop ? so our prospects to win both Level 1 and 2 are quite good.?

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is divided into two levels. Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, fly to an altitude of 50 meters, then hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a pad 100 meters away. The flight must then be repeated in reverse, and both flights?along with all of the necessary preparation for each ? must take place within a two-and-a-half-hour period.

Level 2 is more difficult requiring a team?s rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates a true lunar landing scenario.

At the 2006 Wirefly X Prize expo, Armadillo Aerospace successfully flew their Pixel vertical-takeoff and vertical-landing rocket. The craft ran well. It powered itself to the appropriate altitude, hovered, and then flew to a touchdown. However, Pixel ran into problems while attempting its reverse flight. Therefore, no prize money was claimed in 2006.

According to the X Prize Foundation?s Web site, nine teams are now registered to take part in the lunar lander challenge. Eight of those are listed on the Web site; a ninth officially registered entrant asked to remain anonymous for the time being, according to the Web site.

The identified teams are: Acuity Technologies, Menlo Park, Calif.; Armadillo Aerospace, Mesquite, Texas; Bon-Nova of Tarzana and Napa, Calif.; Masten Space Systems, Mojave, Calif.; Micro-Space, Denver; Paragon Labs, Denver; SpeedUp, Laramie, Wyo.; Unreasonable Rocket, Solona Beach, Calif. NASA, which signed a Space Act Agreement with the X Prize Foundation before the 2006 competition will once again fund the prizes through the space agency?s Centennial Challenges program?effort that promotes technical innovation through prize competitions.

William Pomerantz, director of Space Projects for the X Prize Foundation in Washington, said in an Aug. 17 e-mail that four of the nine teams registered for the 2007 competition were involved last year.

Pomerantz said that with $2 million in prizes on the line, one might expect the teams to be cutthroat competitors, willing to do anything to get ahead of each other. ?But with this challenge, we have seen the opposite. There?s a friendly rivalry between our teams, but they?ve also been extremely open with each other, sharing the details of their successes?and their failures?and pushing each other forward,? Pomerantz said. ?These teams have by in large shed the stigma of ?not invented here? and are instead trying to help each other pursue a common goal.?

Ian Moore, project manager for the Masten Space Systems Lunar Lander entry, said his company has been working hard to get its vehicle ready to compete. ?We are on schedule to fly at X Prize Cup ? providing we don?t step on any land mines.? he said.

The Wirefly X Prize Cup ?07 Holloman Air and Space Expo is a rocket festival created to salute forward-looking technology, space exploration and education. It will be held Oct. 27-28, at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M., a change from the first two years when it was held in Las Cruces, N.M.

The base?s major role in the program for the first time this year reflects the service?s growing interest in the private development of new space technology and commercial partnerships with the private sector, said Lt. Col. Angelo Eiland, wing project officer for the X Prize Cup and 49th Fighter Wing deputy director of staff at Holloman.

?We?re finding that the private sector can quite often do things, especially space-related, a lot cheaper than we can in the government. I think that?s just going to continue to reap huge benefits on both sides,? Eiland told Space News in an Aug. 10 telephone interview. Holloman?s sponsorship of the cup also will be part of the base?s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force and the 50th anniversary of spaceflight this year, ?The opportunity to partner with X Prize helps round out the picture of telling the air and space revolutions that have taken place over the last 50 and 60 years,? said Eiland said, noting that the base expect as many as 100,000 people to attend the event.