Armadillo Fails In First Day Attempt at Lunar Lander Challenge
Before moving to the launch site, Armadillo Aerospace team members tend to their vehicles on Saturday, October 27, the first day of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Image
Credit: William Faulkner

UPDATE: Story first posted at 6:20 p.m., 10/27/07

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, New Mexico ? Heartbreakingly close. That?s all you can say regarding the failure today for the Armadillo Aerospace team in their bid to win prize money in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

The multi-legged ?MOD? vehicle successfully made the first hop from pad to pad earlier in the day. But on the Level One return trip, the craft tipped over on touchdown.

The vehicle kicked up significant dust as it hovered above its landing site ? perhaps causing control difficulties just seconds away from success.

John Carmack, team leader of Armadillo Aerospace, later announced the cause of the vehicle's mishap.

Apparently, during the landing phase, a piece of the rocket?s engine fell off. The vehicle began to veer due to the problem, with the motor shutting down, causing the craft?s touchdown mishap.

?Tomorrow is another day,? Bretton Alexander, Executive Director of Space Prizes and the X Prize Cup, told SPACE.com after the incident.

MOD and Pixel

The X Prize Cup competition features rocketeers vying for $2 million in prizes that are on the line - cash made available through NASA's Centennial Challenges Program. That space agency funding is focused on speeding up commercial development of technology that can ferry cargo and humans between the moon's surface and lunar orbit.

Armadillo Aerospace is led by computer gaming guru, John Carmack. He and his teammates have brought two different vehicles, ?Pixel? that is meant to fly in Level Two, and the MOD craft in Level One. This is the team's second attempt at the challenge in New Mexico, they were the only entrant in last year's event, which they lost.

At press time, it is not clear what strategy will be taken by Armadillo Aerospace to fly tomorrow?s Lunar Lander Challenge ? will they try Level One again, or go for the gusto and try the larger Level Two prize? Could both Level One and Level Two be flown in the same day?

On the levels

The competition is divided into two levels. Here are the basics:

*       Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, rocket up to 150 feet (50 meters) altitude, and then hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a landing pad nearly 330 feet (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 requires the rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface, packed with craters and boulders to mimic actual lunar terrain. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform a real lunar mission.

The Challenge is one event among many at the Holloman Air & Space Expo, being held October 27-28, staged in collaboration with the X Prize Cup.

For detailed information and updates regarding the 2007 X Prize Cup, go to the Internet web site: http://space.xprize.org/x-prize-cup/